Category Archives: family travel

Ode to the Icelandic Hot Dog

Sometimes you eat something and magic happens. Yes, magic. No really, like full-on expecto patronum and junk. This sort of alchemical reaction can lead to uncontrollable drooling and really bad poetry, as is evidenced below in my ode to the Icelandic hot dog. 

Icelandic Hot Dogs

Sappy, savory, hand-held treat,

Iceland’s cheapest thing to eat. 

After fish that smelled so foul, 

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur makes the stomach growl.

Snuggly nestled underneath, 

saucy, salty, savory, sweet… toppings. 

At each baseball game and boardwalk jaunt,

my taste buds will you ever haunt. 

Pathetic prose aside, Iceland might actually make the world’s best hotdog. I say this as a connoisseur, a life-long devotee of ground meats stuffed into a casing. I might even suggest one venture to this amazing island simply to ensure the life-changing experience of these dogs. 

 

 

Loews Loves Pets (and it’s a mutual thing)

Do you travel with your fur family members? If you’ve undertaken the task of even looking into doing so, I’m sure you ran into the same issues we have; outrageous fees, no facilities  or simply no pet-friendly room at the inn. There is hope fellow pawrents. Loews Loves Pets… and it’s a mutual thing. 

Loews Loves PetsIn the fall of 2015 we lost a beloved family member. Don Sonny Corelone Di Paola ascended the rainbow bridge after nearly fifteen years of joining us at the table for meals, napping on baskets of freshly folded laundry and a life-long refusal to own the fact that he was born a feline rather than human or canine. This cat growled at the doorbell and insisted there be an extra chair at the table for him though he never ate morsel.   

As our hearts began to heal, we  found there was room behind the scar tissue. In the spring we welcomed Gordon von Ottawa du Barkhimedes (a eleven-week old French Bulldog) to our family. Gordy is our first dog as a family. 

Being cat pawrents really never put a kink in our travel style. Aside from the occasional jumping into an open suitcase and refusing to budge, they pretty much could care less if we were head out-of-town without them. I’ve my suspicions that there may have been some wild feline soirees going on in our absence.  

As newly minted puppy familiga it became rapidly clear that Gordo was going to have to earn his travel wings. We started him out with his first trip to NYC as soon as the vet cleared him to be social. The guy road tripped like a pro from day one. I think he may have learned bye-bye faster than sit!

Travel with DogsWe learned, “I’m sorry we don’t allow pets,” even faster. When we did find hotels that would welcome Gordon our bill would shoot up an average of $100. Ouch! Adding insult to financial injury, that green bought you exactly nada beyond allowing the dog in the building. Then we found Loews Hotels! 

As hotel chains go, Loews has long been one of our favorite. Why? Service. Loews takes attentiveness to the next level.

Staying at the Loews Regency New York a few years back I mentioned at check-in that my husband and I would be enjoying our first kid-free getaway in over two years. When we got back to our room after an afternoon in the park there was a bottle of wine and some sublime chocolates waiting alongside a note telling us to enjoy ourselves. When we stayed at Loews Grand Pacific – where I made it abundantly clear that I was the family Harry Potter nerd – the concierge spent a good twenty minutes giving me all the insider tips on navigating the nooks and crannies of Diagon and  Knockturn Alley.  Alohomora big time, fellow Potter heads! 

The most abundantly clear example of the unique, genuine and warm welcome at Loews (that seems to be a corporate philosophy)  came when we brought Gordon along to celebrate Lil Nugget Number 4’s big tenth birthday.  Let’s back things up just a bit…

Em is our youngest. She started planning her tenth birthday, along with her gallery opening and Oscar acceptance speech when she was about three years old. Where some girls her age love Barbie she loves her travel journal, glitter isn’t her thing but a good hotel bathrobe is (she has a collection.) It really wasn’t a huge surprise when in lieu of a birthday party she asked for a bubble bath, room service and taking Gordon to a hotel.  

The bummer of having a late-summer birthday is that travel isn’t quite as doable. The upside for us is that we’re surrounded by great staycation destinations like DC, Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland. Another huge plus is that Annapolis is rated one of the most dog-friendly cities in the country.  The trifecta of birthday awesome for Em is that there is a Loews in Annapolis. Which brings us back to where I started telling you about what makes Loews hotels so unique for families that travel with fur family in tow.

