Georgia Fan

I’m a Georgia fan! You’ve seen my posts on wild, undeveloped Cumberland Island and the lovely, languorous Savannah

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Cumberland Island

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Savannah

But here are five Georgia gems that may not be on your radar… and should!

Thomasville

Come see the gorgeous houses built by the rich “Yankees” (e.g., Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Mrs. B. F. Goodrich, Alexander Graham Bell) when they came down from cities in the Northeast and Midwest in the late 1800’s.

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Col. Oliver Hazard Payne,  an organizer of the American Tobacco trust, who also assisted with the formation of U.S. Steel, and was affiliated with Standard Oil, bought Greenwood Plantation in Thomasville for a shooting plantation. (photo, circa 1899. courtesy of the Pebble Hill Plantation)

“As the terminus for the railroad, Thomasville was accessible from the north and, during the late 1800’s, became known as the ‘Winter Resort of the South.’ In the beginning of this era, Northerners and other visitors came to Thomasville for their health, breathing the pine-scented air as a curative for pulmonary ailments. They were soon joined by friends to enjoy hunting, fishing, and an active social life, including golf, horse racing and bicycling. Thomasville came to represent the best of Southern hospitality with the lavishness of the resort lifestyle…

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random gorgeous house in Thomasville

Once they discovered that it cost less to purchase land than rent hotel rooms, these wealthy families bought property and built grand Victorian mansions and plantation homes. Many of these plantations are still owned by the families who built them and…have been lovingly restored,” according to Thomasville’s website.

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I desperately wanted to buy this pre-Civil War house!

Thomasville is definitely worthy of an overnight. Stay at The Paxton and request the first floor room, as they don’t have an elevator and who wants to lug heavy suitcases upstairs?! The Paxton is in Thomasville proper, so you can walk to restaurants around this small town. Dine at the Sweet Grass Dairy, a cheese shop (123 S. Broad Street) and restaurant with cheese-centric dishes. Shop at Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear & Apparel (111 S. Broad Street). In addition to hunting and fishing gear, Kevin’s sells beautiful tableware, splashy coffee table books, and even offers travel services

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(photo courtesy of Kevin’s)

If you would rather experience staying on a plantation, book a cottage at nearby Pebble Hill Plantation…or just visit for an afternoon. “Hard times during the Civil War and afterwards during Reconstruction created rundown, disheveled property all across the South. Pebble Hill was no exception. The beautiful Main House, designed by architect John Wind in 1851, was in desperate need of repair when Mel purchased the property in 1896,” according to the Pebble Hill Plantation’s website. “Mel” was one of the rich “Yankees” who came from the Midwest to escape the snow.

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Pebble Hill Plantation garden in winter

For an excellent list of more things to do in the Thomasville area, click here. BTW, did you know that Joanne Woodward was born in Thomasville? You just know she brought Paul Newman (swoon) home to visit!

Milledgeville

  • is on the Southern Literary Trail, connecting places in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi that influenced great novelists and playwrights of the 20th Century. Writers Flannery O’Connor (“Wise Blood,” etc.) and Alice Walker (“The Color Purple,” etc.) grew up near Milledgeville. Visit peaceful and evocative  Andalusia Farm, where Miz Flannery completed the bulk of her literary work when she lived there from 1951-1964.
  • is a thriving, small college town, thanks to Georgia College & State University, founded in 1889.
  • has a dramatic Governor’s Mansion with an interesting history.
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Governor’s Mansion in Milledgeville

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Alex Hitz

Alex Hitz, who The Wall Street Journal called “the very best host in the world,” grew up in Atlanta. This summer, I have been cooking my way through his beautiful and sophisticated cookbook, “My Beverly Hills Kitchen.” His recipes are classic Southern cooking with a French twist. Three traits make his cookbook a stand-out:

  • The recipes are consistently good.
  • The intro paragraph to each recipe is always interesting.  For example, did you know that Vichyssoise was invented in the U.S.?
  • Most of his recipes include recommendations for accompanying dishes.

You might want to make some of Alex’s pimento cheese for a snack on your road trip around Georgia. When my friend, Mary Ann, took me on a trip to a small town in Georgia, I was offered glorious pimento cheese sandwiches from three different hosts within 24 hours…and that’s what I like about the South!

Plains

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Jimmy Carter’s former presidential campaign HQ in Plains’ old train station

  • President Jimmy and First Lady Rosalynn Carter are from Plains, a small, unpretentious, rural town, where the Carters were prosperous peanut farmers. Jimmy and Rosalynn were high school sweethearts, whose families were good friends. This couple has come a long way, baby!
  • Visit the Old Schoolhouse Museum for the story of President Carter’s life from boyhood to the presidency.
  • I have heard from a reliable source that the Buffalo Café (118 Main Street) is wonderful!
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random street scene in Plains

  • Visit Maranatha Baptist Church where President Carter still teaches Sunday school, attracting people from all over the world. So impressive, especially given that he is 94 years old! Click here to read an article about this in The Washington Post.
  • Check out nearby Andersonville Civil War cemetery, former site of a prisoner of war camp.

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Between Plains and Macon is beautiful Massee Lane Gardens in Marshallville, home of the American Camellia Society. Best in winter for blooms.

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Farmer Brown’s (photo courtesy of my friend from Georgia)

Also en route from Plains to Macon, stop at Farmer Brown’s Produce Market in Montezuma, GA.  Summer or fall for peaches, produce, peach blossom dessert and ice cream, and zinnia picking. Sounds like a little slice of heaven to me!

Macon

Check out its…

  • eye-popping architecture
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Macon’s Cowles-Bond House, circa 1836

  • Southern throwback comfort food at
    • S&S Cafeteria
    • H&H Restaurant located downtown, with the same wonderful food as S&S, but almost a shrine to the Allman Bros. along with other musicians who dined there in the heyday of Capricorn Records, per my Georgia friend, who took this scrumptious photo…IMG_8496.jpg
    • Dovetail – “divine new Southern cuisine downtown,” according to my Georgia friend, Mary Ann, who knows good food!
    • Rookery – “downtown institution with great bar food,” says Mary Ann.
  • Wesleyan College, the first woman’s college in U.S.. Ever heard of the Soong sisters? I bet you’ve heard of Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Well, before she was Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, she was one of the Soong sisters, from far away China. They attended Wesleyan College. Click here, for their intriguing story.
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We stayed at Macon’s 1842 Inn (pictured here), which was okay and in a great neighborhood.

Musical Travelling Companions

Pack your CDs, hop in your car, crank up the volume and get your groove on with Southern rock and soul bands produced by yet another Georgia gem, Capricorn Records!

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Sing to me, Otis!  (photo courtesy of performingsongwriter.com)

We’re talking the incomparable Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band, Delbert McClinton (that man’s got soul) and many more.

Literary Travelling Companions

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, and An Hour Before Daylight, by Jimmy Carter

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peaches from Farmer Brown’s

A hearty thanks to my Georgia friend, Miz Mary Ann, and her wonderful parents, without whom I would not have known about most of these gems. It sure pays to know interesting and interested people!

Nashville: Music City USA

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Dolly Parton at the Grand Ole Opry (photo courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry): Gotta love her!

