Tag Archives: Travel

Road Trips

“The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream.”
– Jack Kerouac

Ah, road trips. Growing up, my parents were keen to hit the road with the three of us in tow. They were then and still are adventurers, wandering souls, Flower Children in search of that bit of zen that growing up in the 60s had promised them.

My brothers and I were the beneficiaries of this wanderlust.  By the time I’d turned ten I had stood in awe of mysteries of The Thing, met many a stoic carved Chief at the entrance to endless “trading” posts, and ate more than my fair share of car-snacks and roadside taffy.  If it was the World’s Biggest ______,  a ghost town or even a dinosaur, we detoured to check it out. 

Getting up in the wee hours, watching as dad loaded the family wagon with that Coleman cooler and more bags than people was somehow magical. Hitting the road was a sort of alchemy that changed the very atmosphere. The air smelled different on those early mornings. Light filtered through the car windows making the ordinary seem more like a kaleidoscope   

All the things that drove mom nuts on a daily basis at home somehow had diminished impact when we were on the road. Even my younger brothers transformed, no longer annoying little ogres. Jam-sodden bread became a delicacy worthy of at least one Michelin star.

The destination didn’t really matter all that much, it was the getting there that got to me. Deep in the very fabric of a growing young traveler the seeds of wanderlust took hold. 

Traveling back then was certainly different from what it is these days. Many of those roadside wonders have faded into the background, sun faded and abandoned. My kids don’t know the simple joy of singing 100 Bottles of Beer on The Wall to the point of exhaustion. It might be a good thing that their devices keep them from playing Punch Buggy. But I’m left to wonder if, even though they are far more traveled than I was at their ages if they’ve missed out on something magical about childhood. 

Do you have memories of special childhood road trips? What there a roadside attraction that amazed (or disappointed) you?  I’d love to hear all about them. Shared stories are better than any souvenir – well except for that magnet I got at the Grand Canyon circa 1970something.  

 

 

Visiting Annapolis, Maryland with Kids

Annapolis Maryland

Sometimes Spring Cleaning means dusting off an old post that somehow people are managing to find. One of the top searches here at The Nugget has always been; what should I see when visiting Annapolis, Maryland. Funny that I happen to live just a few minutes away.  Wait… does that mean the internet is stalking me? 

From the halls of the United States Naval Academy to the quaint City Dock, and dozens of points in between, Maryland’s charming and historic capital makes for a perfect day-trip (or longer) with the family. 

U.S. Naval Academy Museum

 Moon Rock housed at U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland

 This hidden gem of a museum welcomes over 100,000 visitors from around the globe every year. Located in Preble Hall on the gorgeous grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy, the museum offers two floors of exhibits about the history of sea power, the development of the U.S. Navy, and the history of U.S. Naval Academy. Exhibits include artifacts from historical figures, battles, and events. Touch a piece of the actual U.S.S. Monitor, read letters penned by Admirals and presidents, see sand from the island of Iwo Jima as you take a walk through the history of our Navy – and country. There is even an actual moon rock donated to the museum by Apollo 14 astronauts. 

The best part? Admission to the museum is FREE!

Address:  118 Maryland Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21402. Phone: (410) 293-2108. Website: www.USNA.edu/museum  Hours: Monday – Friday from 7:00 am to 3:30 pm

Annapolis City Dock

Visting "Ego Alley" at City Dock in Annapolis Maryland

Rest here for a spell and have Alex Haley “read” your kids a story. The author of “Roots,” is immortalized in a sculpture that invites you to listen at his feet. I took along some books to read to my kids and soon found I’d started an impromptu story time for a few others.  Directly behind Mr. Haley is the City Dock Market House. Inside you’ll find food stalls serving up seaside favorites, and day-trip delicacies like famed Maryland Crab cakes and decadent gelato, perfect on a warm, sunny day. Walk off some of those calories with a stroll down “Ego Alley” where beautiful pleasure boats are docked. 