Now back to where we were…

Checking in at Loews Annapolis is more like being welcomed home. Yes the floors are polished marble, walls are hung with nautical themed works of art and fragrant arrangements of flowers abound, but there is zero pretension. How can one be aloof when they melt at the sight of a puppy? That’s exactly what the front desk staff did when Gordo walked in the joint.

Loews Loves PetsThe blue carpet rolled out for both Em and her fury lil bro. She got birthday hi-fives, well-wishes and covert questioning about what her favorite treats are. He got a welcome goody bag packed with handmade treats, his own Loews water bowl, accident bags and even a sparkly bit of bling for his collar.

Yes, we were hosted guests of this particular Loews but this sort of welcome is the norm not the exception. When you pay to bring your four-legged family along Loews makes sure you get value beyond a room at the inn. 

That hospitality and attention to detail, in my experience, applies to all guests at every Loews. Every time we’ve been guests the staff has always asked if we were celebrating anything. If we were, they’d make sure to celebrate along with us by sending notes, treats or just remembering every time you passed by in the lobby.

Loews Loves PetsWhile chatting with the staff at Loews Annapolis I made mention that Em’s last birthday was New Orleans themed. Not sure why the kiddo is so enamored with The Crescent City (she’s never been) but she is. Her room is decorated with masks, fluer de lis and street signs from the French Quarter. He asked if we’d stayed at the Loews New Orleans. I didn’t even know there was one (travel blogger, fail.)

That night when she and her pup were snuggled up after an epic round of Monopoly, I booked her first trip to NOLA. Knowing there would be a Loews to welcome us, I couldn’t resist. We’ll be spending Thanksgiving in the Big Easy and bringing Gordon along!

Loews Loves Pets - Hotel room birthday sorieeWhen you find a place that feels like home, you know you need to be there. Thank you Loews for hosting this one stay, but even more for giving us more reasons to travel with the WHOLE family!

If you travel with fur family in tow, stay tuned for our article in the holiday issue of Skimbaco Lifestyle Magazine. We’ll be dishing on more tips for travel with pets including how essential oils can make it easier for everyone. Check out the autumn issue that’s live now. 

Loews Loves Pets 

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Follow Your NOLA (a love letter to New Orleans in pictures)

Follow Your NOLA

Did you know that Carnival season in New Orleans kicks off on January 6th? So many people think it’s all about Fat Tuesday. Much like just about everything else in this city, there is so much more to it. 

I’m reviving this post published after our first family trip to the Crescent City to introduce you to some of the many reasons we love this magical place more than any theme park or cruise ship. Who couldn’t love a place that has a parade for everyone from Joan of Arc to the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus

It isn’t just the parades though. Yes, there is food and oh boy, is there drink. But there is also art, music, workshops, and so much more. While this is our love letter to New Orleans, you’ve got time to go this year and write your own too! 

For some, there are places in this world that call to them even if they’ve never been. I’d always thought that was the truest definition of wanderlust, a need to go places we’ve never been. A recent trip to New Orleans changed my perspective. If ever there were a person in this word for whom the tagline Follow Your NOLA applied that would be my youngest daughter. 

From a very young age, maybe about six or seven, she’s been fascinated by New Orleans. One might think that came from tales of my travels, but no. Long before my first visit she’d seek out shows on the History Channel or Discovery that talked about the folklore, food, and stories that cling to this city like so much Spanish Moss. It was actually rather sweet to sit huddled on the sofa and shiver at the tales of The Myrtles Plantation. Frankly, I was nearly as enamored.  

After my first trip to NOLA when she was eight the fascination grew. I think she wore beads and a mask to school for a week. Her room began to take on a distinctly French Quarter vibe and by the time her ninth birthday rolled around, it was clear the theme would be… Big Easy. 

 I’ve often wondered over the years if perhaps she was drawn to this city not by wanderlust, but by something deeper within her. In my travels, I’ve become certain that there exist in this world people who are simply old souls.

These people seem to have deeper connections to places, customs, and cultures than most of us do. They needn’t have grown up near or been raised in the places and things they love. They are simply a part of them no matter time or distance. My daughter is an old soul and New Orleans her muse. 