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(image courtesy of Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

See the Sights

Ryman Auditorium – Take a tour or see a show or better yet, do both! “A National Historic Landmark, Ryman Auditorium was built by Captain Thomas G. Ryman in 1892. Ryman Auditorium is an nine-time winner of the prestigious Pollstar Theatre of the Year award. The historic venue is well-known as the Mother Church of Country Music and is the most famous former home of Grand Ole Opry (1943-1974). The Ryman has been featured in numerous film and television projects including Coal Miner’s DaughterThe Johnny Cash Show, American Idol, Nashville, and more. While offering a diverse lineup and thriving concert schedule (with over 200 shows per year), the venue is also open for daytime tours year-round,” per the Ryman Auditorium website.

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Ryman Auditorium (photo courtesy of the Ryman Auditorium)

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This is the inside of the Ryman. Can’t you just hear Dolly singing?!?! (photo courtesy of the Ryman Auditorium)

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge – Tootsie’s back entrance is across the alley that runs along the side of the Ryman Auditorium. When bands were finished performing, they would walk across that alley into Tootsie’s. “Famous early customers were Kris Kristofferson, Faron Young, Willie Nelson, Tom T. Hall, Hank Cochran, Mel Tillis, Roger Miller, Webb Pierce, Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline and many more,” according to its website. It’s authentic and fun and you can hear live music here.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – SO much fun! This is a modern, beautiful museum in downtown Nashville, near the Ryman Auditorium. Check out its collection, which includes…

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Elvis’ 1960 gold Cadillac (photo courtesy of Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

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performers’ costumes (photo courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

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Listen to a recording session in this way-cool nautilus (photo courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

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Learn about historic RCA Studio B, in which Elvis is recording here (photo courtesy of Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

Grand Ole Opry – While the Grand Ole Opry (below) looks a bit cold by comparison to the Ryman Auditiorium (home of the Opry from 1943-1974), you gotta go, as this is where all the glitz is. This Grand Ole Opry has a several backstage tours that I long to do, including a VIP tour that includes hanging out ON THE STAGE as the curtain rises! Click here for the Grand Ole Opry’s “ultimate guide to a weekend in Nashville.”

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(photo courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry)

Opryland

(photo courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry)

Homes of the Stars tour – Years ago, I went on this and it was so much fun! Could it have changed?! Maybe but how about you check it out and let me know. It’s only 3.5 hours and could be great.

Johnny Cash Museum (Milieu 2017) – I haven’t been here but it’s got to be good.

Where to Stay

Holston House Hotel (Travel + Leisure, 2018) –  good location downtown near the tourist mainstays; rooftop bar with good views; it’s a Hyatt, so that gives me pause…is it good or cookie-cutter? Let me know! T+L says it’s the “former Noel Place, which opened in 1930 as one of Nashville’s first luxury hotels…has newly restored Art Deco details”

Hermitage Hotel (Departures, 2016) – Built in 1910, the Hermitage Hotel was the

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(photo courtesy of the Hermitage Hotel)

grande dame of Nashville until Nashville became trendy. Great location downtown, so you can walk to the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum, the Ryman Auditorium, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, major stops on your tour. Despite its lack of hipness, it’s nice…not exciting, but nice.

Noelle Hotel (Garden & Gun magazine, 2018) – in Printer’s Alley, downtown; this is a Marriott, so rooms look cold but good location

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

For THE BEST TIPS from top country music stars themselves on where to listen to live music,  click here! For example,

  • Vince Gill likes the Bluebird Cafe and Robert’s Western World and the Station Inn
  • Marty Stuart recommends American Legion Post 82 or wherever the Kenny Vaughan Trio is playing around town.
  • Kelsea Ballerini likes songwriters’ nights at The Bluebird or The Listening Room
  • Raelynn suggests Ascend and Mercy Lounge.

Wander around the bars downtown on Broadway (near the Ernest Tubb Record Shop) where bands start playing early in the day…not raucous bands, but sit-and-listen-while-you-nurse-your-beer kind of bands. In the 1970’s, this area was pretty seedy but the bands were good. Now, the bands are still good but the area is seriously cleaned up. For ex, at 416 Broadway, visit…

Robert’s Western World – “is a true, old school honky-tonk. There are many live music venues in that area (Nashville’s historic lower Broadway district), with many people sitting outside strumming their guitars. Robert’s, though, is called ‘the undisputed home  of traditional country music.'” Robert’s is one of Vince Gill’s two favorite honky tonks on Broadway in downtown Nashville. The other is Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. (Milieu magazine and Garden & Gun, 2017)

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(photo courtesy of The Loveless Cafe)

The foodies reading this are probably wincing because my lead restaurant is The Loveless Cafe . During the past 20 years, as Nashville became more and more cool, gourmet restaurants began to pop up. In fact, it’s become a bit of a Mecca for excellent food. BUT, you can get snazzy food in any big city. The Loveless Cafe is unique to Nashville…and have I mentioned that it serves heaps and heaps of the BEST biscuits EVER?!?!? We’re talking country cooking in a relaxed setting. Yes, it’s 17 miles from downtown Nashville but worth it. Just look at all of the country music stars who have made the trek…

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(photo courtesy of The Loveless Cafe)

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(photo courtesy of The Loveless Cafe)

Rolf and Daughters – “is one of Nashville’s finest restaurants — and there are many now.In 2013, … (it) was voted third best restaurant in the nation by Bon Appetit.” (Milieu magazine, 2017)

Hugh-Baby’s (Garden & Gun, 2018) – “ups the ante on fast food,” (per Garden & Gun); burger, dogs, fried, smoked bologna sandwiches and BBQ; 1970’s nostalgia (counter seating); several locations

Travel + Leisure (2018) recommended:

  • Mockingbird – “upscale-diner aesthetic” downtown
  • Black Rabbit – “expect fancified small plates with a Southern accent”

For more restaurants and bars, click here to see where Vince Gill, Kelsea Ballerini, Marty Stuart, Raelynn, Carly Pearce and Brett Eldredge like to go.

Where to Shop

Manuel Couture – Manuel Cuevas is a legend, who has clothed all the greats, including Dolly, Marty Stuart, Elvis, Johnny Cash, James Dean, Emmylou Harris, etc. His store is located at 2804 Columbine Pl, Nashville, TN 37204 and you can go there! I got this tremendous suggestion from none other than the FAB Marty Stuart, the “Renaissance man of country music.” A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame who came to Nashville when he was barely a teen,  he knows the city. Click here for his recommendations of distinctly-Nashville things to do.

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Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, stylin’! (photo courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry)

Ernest Tubb Record Shop – This is a genuine, old-time Nashville country music record shop with live music. I think it’d be a blast to attend the midnight jamboree! See website for more info. It’s located in downtown Nashville at 417 Broadway. 

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Ernest Tubb Record Shop (photo courtesy of Nashville Downtown Partnership)

Hatch Show Prints – This is where so many of the famous posters were made for the biggest and best country music shows. Come see the old and new and buy a few!

Music City poster Hatch

(courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

Y’all come back now, ya hear!?!

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(photo courtesy of The Loveless Cafe)

Richmond, VA: More than the Jefferson

Going to Richmond? Now you have more hotel choices than the Jefferson. For something completely different—i.e., cheerful, fresh, fun—try Quirk.