Don’t forget to bring along a little something to feed the ducks!

Parking: There is metered parking near City Dock, you’ve got great luck if you can snag one of those. If not, the Noah Hillman parking garage is just off Main Street in the Historic District at 150 Gorman Street.

Chick & Ruth’s Delly

Famous "Ben Cardin" Double Ruben at Chick & Ruth's Delly Anapolis Maryland

Speaking of eating! I say -with some authority as both a traveler and a foodie – that everyone MUST make the pilgrimage to the Delly at least one time (if not dozens.) Don’t let the cramped quarters, a layer of grease or the fact that they call it a “Delly,” deter you. Chick & Ruth’s is a Maryland institution for good reason.

  • Crab Cakes as big as your head (okay, maybe a little smaller)
  • Matzo Ball Soup any Bubbe would envy
  • House-made dill pickles, a complimentary treat you’ll pucker up to
  • A huge of menu items to choose from – many named after the local politicians who come down the street from the Capital Building daily
  • And the famed Colossal Challenges like the SIX POUND SHAKE (no really, it’s six pounds of milkshake) infamously conquered by Adam Richman of “Man vs Food” fame

Address: 165 Main St, Annapolis, MD 21401. Phone: (410) 269-6737. Website: www.chickandruths.com 

Pirate Adventures of the Chesapeake

Ahoy all ye adventurous scallywags! Really, what trip to a historical port city like Annapolis would be complete without a pirate adventure? Mysterious messages in bottles, hidden treasure and an epic adventure await those who embark upon a voyage aboard  The Sea Gypsy. This fun, family-friendly ship sails from Annapolis Harbor seven days a week during the summer months and on weekends through October 26th. Your ticket to ride will cost you $20 for those over three and $12 for those under. 

Be sure to arrive early to get gussied up in pirate finery!

Address: 311 Third St, Annapolis, MD 21403. Phone: (410) 263-0002. Website: www.chesapeakpirates.com 

Annapolis Maritime Museum

If you’re making Annapolis a stopover during a trip to DC you might think you’ve been museum-ed out, but trust me you’ll want to make room for one more – THIS ONE! Why? Because of the hands-on history lesson, your family will get. This small museum is set on the picturesque mouth of Back Creek, with a unique view overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. The museum takes advantage of the fact that it is housed in the last oyster-packing plant in Annapolis, engaging visitors in a fully interactive experience that takes them on a journey through the role that the water and they oyster industry played in the shaping of the area. You’ll also learn about the ecology of the area through an 850-gallon aquarium and exhibits that highlight the importance of conservation efforts.

An afternoon at the Annapolis Maritime Museum is FREE family fun!

Address: 723 2nd St, Annapolis, MD 21403. Phone: (410) 295-0104. Website: www.amaritime.org

Galleries, Eateries and Shopping… Oh, My!

Down Town Annapolis Maryland

My kids happen to be gifted browsers. They love to shop. It may be genetic. Annapolis is a wonderland for those who love to stroll in and out of shops and galleries, searching for treasures and inspiration. Though there are some chain stores to be found on Main street, they are outnumbered by smaller, more unique and locally owned boutique stores. Annapolis boasts a thriving art community and you’ll find a number of places that feature locally produced items. One of our favorite shops is Annapolis Pottery. Though not all of their items are produced locally, 95% of their products are produced in the U.S. and many of them are sourced directly from the artists who produce them. 

Hungry? Annapolis is the place to be! I polled the kids for recommendations. Here is what THEY recommend;

  • The Iron Rooster – Red Velvet waffles with fried chicken… I think we’ve said enough here.  Oh wait, they also crush the cocktail game and have amazing farm-to-table options too. 
  • Miss Shirley’s Cafe – A Baltimore staple now found in Annapolis, my kids would hurt you to get at a stack of their lemon-blueberry pancakes
  • Chick & Ruth’s Delly – They’re begging for that 6-pound shake, but happily settle for pizza bagels make on fresh, full-sized bagel halves and burgers from the kid’s menu that are big enough for a grown up. You’ll never leave this place hungry! Plus their kid’s menu prices hover around $5!