She recently celebrated her first double-digit birthday. How? With a trip to her city. 

Never have I seen such instant love. The child who is usually first to start fussing about long walks, couldn’t sit still. She nearly prowled the streets of the French Quarter. Night fell and she lit up like one of the gas lamps that dot the streets. She savored every spice (even tried alligator) lingered to look at every piece of art, got her cards read and sang Ella Fitzgerald songs on street corners with bands from around the globe. 

This is her city and she is its child. They belong together. Here is a short love letter to New Orleans in pictures that she chose. 

Laissez les bons temps rouler, mon amis!  

 

Is Travel Elitist?

This post has been brewing (festering, if I’m being honest) for nearly a year now. I’m not sure why it has been so hard to write. I feel very strongly about the point I hope to make yet still, the words haven’t flowed.

It all started when a stranger on social media accused me of being an, “out of touch elitist with no ability to understand that most people don’t enjoy the privilege of being able to travel.”  My knee-jerk reaction was a mix of anger and bewilderment. Months later I feel myself still struggling with a question… is travel elitist?

Let’s start with a little context. The comment was in a forum where the topic of discussion focused on traveling with family. In retrospect, I believe their reasoning may have been to point out to the group that not everyone has the means to plan a trip around the globe with children in tow.  Point taken. Honestly, I don’t have the means to do that either!

Wouldn’t we all want to be able to do that? The truth is nearly none of us can or ever will. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t still go places. Maybe that is the crux of the issue. Perhaps it isn’t that travel is elitist but that one’s definition of it can be.

Travel has looked very different to me at many stages in my life. Growing up there was a period of several years where the state we lived in teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. My father, an employee of that state, lost his job and was without work for a longer time than my family was equipped for.  Young parents to three small children, my mother and father had to scrape to pull things together often finding that ends still wouldn’t meet.

Still. We. Traveled.  

Mom would raid the garden, bake some bread, fill a canteen and off we’d go. Be it to the next town over by car or on foot into the wilds of the high desert, we went places.  Years later, when finances had improved, we’d embark on a cross-country trip by train. I was probably around ten and to this day I vividly remember most of that adventure. Seeing America glide by as the sun rose and set is where my insatiable wanderlust took root.

cathedral doorway Harlem, New York

Many years later my military service would take me far from home, a nineteen-year-old living in a foreign country a world away from all she’d known.  I didn’t just explore, I thrived. Travel became a need, not at want. 

The small town where I lived in southern Spain served as a base camp. From there I’d adventure into Morocco to ride camels by the sea, to Portugal where I’d eat the best meal of my life for less than three American dollars, into small towns and bustling cities I’d wander, get lost, find myself and go again spending more time than money.  

As began my own family travel just naturally became part of our fabric. When there wasn’t enough change under the cushions of the sofa to put gas in the car, I’d pick up a Lonely Planet guidebook and we would mind-wander together. Growing up my kids loved our semiregular Travel Nights at home. They would pick a place they wanted to see and I’d make them research the area, find out what made it unique and build a list of the things they’d like to do there. We’d find music from that culture and cook dishes that you’d find there.  We couldn’t afford to get on a plane and go to Germany, so we’d bring Germany to us.  

None of that early travel was made possible because I had means, it was because I was open to seeing travel as more than a hotel and a passport.  I truly believe that your definition of what it is to travel plays a big role in how accessible it becomes. 

Now that I’m all grown up (yeah, right) traveling to far off places is easier.  My job as a freelance travel writer has helped facilitate adventures beyond both my wildest dreams and my budget. Because of that work, I was able to take my father back to the country his family came from and yes, we stayed in a five-star hotel… because I worked hard for it and that hard work gave me the privilege to do this. How is that elitist? 

blue sky day on the Chesapeake Bay

A desire to see and experience as much of this world as I can, has forced me and my family to give up more things than I’d ever imagined I might consider going without.  In return, it has given us back more than my wildest dreams. My hope is that making my kids travel when what they really wanted to do was play little league or have a dog, will help them see the world though eyes of compassion and have a healthy sense of our contentedness to each other and our planet. 