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(photo courtesy of Quirk hotel)

Since Departures, CN Traveler, and Travel+Leisure recommended it, Mimi’s Travel File had to go to Quirk. It’s stylish and happy. Built in 1916 as a department store, Quirk’s windows are large and ceilings are high. Recommend room 515, a king suite with vast views of Richmond.

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In addition to its bar and restaurant, there’s an art gallery and stylish store just off of Quirk’s lobby. (photo courtesy of Quirk hotel) 

It has a pretty design palette that carries through from the lobby to the hotel rooms.

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Quirk’s happening rooftop bar (photo courtesy of Quirk hotel)

My sources tell me that nearby Graduate hotel also has a happening rooftop bar, called Byrd House.

Full disclosure: While I loved Quirk and would go back in a heartbeat, the housekeeping had some flaws (missing buttons on the remote, curtain stuck, phone that didn’t ring down to reception). When I brought them to the attention of the staff, they took notes, apologized and reduced my room rate. I plan to stay there again because I loved it.

Bonus: Quirk has valet parking, so you don’t have to mess with a parking lot.

See the Sights

So, now that we have our room squared away, let’s see my two favorite sites in Richmond…

  • St. John’s Church, circa 1741 and the site of Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” speech.
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St. John’s sits atop Church Hill, the first neighborhood in Richmond. And what a pretty neighborhood it is! Old, gorgeous houses large and small, and good views. (photo courtesy of St. John’s Church)

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George Wythe, signer of the Declaration of Independence and mentor to Thomas Jefferson, is buried in St. John’s Church’s graveyard. (photo courtesy of St. John’s Church)

  • The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has an outstanding collection (esp. its art nouveau furniture), gorgeous garden, fab gift shop and two nice places to eat.
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Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (photo courtesy of VMFA)

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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ garden (photo courtesy of VMFA)

Let’s Eat

And speaking of eating, where shall we dine? I highly recommend:

Brenner’s Pass in the hip, low-crime neighborhood, Scott’s Addition (architects’ offices, craft breweries, etc.). The food is amazing (the highly discerning James Beard Foundation likes it), decor mod and attractive, and service terrific.

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If you prefer a retro-fast food feel, I hear the burgers at nearby Boulevard Burger & Brew are stand-in-line-it’s-worth-it delicious.

For an old-timey box lunch to send you on your way once you check out of Quirk, go to Sally Bell’s.  “Inside each box is a happy meal from a better time,said Bon Appetit magazine. Works for me!

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Washington, D.C. Christmas

Christmas is Washington’s most wonderful time of the year. Why? No crowds (like during spring break), no overpowering humidity (like during the summer), and most important, distinctly DC sights that are all dressed up for “the festive season.” I am a native Washingtonian and have picked out our very best sights and described them here, as my Christmas present to you!

Downtown DC

Behold the National Christmas Tree at the White House! Note how perfectly perfect it is…almost too perfect to be real (though it is) or visually interesting…but you have to see it at least once.

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National Christmas Tree on the White House lawn

The very first National Christmas Tree was decorated in 1923, when “First Lady Grace Coolidge gave permission for the District of Columbia Public Schools to erect a Christmas tree on the Ellipse south of the White House…That Christmas Eve, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse and “pushed the button” to light the 48-foot Balsam fir, as enthusiastic spectators looked on,” according to nationalchristmastree.org. Click here to read more about the history of the National Christmas Tree. To find out how to attend the National Christmas tree lighting ceremony, click here.

To tour the sumptuous Christmas decorations inside the White House, click here.

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Can’t get tickets to tour the White House at Christmas? No problem! Just order Laura Dowling’s book, A White House Christmas. Laura was the Chief Floral Designer at the White House during the Obama administrations. Her book will give you an up-close-and-personal look at the WH Christmas decorations, plus how to make some of them. Let’s look at pictures from it…

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The Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House, decorated for Christmas by Laura Dowling (photo courtesy of stichting kunstboek)

The gorgeous wallpaper in the Diplomatic Reception Room (above) was installed by Jackie Kennedy in 1961. For more on Jackie’s renovation of the DRR, click here.

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Laura Dowling does the Red Room: What could be more festive or elegant?! (photo courtesy of stichting kunstboek)

In her book, Laura takes us behind-the-scenes of the highly detailed,  year-long planning process for creating Christmas decorations befitting the White House.

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Laura Dowling’s Christmas tree in the White House’s Blue Room (photo courtesy of stichting kunstboek)

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This is the main hallway on the first floor of the White House, decorated by Laura and her team. (photo courtesy of stichting kunstboek)

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is the Prettiest

The Capitol’s Christmas tree is the prettiest outdoor tree in DC. It stands alone in a peaceful place at the base of Capitol Hill. It doesn’t have the commercial, for-tourists feel of the National Christmas Tree at the White House. There are no crowds of admirers…I don’t know why. Gazing at its simple decorations with the U.S. Capitol as a backdrop is a lovely, quiet sight. When you turn your back to the Capitol, you will look down the National Mall at the Washington Monument.

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(photo courtesy of rainforestsislandsferry.com)

“The tradition of the Capitol Christmas Tree, or “The People’s Tree,” began in 1964 when Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John W. McCormack (D-MA) placed a live Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn. This tree lived three years before succumbing to wind and root damage…Since then, a different national forest has been chosen each year to provide “The People’s Tree.” (from the Capitol Christmas Tree website)

U.S. Botanic Garden: Trains & Plants

Just a few steps from the U.S. Capitol’s Christmas tree is the Botanic Garden. Every Christmas, they create a model train exhibit whose tracks are laced in and out of the fabulous plants in the BG. The US Botanic Garden is small and beautiful.  Go!

USBG holiday show - Holiday tree train detail“Take a trip across America as our annual holiday show, Season’s Greenings, showcases Roadside Attractions! In our model train show, trains will chug around, below, through, and above plant-based recreations of iconic sights from across the United States. This year, the theme is “Seasons Greetings: Roadside Attractions.” (from the BG website)

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The Botanic Garden even has a miniature of the new National African American Museum on the Mall

Sample itinerary: Downtown

  • Visit the trains at the Botanic Garden
  • Take in the quiet beauty of the Christmas tree at the base of Capitol Hill
  • Stop for a drink at the Willard Hotel, where “Kentucky Statesman Henry Clay first introduces the Mint Julep outside of Kentucky in the Round Robin Bar,” according to the history of the hotel on the WH’s website. It’s on Pennsylvania Avenue, of course!
  • Walk the Pathway of Peace to see the National Christmas Tree and state trees.
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lobby of the Willard Hotel

Georgetown

The Washington National Cathedral sits at the top of Wisconsin Avenue, which leads into Georgetown, a hop skip and a jump away, so let’s start here. If you don’t have the Christmas spirit, visit the Cathedral and you will get it! Its gorgeous decorations (the altar guild ladies have great taste and talent), charming Creche Collection (of nativity scenes from around the world, on display from late November to early January), and gift shop will infuse you with the spirit. The Joy of Christmas concert is a Washington tradition that is particularly festive, cheerful, uplifting, and beautiful in this glorious setting.