Parking: There is both metered parking and several public parking garages, as well as valet service at City Dock. You can find a map of the garages here.

Up next… where to STAY in Annapolis if you aren’t lucky enough to live 20 minutes away… or even if you are… hello staycation!

 

(photo credit – Annapolis Waterfront m01229)

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!  

 

Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Williamsburg: cursed (by my own offspring)

Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream with Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom

Racing heartbeat. Rapid breathing. Unrestrained screams of sheer terror. Public mocking from those you gave birth to. It’s all just a day at the park, if you’re me and that park is Busch Gardens Williamsburg during Howl-O-Scream – Cursed.

Some people get totally into Turkey. Others bring the awesome to decking halls (um, lights synced to music and everything). Me? Well, Halloween is my thing.

I own no less than two full, instructional-grade skeletons. You won’t find a single cuddly black cat or smiling jack-o-lantern in my house. I’ve spent decades perfecting the art of scaring small children – even a handful of grown men. People drive from other cities to test their nerve at our doorstep on Samhain.

I do the scaring. Not the other way around… or is it?

I’m not even being ironic with that opening paragraph, people. I screamed. I was mocked. This weekend I suffered the revenge of countless trick-or-treating folk and new family tradition, (a-la-Rosemary’s-baby) was born.

It all started out rather slowly. The park we’d visited in the summer had gone through a creepy makeover. Gone were the Union Jacks that hung in London Square, replaced with posters of Jack The Ripper. Jack-O-Lanterns were strung amongst the trees and some scary spiders lurked. But other than the ghoulishly awesome upgrades, the park remained the same. 

Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Emily rode her favorite flying dragon. We enjoyed some Guinness in Ireland, the big kids waited forever to take on Verbolten. Then, with the sinking of the sun, came an eery sound track and time for the small ones to head back to the hotel with dad. 

I stayed behind with Ryan and Kaytie to check out the scares. Yeah, like some theme park is going to be “terrifying” – pfft!

We waited in line for our turn in, “Root of All Evil,” a greenhouse themed haunted house walk through. The wait was long, but there were vendors along the route peddling refreshments, and trinkets. note: the barbequed scallop skewers – worth the waiting in line. Time with my teen and Marine made the waiting fly by.

Walking into the maze I was keyed up to get new ideas for this year’s festivities – then the wall came alive and growled at me! I screamed like a 4 year old, and it was on. At every twist and turn another something, or someone popped out at me and nearly caused me to pee!

This isn’t your mall parking lot “haunted” attraction people. IT. IS. SCARY. I haven’t involuntarily cursed that much in the presence of mixed company since my days in the Navy. Chased through fog so dense that you can’t see two people ahead of you, actors lurk through the hanging vines emitting noises that are decidedly non-human. Emerging back  into the open air, you might think you were safe… until a guy with the chainsaw chases you!

A CHAINSAW!

At one point the adrenaline coursed so rapidly through me that I picked my 20 year old son – a muscular, solid US Marine- up off his feet and tossed him at .. whatever the hell that was that just tried to grab me!

Weak, shaken and down right terrified I turned to my kids for succor. Wrong answer. The two of them where breathless with hysterical laughter.. at me.. THEIR MOTHER!!

At least the small crowd that gathered to point and laugh, having been near me in the maze, weren’t related.

Busch Gardens Howl o scream

Naturally this meant we had to head over to, the “Catacombs” for more. But first, we had to get there. Through Canada where it seems there was some sort of biological disaster. I honestly don’t know because I was hiding behind my son – who pointed me out to nearly every actor roaming the scene all too happy to take part in a game of “Scare the Old Lady.”