To that person who felt compelled to say what they did I say, go somewhere, anywhere! Hop on a bus, take a walk to the next park over, visit the library and grab a book about a place you long to see. I know it isn’t always going to be easy and may never get to that place, but you will still have gone somewhere, seen more and learned more. Then I’d challenge them with one question… is travel elitist? 

Lighthouses & Sunken Submarines: St. Mary’s County, Maryland

What is it about lighthouses that sparks such fascination? A romanticized notion of the lonely keeper of the flame. Perhaps it has something to do with a mix of quite heroism and tales of the sea. Then again it could just be all about the view.  I’ve set out on a quest to visit the lighthouses of Maryland to try and answer that question. 

Up first is a unique lighthouse with some hidden treasure you won’t find anywhere else. 

Piney Point LighthousePiney Point Lighthouse

Do you imagine a lighthouse as a towering presence standing watch at the water’s edge? Me too. In fact I’d always sort of thought there was a height requirement. Which when I stop to think about it makes no sense. As long as the view is unbroken, the job gets done.

The Piney Point lighthouse isn’t even the largest structure within the historic park in which it resides. It sands only thirty-three feet high.

“…and though she be but little she is fierce.” ~Hermina

Opened in 1836 the lighthouse stands watch over the Potomac River. In the course of its service (it was decommissioned in 1964 by the US Coastguard) the lighthouse and its adjacent quarters were occupied by twenty-one Keepers and their families. Four of those keepers were women.

Some of these women were spouses, trained in their husband’s profession out of necessity. Lighthouses tend to be placed in remote areas where assistance was often hours away. Wives served as backup keepers. Following a ship wreck, Mrs. Goeshy (wife of one of William Goeshy – Keeper in 1939) swam repeatedly out into the water to rescue victims. She may have actually been one of the Coast Guard’s first, famed rescue swimmers.

Who knew lighthouse keeping was a beacon for feminism? I sure didn’t.

I’d also no clue at there was a German U Boat sunk in the waters just off the coast from where the lighthouse sits century. That’s one of the amazing facts that had our entire family’s rapt attention when we toured the Piney Point Lighthouse, Museum and Historic Park with historian and former Park Ranger, April Havens.

One could say that U-1105, or the Black Panther, was one of the first-ever stealth submarines. Commissioned 1944 she was outfitted with a synthetic rubber skin over her hull. One of less than ten in her class U-1105 was turned over to the Allies after the war. The intention was to bring the Black Panther to the United States in order to study the unique radar/sonar blinding technology.  Ah, but the sea had plans of its own.

On day four of U-1105’s journey from England to the States she was caught in a hurricane while surfaced. A section of the submarine was ripped away by the force of the storm causing it to nearly keel over. A portion of the synthetic skin lost to the sea. After what research that could be done was completed the sub was scuttled in the Potomac River in St. Mary’s county Maryland in 1949.

The Black Panther sunk 91 feet in 20 seconds on that day. The boat was quite literally lost, for decades. In June of 1985 divers rediscovered the  wreckage. Today U-1150 stands as Maryland’s first historical shipwreck preserve.

These enthralling tales are just two of the many we learned from during our visit to the Piney Point Lighthouse.

Piney Point Lighthouse

Tips for visiting the Piney Point Lighthouse Museum & Historical Park

Start at the Museum – There is surprisingly a lot of ground to cover here in the way of things to see and learn about. The main museum is self-guided with lots of vignettes to read through in a small space. They score bonus family travel points for having a small Kiddie Corner with activities for the littlest kiddos.  

Ask Questions – When you head out to the marine portion of the museum you’ll have a guide. These guides are experts with a passion for the history of Piney Point. Asking them questions makes the visit all the more an EDventure. Be sure to ask about the torpedoes! 

Bring a Picnic – The museum sits on a coveted water-front. All that gorgeous beach you pass on the way in with cute decor and colorful beach chairs is private property. Can’t stop for a snack there, but there is a dock, picnic tables and small stretch of sandy beach at the museum.

Great for Kayaks – There is a public peer to launch your kayak from for free. The parking is free as well. The launch closes at sunset but if you let the staff know what your plans are they can make arraignments.

Hit the Gift Shop – Not only are there cute, crafty and even beautiful treasures to be found in the shop, but spending your money here helps support the preservation efforts.