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The Washington National Cathedral

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The Washington National Cathedral

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Charming creches from around the world each reflect where they were made. The one above is from Bolivia, I believe.

Since you’re at the Cathedral and the Cathedral is so close to Georgetown, saunter on down Wisconsin Avenue towards the Potomac River to do a little…

Christmas Shopping, House Gazing and Merry-Making

  • Everards’ Clothing in the 1800 block of Wisconsin Ave has nice clothes for men and women, despite its somewhat austere website.
  • While Georgetown has it fair share of chain stores, plenty of boutiques abound. The 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue is especially good. Patisserie Poupon is a nice little place in this block for a quick lunch. Look at the beautiful things (plates, serving pieces, jewelry, linens, and lots more) in A Mano
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A Mano boutique in Georgetown

Dine at 1789

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A long-time DC favorite, every table at 1789 is full at Christmas-time (photo courtesy of 1789 Restaurant)

Dine at wonderful, old 1789 Restaurant, right next to Georgetown University, on a night they have carolers (December 15-24). They are tuxedo-clad and stand in front of this fireplace…this is an important point because they don’t saunter from table to table, forcing you to smile encouragingly while staring at them for an entire song sung in front of your table. So festive and elegant! Plus, very good food and warm ambience.

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(photo courtesy of 1789 Restaurant)

Mt. Vernon

And last but not least, cross the Potomac River to visit our first president at Christmas at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon. Click through to explore Mt. Vernon’s numerous and varied Christmas-themed tours.

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(photo courtesy of George Washington’s Mt. Vernon)

Voici some fun facts about our first president and Christmas:

  • “44-year old George Washington made one of the boldest decisions in military history when he led his troops across the icy Delaware River on Christmas evening, 1776″ (from recent email from Mt. Vernon)
  • Click here for an intriguing list of GW’s whereabouts on various Christmases, including the detached kitchen of his burned-down boyhood home; on a ship returning from Barbados to Virginia; visiting an “Indian Queen;” and hauling in fish nets on the Potomac River. Did George ever sit still?!?
  • “On December 23, 1783, George Washington resigned his military commission in Annapolis and returned to Mt. Vernon in time for Christmas, bearing gifts for his family.” (from recent email from Mt. Vernon)
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(photo courtesy of stichting kunstboek)

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

Seattle to San Diego Road Trip (part 4/4): California

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Carmel (photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

Santa Cruz to Carmel (45 miles)

The drive along California’s coast from Santa Cruz to Carmel-by-the-Sea is about an hour. Stay at La Playa Carmel, a beautiful hotel whose elevated terrace overlooks its sumptuous gardens, pool and giant chess board.

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La Playa’s elevated terrace: Note the Pacific Ocean in the background

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La Playa

Daisies, fuchsia, nasturtiums, geraniums, Mexican salvia and many more flowers fill La Playa’s gardens.

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La Playa’s garden (note chessboard on the left)

Bike around Carmel’s peaceful streets, filled with charming houses with distinctive architecture in a variety of styles and gorgeous gardens. Click here for the story behind Carmel’s fairytale cottages, like those in the two photos, below. Such an interesting story!

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Someone actually lives in this storybook cottage! (photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

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Carmel’s main street (photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

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Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Carmel (photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

Click here to read the interesting history of Carmel Mission (below).

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Carmel Mission, circa 1771 (photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

Finished the day with a delicious dinner at fun and pretty Grasing’s

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Our best meal in Carmel (photo courtesy of Grasing’s)

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Grasing’s bar is warm, friendly & filled with casually stylish locals.

Returned to our cheerful, big room with a fireplace at La Playa.

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room at La Playa Carmel (note the Pacific Ocean view)

Carmel to Montecito (245 miles)

The drive along the Pacific Ocean from Carmel to Montecito is five hours along Highway 1. Such a DRAMATIC and BEAUTIFUL coast!

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You will drive over the much-photographed Bixby Bridge near Big Sur.

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Bixby Bridge

Montecito is a beautiful and rich town with big and diverse houses. Oprah has a house here; in fact, she is the largest land owner in the area. Montecito is the next town south of Santa Barbara, which is pretty but not particularly interesting.

Checked into the San Ysidro Ranch, which was stupidly expensive (cheapest room=$700=ours; no meals included; while pretty, our room was half the size of our $440 room in Carmel) but gorgeous gardens, including an extensive kitchen garden, and nice staff. Jack and Jackie honeymoon-ed at San Ysidro Ranch.

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San Ysidro Ranch’s charming main building

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gardens at San Ysidro Ranch

We lay by the pool alone here for three flawless hours…ahhh!

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Old Mission (founded 1786) in Santa Barbara

Drive into nearby Santa Barbara, visited its historic Mission, drive down State Street (its main street), and have a little cocktail at the Four Seasons Biltmore.

Montecito to La Jolla (210 miles)

The drive from Montecito to La Jolla is approx. 4 hours down Highway 1. The water is a blue/green and doted with surfers and some paddle boarders…SO California!

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(photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

The water and beach are beautiful until you get to Malibu…famous Malibu, where the beach-side houses completely block the water views. Seriously claustrophobic. Let’s hope the rich and famous flock to Malibu because there is an enclave of fab houses somewhere there, though they were not evident to us. Plus,we encountered no traffic on our entire drive from Seattle through California…until we got to Malibu. From then on, the roads were more congested.

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the beach at Crystal Cove (photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

We stopped by Crystal Cove along the way. Ever heard of it? Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, CC is a step back in time…to the time of luau parties with CEO’s mixing with beach bums and artists beginning in the 1920’s.

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

Think sunset cocktails in the 46 quirky cottages pieced together in the 1920’s out of salvaged materials…

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

…in 2001 when the California State Parks department evicted the residents, a proposal for a beach resort met with protests, at which point the parks department restored the cottages to their kitschy 1930’s and 40’s glory, and open 13 of them for overnight stays. Now referred to as the Crystal Cove State Park Historic District you can rent a beach cottage and pretend you are back in its luau party days (click here). Don’t you think this would be fun!?!

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

On the drive into La Jolla, you will see a reconstructed Middle Eastern desert village (low, one-story huts) up from the beach on the Pacific. It was built for training purposes by one a number of big military bases in and around San Diego, which is 14 miles from La Jolla. We drove through one of these bases (hundreds of acres, on the outskirts of SD) on either side of Highway 1.

We stayed at La Valencia in La Jolla, a peach-colored stucco grand dame. Built in the 1920’s, it hugs a hill in front of the park on the beach. Palm trees, Bougainvillea, flowering hedges, & pots of roses dot the grounds. Lovely, retro-glam pool!

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La Valencia in La Jolla

La Jolla is easy to see on foot and nice enough, although its abundance of tacky, tourist-town art galleries detract. Drive to the Hotel del Coronado (where “Some Like it Hot” was filmed) for lunch. The architecture is exaggerated and wonderful, and its location is very pretty but it is too big (600 + rooms). There are lines for the ladies’ room! However, we had a very nice lunch there, looking at the white sand, sparkling blue water, palm trees and people walking by.

San Diego is 15 miles from Mexico and the second largest city in CA.