Inside the Catacombs it was so bad that I needed to throw my son again – since he obviously wasn’t going to save me. It didn’t help that  his sister sold me out too. I turned around at one point to comfort her only to come nose to bone with a guy in the BEST skeleton makeup I’ve ever seen. Though that didn’t register as I tried to climb UP the wall.

Apparently I’m the best attraction at the park – or at least that’s what the guy ahead of us felt compelled to share.

So traumatized was I that while heading out of the park I felt a soft brush on my arm and took off with a hop. I thought something had come out of the trees after me. Turns out it was only the water bottle clipped to my backpack. Yes, the kids will be telling that story for years to come. 

There is only ONE weekend left in this year’s Howl-o-Scream event. 

When:  October 24-26th 2014 (but is an annual attraction)

Tickets: $75 (ages 10 and up) $65 (ages 3-9)

Parking: $15

Those tickets are pricy, so I did some math for ya. Here in Maryland Bennett’s Curse (a haunted walk through attraction) will set you back $30. Howl-o-Scream features SIX of these type of attractions, PLUS the full fun of the park before the sun goes down, so you do really get your money’s worth.

Not into scaring yourself (seriously, I had nightmares) for fun? Then give it a couple of weeks. On select days November 21st  through December 31st Busch Gardens turns on the charm for Christmas Town.  Sip hot cocoa, stroll through “Europe” enjoying seasonal traditions from all over,  and take in the lovely lights. You’ll love it as much as we do… but dress warm. We learned our lesson on that one last year when we almost became part of Frosty’s family!

This post was made possible in part by my participation in the Busch Gardens® Williamsburg Ambassador program. I paid for my oldest son’s ticket, though the rest of family were provided park passes in order to experience the park and share with my readers.  All other items, including, games on the mid-way, feeding the birds, food and drink (nothing like Guinness on tap), I paid for. My opinions and those of my family are 100% our own – because YOU deserve nothing less!

Gone Glamping

Primitive.  That’s the term that is used to describe the camping experiences of my youth. Dad sparking the fire with flint. Mom cooking over the open flames. Not an outlet in site – did they not understand the urgent necessity of blow drying?  Where was glamping when I needed it?

I harbor no delusions, camping in the traditional sense is not for me. Though I do love to be out in nature, sleeping on the ground just doesn’t appeal to me all that much. Give me a quality bed, a respectable thread count and an actual bathroom and I’m a happy non-camper.

When the trend of glamping (glamorous camping) started to pop up, I knew it was for me.  A romantic “Laurence of Arabia” style tent, real furniture and a proper powder room… what’s not to love?

Firelight Camps Glamping

All that and more can be found at Firelight Camps in Ithica, New York.  Reserve one of their six safari-style tents equipped with hardwood floors, a private balcony, a king or queen size bed, and hotel-quality linens, and you’ll know we aren’t in a Coleman anymore.

Set up on the grounds of the iconic La Tourelle Hotel, this gorgeous “tent city” is within hiking distance of the Finger Lake Trail system and Buttermilk Falls State Park.  Head out on a trek to a picturesque waterfall, then come back to relax in the spa. Top it all of with a glass of the famed local vintage and indulge in gourmet s’mores.

Firelight Camps Gourmet Glamping

Charging stations, a bathhouse that includes a sauna, gorgeous linens and lovely furnishing all make for a happy Glamper!

Firelight Camps also strive to maintain lodging with a lighter carbon footprint and elevating Eco-Tourism to a luxury level.

© Allison Usavage

The Details

Address: 1150 New York 96B, Ithaca, NY 14850
Phone: (406) 852-2476

Website: www.firelightcamps.com

Rates: Start at $170 nightly for a weekday reservation and range up to $230 nighty for weekends.

Reservations: Are open for through November 2, 2014 and will be opened up again in May 2015. (it gets a bit cold to camp after NovemBUR in upstate New York)

Notes: Though this experience is geared toward the grownup set (ah, kid-free travel) they are also a family-friendly property. Dogs are welcome as well.