End-of-Trip Observations

  • The trip from Seattle, WA to La Jolla, CA is 2,165 miles, traveling on Highways 101 and 1. We did the entire trip without interstates, except for a short part where we had no alternative. Most of this drive is on two lanes and uncrowded = a pleasure and probably did not add much to the travel time.
  • The people on the West Coast were way nicer and more laid back than those on the East Coast–consistently.
  • Surfers are everywhere along California’s coast…true to stereotype!
  • Washington, Oregon and northern California (north of San Francisco) have small populations.
  • The green of the NW coast is in stark contrast to the brown of the SW coast.
  • I can see why the NWesterners are “crunchy.” The natural landscape is so exaggeratedly beautiful (redwoods, mountains, beaches) that their focus is outdoors.
  • The most beautiful, polished art we saw on our entire trip was in Western Art & Architecture magazine in our room at Tu Tu T’un Lodge in Oregon. Well-executed “cowboy art” of landscapes and men on horseback and animals. Beautiful, sophisticated horses made of polished redwoods, river rocks and stones, lots of glass.
  • For most of our drive north of Malibu, the drivers were much more considerate than those on the East Coast.
  • In southern CA, we saw many fields of workers picking crops by hand—back-breaking!
  • We encountered little evidence of the history of the West Coast, except for the pretty Spanish missions (churches attached to monasteries) and not many of those.

Hang ten!

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

Seattle to San Diego Road Trip: California (part 3/4)

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(photo courtesy of Redwood National Park)

The sun came out the second we drove across the boarder from Oregon into California. No wonder they call it “sunny California!” Washington and Oregon are gloriously green because it rains a lot but, I have to admit, California’s sunshine was a relief.

Gold Beach, OR to Eureka, CA (136 miles)

Redwood National Park starts at the Oregon/California boarder and is 50 miles long. RNP looks exactly like the travel photos you have seen in magazines: picture perfect, awe-inspiring and peaceful.

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RNP has it all: beach, mountains, woods & lakes. (photo courtesy of Redwoods National Park)

Drive the Avenue of the Giants in Humbolt Redwoods State Park, a 31-mile country road that parallels and intersects Highway 101 with 51,222 acres of mighty redwood groves!

Redwoods in fog and sun

Be sure to chat with your hiking partner as you walk these trails because bears like them, too, and they don’t like to be surprised! Needless to say, I chatted up a storm. (photo courtesy of Redwoods National Park)

Our first overnight stop in CA was in Eureka at the Carter House Inns. Eureka is a Greek word and a mining term meaning, “I found it!” (you needed to know that). The town is unattractive except for a few short blocks, where the Carter House Inns are located.

Eureka to Healdsburg (202 miles)

Departing Eureka, we continued our drive down the stunning California coast through Mendocino (Did you know that “Murder, She Wrote” was filmed here?). Mendocino is a beautiful, small (pop. 900) town, perched on a rocky cliff. Visit the Mendocino Headlands State Park and the lovely Point Cabrillo Light, built in 1909.

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(photo by Alison de Grassi, courtesy of Mendocino County Tourism Commission)

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(photo by Alison de Grassi, courtesy of Mendocino County Tourism Commission)

We tore ourselves away from beauty queen Mendocino to drive inland two hours to Healdsburg in Sonoma County. As we drove, the scenery changed rapidly from craggy beaches to rolling hill-after-hill of vineyards, similar to Burgundy, France.

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near Healdsburg (photo courtesy of the Wine Road)

Three million TONS of wine grapes are grown in CA each year! Sonoma County is all vineyards and conveniently located just one hour north of San Francisco.

Stayed at the Hotel Healdsburg. It’s fun, nice and well-located.

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Hotel Healdsburg’s pool with main building in the background. Beam me up!

Ride bikes along the pretty, rolling hills of Dry Creek Valley near the hotel. Then, spend the day wandering around Healdsburg, tasting wines (including sparkling 🙂 and exploring the little boutiques. Healdsburg is the only town I have ever been to that has multiple blocks of small tasting room/stores, each representing a different vineyard.

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near Healdsburg (photo courtesy of the Wine Road)

Drive the Wine Road, which includes six of Sonoma County’s 14 wine growing regions: Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley (very attractive, well-tended vineyards and wineries, with fancy signs and gardens at their entrances), Green Valley, Chalk Hill and Rockpile. Taste the wines, eat oysters and loose yourself in the views of the vineyard-covered countryside.

Healdsburg to Pt. Reyes (67 miles)

Next stop south along Highway 101 to Highway 1: Point Reyes National Seashore, 71,000 acres of nature reserve on a peninsula sticking out into the Pacific Ocean.

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Chimney Rock Trail at Pt. Reyes National Seashore Park (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Point Reyes is made up of low, sand-colored mountains surrounded by water. Soft, pretty light at dusk. Very undeveloped with enough small towns to give it interest. PR is only an hour by car from San Francisco. We spent a day driving around the peninsula, with big views of scrub-covered low mountains dotted with cows and occasional ranches. Had a fun lunch on Tomales Bay, sitting outside by the water while imbibing just-plucked-from-the-water oysters at Marshall Store Oyster Bar & Smokehouse.  Delish clam chowder and simple, wonderful ambience!

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Pt. Reyes (NPS photo/Dan Wells)

Tiny Pt. Reyes Station is a boho town near the park and a bit of a foodie destination. We had a sophisticated and mmm, mmm, good dinner at The Olema’s ground floor restaurant called Sir and Star. Located in tiny Olema, two miles from Pt. Reyes Station, The Olema is also an inn and has been so since 1876. Read this NYT article for more. We stayed at Manka’s Inverness Lodge whose rooms were each in converted campers. Stylish idea, charming furnishings but our camper/room was stub-your-toe crowded. Would not recommend it because of management’s “we can do no wrong” attitude. If I went back to Pt. Reyes Peninsula again, I would stay in Nick’s Cove and Cottages, whose rooms are converted fishermen’s shacks on the water. Kitsch appeal!

Next stop: Santa Cruz, three hours south down Highway 1.

Pt. Reyes to Santa Cruz (140 miles)

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(photo courtesy of the Dream Inn)

What a glorious drive! On our left, we passed siren-scented Eucalyptus trees, pumpkin patches and lush fields of crops; and on our right, the mighty Pacific Ocean. The farther south we drove, the higher the hills climbed. We drove through few towns and then, suddenly, Santa Cruz (pop. 65,000). Where’s Gidget, I wondered, because SC is a well-polished throw back to the 1960’s.

By now, you may be tired of nature shots so here’s a photo tour of the cheery, ’60’s-chic interiors of our hotel, the Dream Inn

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(photo courtesy of the Dream Inn)

From your balcony, you will see the long 1904-built pier to your left and Cliff Walk to your right. Have a cocktail or two at the old-timey bar on the municipal pier looking onto Monterey Bay, watching the surfers catch waves.

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Does this not take you back to 1962?! Get a room overlooking the pool on the top floor. Saunter along Cliff Walk (in the background of this photo) to see its pretty houses. (photo courtesy of Dream Inn)

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(photo courtesy of Dream Inn)

Surfing was introduced to the US in 1885 at Santa Cruz when three Hawaiian princes who were attending military school nearby commissioned a woodworker to make three planks (surfboards) out of local Redwood. They spent their school vacation in Santa Cruz surfing. And that was how the craze began!

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Hallway at the Dream Inn—love it!!! (photo courtesy of the Dream Inn)

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The Dream Inn’s hotel lobby: They are really working the surfing theme. Love it!

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Dream Inn’s fire pit overlooking the pier (left), beach, and cliff walk (right): Nightcap, anyone???

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Even the Dream Inn’s coffee shop is cute! It’s name is Verve, as in the record label

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Santa Cruz’s amusement park was built in the early 1900’s & is in mint condition. Really fun to explore! (photo courtesy of the Dream Inn)

Whew! California is a big state. We are going to have to finish up our CA coastal drive in the next post. Stay tuned!

Seattle to San Diego Road Trip: Oregon (part 2/4)

Sure, you could drive the entire Oregon coast in 10-12 hours, but then you would miss gazing at…

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Ecola State Park, part of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail (photo courtesy of Andrew Harper)

Quinault, WA to Manzanita, OR (157 miles)

Almost as soon as we crossed into Oregon from southern Washington, the towns were more attractive. Our first stop was Manzanita, a relaxed little town (population 600) developed 100 years ago with a charming main street, some nice shops…and a BIG gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean at the end of its main street.

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Manzanita’s main street (photo courtesy of Sunset Vacation Rentals)

Suggest you stay at the Inn at Manzanita and request a room with a balcony looking toward the ocean.

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Manzanita’s WIDE beach: No wonder this pup is so happy! Few houses dot this beach, despite how it looks in this photo. (photo courtesy of Katie Bell, courtesy of Manzanita Visitors Center)

You can catch Chinook salmon, sturgeon and steelhead trout in this bay, as well as Dungeness crabs and, at low tide, clams. And you know what that means: good seafood available at local restaurants!

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Manzanita’s beach is seven miles long. Note the lovely river in upper left. This is a photo from the Manzanita Visitors Center, so I am not sure who these girls are! (photo by Melissa Perry)

And speaking of hiking, once you have explored Manzanita, go up, up, up to the trail along the ridge of Neahkahnie Mountain, which overlooks the town and beach. That’s what the girls in photo above are doing. You will walk through meadows and woods of tall pines that border the trail along the ridge of the mountain, all the while looking at the great arc of the ocean below. What a view!

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The trail was treacherously steep and on the edge of a sheer cliff, in some parts.

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The trail along Neahkahnie Mountain leads to this beach, where we had a windy picnic.

While staying in Manzanita, drive 15 miles north along the coast to the grand and glorious Cannon Beach. Here’s why…

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sea stacks on Cannon Beach

In his Oregon coast itinerary, Andrew Harper recommends staying at the Stephanie Inn at Cannon Beach, but we prefer Manzanita to Cannon Beach because the town is smaller with more charm. We also prefer the Inn at Manzanita. While probably not the most glamorous place you have ever stayed and not on the beach (though we could see the ocean from our balcony), the Inn at M is simple and nice, versus The Stephanie Inn, which felt a bit impersonal and slightly blue-hair.

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Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach

A Bit of History from the Ecola State Park timeline: “1806 – On hearing news of a beached whale, a party from the Lewis and Clark expedition that was encamped at Fort Clatsop
near present day Astoria, visited what is now Cannon Beach in hopes of acquiring blubber and oil. The expedition party, including Captain William Clark and Sacagawea, crossed over Tillamook Head and found the whale near the mouth of a creek Clark named Ecola, the native term for whale. Clark’s journals and interaction with the native inhabitants provide the earliest documentation of the Tillamook people that inhabited the region.”

Manzanita to Gold Beach, OR (272 miles)

Depart lovely Manzanita and drive south along Oregon’s SPECTACULAR coast. After six gorgeous hours, you will arrive at TuTu’Tun Lodge, a very nice fishing lodge on the Rogue River, which is eight miles inland from the Pacific coast. “The Tututni (Tu Tu’ Tunne) Native Americans of the Rogue were the first inhabitants to settle the area. The name of the lodge was inspired by ‘the people of the place by the river’ – a rough translation of the Tututni encampment where the lodge now stands,” per TuTu’Tun’s website.

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TuTu’Tun Lodge

The architectural style of the lodge is Frank Lloyd Wright meets Mission style with a touch of Asian. “The wonderful Northwest textures are everywhere in the cedar beams, fir wainscoting, slate hearths and river rock fireplaces. Even the grass cloth walls evoke a modern take on the plant weavings of the Tututni.” (per TTTL’s website)

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TuTuT’un Lodge’s pool overlooks the peaceful Rogue River.

At dusk, guests gather on the main lodge’s terrace overlooking the winding Rogue River. WONDERFUL hors d’oeuvres are passed as you sip your cocktail, before proceeding into the lodge for dinner. While dining with a table of strangers is not my fav, we had a good time and the meal was as outstanding. The hotel managed to create the feel of a convivial dinner party.

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inside the main lodge at TuTu’Tun, where the meals were DELICIOUS

TuTu’Tun is a fishing lodge. We don’t fish…and yet, we had a great time. Why? Because the lodge is upscale (these photos do not do it justice) with lovely flower arrangements sprinkled throughout and nice architecture, as well as beautiful grounds, a big, lush dahlia garden, set on a bucolic winding river. Plus, there are lots of fun things to do: fishing (steelhead salmon, Chinook salmon, silver salmon and Coho), spa-ing, jet boating (really fun!), kayaking, paddle boarding, pool lounging, and hiking. Being fabulously sporty at all times 😉 we of course partook in all of these activities, except the fishing, kayaking and paddle boarding.

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Rogue River as seen from TuTuT’un Lodge

After exploring the Rogue River via jet boat, hiking its surrounding trails, and lounging by its pool, continue down Oregon’s wild and lovely coast towards your next stop: California!

IMG_1506 (1)Be watching your inbox for the third and fourth installments of our road trip down the west coast of the US!!

Seattle to San Diego Road Trip: Washington (part 1/4)

We’ve all seen this photo of Seattle. But what if you got on this boat with your car, crossed the water, and drove the entire west coast of the US??? We did just that and it was a blast. Follow me to see what we saw…

Seattle to Forks, WA (138 miles)

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car ferry departing Seattle for Bainbridge Island and the open road! (photo courtesy of rebels-by-bus.net)

The car ferry to Bainbridge Island is a lovely, 30-minute ride.

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Public dock where the car ferry arrives from Seattle onto Bainbridge Island…exhale! (photo courtesy of Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce)

Drive from the Bainbridge Island ferry dock, along the north coast of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, through travel-poster scenes of dense forests shooting up tall mountains, surrounding big lakes. Watch the sights change from big city Seattle, to kids on sailboats, to people-less mountain scenes, then beaches and dense rain forests.

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The Olympic Peninsula looks this good in real life! (photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau)

After four hours driving through stunning scenes, you will arrive at Kalaloch Lodge, near Forks, Washington in Olympic National Park. While the lodge is not glamorous, it is clean AND its location is spectacular!

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Kalaloch Lodge (photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau)

Our room at Kalaloch Lodge had big picture windows looking onto this beach…60 miles of undeveloped shoreline!

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Kalaloch Lodge sits on the bluff to the left (photo courtesy of Kalaloch Lodge)

What is all that mess on the beach, you wonder? And why don’t they clean it up? These “logs” are 100′ long tree trunks that have been undercut by swollen rivers up in the mountains just behind this beach. The trees fall into the river, which delivers them onto the beach, where they protect the land from eroding. More “driftwood” here than anyplace in the world!

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The long-pine tree trunks littering the beach are called “bleached bones.”

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This river flows from the mountains behind this photo to the beach. You can see one of Kalaloch Lodge’s cabins on the left. (photo courtesy of Kalaloch Lodge)

Visit nearby Beach Number 4 (surely, the Park Service could have come up with a better name?!) to see the huge rocks on the beach into which Mother Nature has carved little tide pools (below), which support incredible diversity of life, especially starfish and anemones . Bonus: no other people on this beach, despite its dramatic beauty!

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When the tide goes out, these tide pools become exposed. Can you see the anemones in this one?

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These lime-green “sunflowers” are anemones: “Waiting patiently to capture food, sea anemones wave flower-like tentacles filled with stinging cells. Any organic matter delivered by the ocean will do, dead or alive. Their tentacles stuff captured food into a central mouth…Because anemones can reproduce by cloning, over time one anemone can produce an entire colony of itself.” (from Olympic National Park brochure) Thanks goodness people can’t clone themselves!

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“By pumping seawater through its vascular system to the tips of its tube feet, a sea star creates suction to grip mussel and barnacle shells. The sea star tries to pull the creature open; the shellfish struggles to remain closed. With enough time, the sea star usually wins. Ochre sea stars–in both orange and purple color phases–are the most abundant sea stars on this coast,  but there are many other species, ranging from delicate brittle stars to two-foot wide sunflower stars.” (from Olympic National Park brochure) Magnifique!

Visit spectacular Ruby Beach (near Kalaloch Lodge) to learn about the sea stacks, “drowned reminders of a time when the coastline was likely 30 miles further west…Tall sea stacks, often inhabited by nesting seabirds and topped by wind-sheared trees, dot the Pacific coast of the north Olympic Peninsula.” (per Olympic Peninsula Park brochure)

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Ruby Beach’s sea stacks and “bleached bones” (photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau)

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This is you, walking along Ruby Beach.

After your beach walking jaunt, go inland to hike the short Hoh Rain Forest Moss Trail: it is otherworldly. Phrases from “Evangeline” kept wafting through my mind: “This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, bearded with moss, and in garments green …”

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Upper Hoh Road near the Hoh Rain Forest (photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau)

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Hoh Rain Forest Moss Trail (photo courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau)

The moss trail provides soft, squishy, quiet, peaceful walking. Twelve feet of rain falls here each year, hence the green greens and moss-covered trees.

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(photo courtesy of Kalaloch Lodge)

“Although only 0.8 miles long, the Hall of Moss Trail landscape epitomizes the rainforest ecosystem…Here, old-growth Sitka spruce reach heights of up 250 feet, and western hemlocks dominate the forest canopy. The forest floor is blanketed in soft mosses and countless ferns, and bigleaf maples droop with the weight of soggy epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants). ” (per the Olympic National Park brochure)

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sunset from Kalaloch Lodge

Forks, WA to Lake Quinault, WA (67 miles)

We left the lovely Kalaloch beach and drove inland to the forest-surrounded Lake Quinault, also in Olympic National Park. The Quinault Valley’s six champion conifer trees are the largest living specimens of their species; only the Redwoods and Sequoias are taller.

The place to stay here is the Quinault Lodge, where the Nature Conservancy was meeting for a retreat when we were there, so you KNOW the location is beautiful.

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Classic! (photo courtesy of Quinault Lodge)

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Note the American Indian motif going up the chimney (photo courtesy of Quinault Lodge)

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Quinault Lodge has a big fireplace in its old-timey lobby with good views of the lake. (photo courtesy of Quinault Lodge)

Take a hike through the Quinault Rain Forest to see the  world’s largest Sitka spruce tree: 55’7″ in circumference and 191′ tall!

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TIP: On our drive from Quinault towards Oregon, we took a detour to explore Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula. Don’t do this. LBP is 28 miles of depressed, unattractively developed land.

Next stop: Oregon! 

Stay tuned for post #2 of 4 covering the road trip from Seattle to San Diego.

Montana: A Rootin’ Tootin’ Good Time!

TRRC_AFLAGI have always wanted to go to Montana…land of “big skies,” meadows, mountains, moose, cowboys, and lupins. I am here to tell you that MT lived up to all expectations when I visited last month!

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My requirements were few: no sleeping bags, meals at group tables or motels. After MUCH research, the MT options I found were camping, motels, all-together-all-the-time-with-your-fellow-guests ranches or ritzy ranches. Guess which one I chose? Mimi’s Travel File decided on the Ranch at Rock Creek. Heaven!

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parts of the Ranch at Rock Creek look like a John Constable painting

My goal: to experience the West, albeit a fantasy version. Advice from Ranch staff: riding, roping and fishing are their most Western activities. Giddy up!

Riding and Wrangling

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The Ranch has 80 horses, so the instructors (aka, wranglers) have the luxury of assigning horses to riders based on experience. My ride was just me and my wrangler, versus a nose-to-tail ride in a group of fellow guests, as I have heard is the case at many a dude ranch.

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Every day at 4:30, the wranglers drive the horses from the lower pasture to the great, big, wide upper pasture, which is quite an exhilarating sight to see! The horses are so happy.

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The Ranch even provides lasso-ing lessons. So practical! So fun!

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To top all this Western-ness off, the Ranch has the ONLY Wells Fargo coach still in active use…albeit to provide rides to dudes like us around the 6,600-acre Ranch at Rock Creek.

Fishing

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Fly Fishing

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Our fly fishing instructor was such a good guide that my husband caught several fish quickly…thrilling! After our lesson, our guide went elk hunting…just kicking back after a day at work.

Glamping (that’s Glamor+Camping)

The Ranch’s maximum occupancy is 125 guests, spread out over 10 square miles. You can choose between four different styles of accommodations: nine suites in the Granite Lodge, 10 charming canvas cabins (see below), seven luxury homes and three Historic Barn accommodations.

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We stayed in this cabin/tent/cabin combo. The cabin on the front has a screened-in porch. The bedroom is in the attached tent. The bathroom is in the little cabin attached to the back of the tent.

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The inside of our tent/cabin: The potbelly stove is gas and set on a thermostat. So pretty to sleep with fireside flames lighting the room at night…not to mention, warm!

Nice Touch: Every night when we returned to our cabin, we found a small gift on our pillows left by housekeeping…one night it was a bandanna; the next a salted caramel; the next night we found a jar of gourmet salt.

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This sparkling creek runs in front of the glamping cabins.

What if You Aren’t Into Riding and Fishing? There’s always…

hiking, biking, shooting (sporting clays, skeet, and more), ATV-ing and in the summertime, pool-lounging and rodeo watching. Year-round, you could take a photography class or yoga, get a spa treatment or two, go bowling, peruse the Ranch’s bookshelves, and hit the little gift shop, a.k.a. the Mercantile (though not wildly tempting because they neglect to sell the charming decorative items sprinkled around the Ranch’s public rooms and bedrooms).

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Hiking the Ranch’s 6,600 acres

The Ranch’s naturalist drove us off-property, in search of moose, while educating us about the flora and fauna.

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“Don’t Fence Me In”

What Price Glory?

All of this wonderfulness doesn’t come cheaply, of course…but we felt it was worth it because our stay at the Ranch at Rock Creek was a unique experience. The Ranch is beautiful. The staff is genuinely friendly and knowledgeable about the land and various sports each teaches/guides. The food is pretty, copious and good, though not memorable. Drinks are part of the package, including decent champagnes—unless you want something really expensive, like Dom Perignon. And best: management cares about and protects its guests’ privacy.

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Of Note: One staffer told us that the Kardashians had wanted to come stay at the Ranch with their camera crew. Management turned them down because they thought Kardashian & Co. would be too disruptive for the other guests. Love it!

When to go? Summertime is busiest and winter is least busy, and the seasons are priced accordingly. Our early fall visit was spectacular and the Ranch was at 33% occupancy.

Literary Traveling Companions

“Lonesome Dove,” by Larry McMurty and “The Best of the West, An Anthology of Classic Writing from the American West,” edited by Tony Hillerman

Git Along, Little Dogies!

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NY: Niagara Falls & Corning Glass–a lovely couple

THE FALLS

The Niagara Falls are gorgeous and a national treasure. You have to see them!

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Bridal Falls (left) and Horseshoe Falls (right) are two of the three Niagara Falls.

We took the boat ($50 pp) up to the bottom of the falls, which towered above us to such heights (50′) that they were almost scary. The falls hit the water below with such force that they create a swirling vortex, into which I was afraid our  boat would be sucked. Thankfully, these boats make this journey every 15 minutes, so their captains know how to avoid being sucked down, down, down into the depths of the Niagara River. The boat (below) holds 500 people, which gives you a sense of the scale of this photo.

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Definitely don the un-chic plastic poncho that comes with your ticket on “The Hornblower.” The mist from the falls bounces up 100′ and sprays gently down onto you. (photo courtesy of Hornblower Niagara Cruises)

Niagara Falls straddle the international border between the U.S. and Canada. The “Maid of the Mist” boats depart from the American side in NY. “The Hornblower” boats depart from the Canadian side. You want “The Hornblower” because it goes deeper into Horseshoe Falls, the largest of the three that are collectively referred to as Niagara Falls.

The Niagara Falls are a gorgeous…but don’t spend the night there…unless you like depressed towns (Niagara, NY) or to be surrounded by the Hard Rock Cafe and similar (Niagara, Canada), which of course you don’t! Instead, take your passport and drive a mere 20 minutes north into Canada.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE

The 16-mile drive on the Niagara Parkway from Niagara Falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, will take you past the most ENTICING farm stands I have EVER seen and through vineyard after vineyard. Ontario is one of Canada’s three largest wine-producing regions.

Photo credit:  Elena Galey-Pride, winestains.ca

(photo courtesy of Reif Estate Winery)

Niagara-on-the-Lake is charming: lovely houses from the 18th and 19th century (settled in 1781 as a British military base, it became a haven for pro-British loyalists fleeing the U.S.); tons of gardens, public and private, bursting forth with flowers; and a theater festival, all located at the confluence of Lake Ontario and the Niagara River.

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The streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake are filled with flowers, just like in the photo above. (photo courtesy of Niagara Falls Tourism)

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one of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s many attractive old houses (photo courtesy of Niagara Falls Tourism)

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Walk around town and gaze at the beautiful old houses and established gardens
  • Watch the Wednesday night sailboat races from the town’s small public golf course, which has Niagara-on-the-Lake’s only restaurant on the water. The food is merely okay but the setting is lovely, with a view of Old Fort Niagara (which has been occupied since the 1700’s by the French, English and now Americans) across the water. Big view heaven!
  • Attend the George Bernard Shaw Festival, whose season of plays runs from April to October. We did not go to this, so I can’t vouch for it.
  • Bike or walk along the Niagara River Recreation Trail that follows the Niagara River through beautiful countryside, from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Queenston (1-2 hours at a leisurely pace by bike)
Cyclists - Niagara River Recreational Trail

(photo courtesy of Niagara Parks)

  • Vineyard hop between the 50 vineyards in and around Niagara-on-the-Lake and the entire Niagara wine region along the shores of Lake Ontario. Follow the Wine Route of Ontario through the countryside by car, bike or guided tour. Many Niagara wineries have restaurants, where they pair their (natch) wines with regional cuisine
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(photo courtesy of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario)

  • Run, don’t walk, to the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservancy and enter its a big greenhouse of tropical plants and many, many colorful butterflies flitting around. Best butterfly conservancy I have seen!
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(photo courtesy of Niagara Parks)

Several lit on me! Just beautiful!

Butterfly Conservatory 1

(photo courtesy of Niagara Parks)

Butterfly Conservatory Monarch

(photo courtesy of Niagara Parks)

STAY

I recommend a three-night stay at Niagara-on-the-Lake in one of the following:

  • Oban Inn: in town, by the golf course; has an upstairs balcony room
  • Harbour House: in town, nice though not luxurious. We stayed here. I have only seen the other three hotels from outside but they all looked very nice.
  • The Charles Inn: in town, stylish in a low-key way
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(photo courtesy of The Charles Inn)

  • Riverbend Inn: near Niagara-on-the-Lake and the bike path, pretty location
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Riverbend Inn

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

Wander the streets of town and you will find something appealing, though nothing outstanding.

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(photo courtesy of Reif Estate Winery)

Highly recommend you drive to several of the surrounding vineyards for what I imagine would be great meals. The settings certainly are! By scrolling around this link to Wine Country Ontario, you will find a varied selection of impressively beautiful vineyards, many of which have attractive restaurants. Given the amazing produce stands in the area, I just bet the food is amazing, too!

Magical Veranda

(photo courtesy of Reif Estate Winery)

SHOP

Lots of shops, none enticing.

Corning Glass Museum in Corning, NY (2.5 hour drive from Niagara Falls)

We spent three hours there, waaay more that my usual one hour-and-depart policy. What made the Corning Glass Museum so great: the history of glass making described, plus 35 centuries of examples of the most ancient glass on up to gorgeous “art glass” of the present day…and not just Dale Chihuly. I plan to return because three hours was not enough.

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(photo courtesy of Corning Museum of Glass)

CMoG 60th Birthday

Glass in America exhibit, including beautiful Tiffany window on right (photo courtesy of Corning Museum of Glass)

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Corning Museum of Glass

STAY

Rather than stay in Corning, which is nothing special, drive half an hour to the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. While this is not the most fab hotel you have ever been to, it is quite comfortable (we had a nice, big room with a balcony overlooking the lake) AND, GREATEST OF GREAT, the “True Love” yacht from “High Society” (Grace Kelly) and “Philadelphia Story” (Katherine Hepburn) is docked at the hotel AND available for a two-hour spin on the lake. It is an elegant movie star of a schooner built in 1926. “My, she was yar!”

 

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The True Love on Seneca Lake (photo courtesy of Schooner Excursions)

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The True Love (photo courtesy of Schooner Excursions)