Saturday, December 10, 2011

The time has come to say good-bye...

Good-bye Greenville SC. The time has come to leave behind the long hot summer, the lingering mild that is fall and head into the chattering teeth of Old Man Winter.
That's right, we're leaving South Carolina and heading to South Dakota. In December, on purpose! The craziest part is that I'm looking forward to it.

I really don't know much about South Dakota outside of what we all know. The Badlands, Custer State Park, Sturgis, Mount Rushmore, prairie dogs, bison, the great outdoors, THE COLD!
I'm really excited to get to know the area and learn about the history of South Dakota.

So, watch this space for observations,rants,raves and all of the edge-of-your-seat fun South Dakota has to offer.

South Dakota

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bouchon French Comfort Food - Asheville, NC

We were in Asheville, NC this weekend to have dinner at Bouchon. Bouchon bills itself as French comfort food. The menu covers the French bases pretty well. There are the usual suspects ranging from Steak Frites, the sturdy fall dish Cassoulet, Bouillabaisse and most things in between.
The menu is broken down into small plates and large plates. The small plate side covers soups, salads and other starters such as marrow bones and pates while the large plates are the entres.

We were there for the cassoulet. A favorite fall dish and one that we look forward to. Away from our favorite we looked for the local French restaurant and found Bouchon. I didn't end up ordering the cassoulet but did get to try it. From the bites that I had I can say that the best part of the dish for me was the pork belly and the, apparently, in-house made fennel sausage. The most disappointing aspect of this dish was the serving temperature. It arrived at the table lukewarm at best. No explanation for that. Service seemed prompt so maybe the kitchen just misfired? Taste was good but the dish could have been SO much better. 
The other entre we tried was the chicken cordon bleu. It too was just OK. A bit overcooked and served with a mix of veg that was way overcooked. Again, taste wise the dish was fine but fell short of what I expected. The thing that saved the meal for me were the frites. Thin, crispy, salty, dusted with rosemary and served with a red pepper mayo. Just perfect. Dessert was very good too. Crepes with chocolate and strawberries and the delicious chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice cream. So good.

I should note that besides the main dining room Bouchon has a patio for outdoor dining and also a private dining room in their wine cellar that can be reserved. On nights when the wine cellar dining room is not reserved it is opened for dinner seating. Bouchon is a small place and fills up fast. They don't accept reservations. My advice is plan to dine early. On the night we were there the main dining room was full by 6:00. 

Bouchon is located at 62 N Lexington Ave in Downtown Asheville's shopping district. Lexington Ave is lined with funky stores, cafes and coffee shops. It is a destination and sure to have something for everyone. Bouchon is only open for dinner and the doors open at 5:00. They are open 7 days a week.


Michel Baudouin, the chef, and his wife Vonciel, own this charming little spot. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, TN October 2011

We made the trip from the Carolinas to Tennessee through the Smoky Mountains. This time of year the trees in the higher elevations are just about at peak for fall colors. The trip through the mountains was amazing.

Although Dollywood is located in Pigeon Forge we opted to stay about 45 minutes away in Knoxville. We arrived in Knoxville with a three part plan. #1 Dinner at Famous Dave's (call me a Philistine but I love Famous Dave's!) #2 go to Dollywood and #3 head to the Knoxville Zoo to add to our Mold-o-Rama collection.

Number one we took care of as soon as we got to the hotel in Knoxville. Famous Dave's was right in the hotels parking lot. Nice! We headed over there for dinner. The next morning, Saturday, we headed to Pigeon Forge and all things Dollywood. The trip to DW from Knoxville is easy enough and we were on the road that leads to DW in no time.
The road to Dollywood; let me describe what we saw. The road into the area where Dollywood is located is lined on both sides with every imaginable tourist related business you can think of. It is a sold mass of hotels, restaurants, arcades, shops, museums, and mini-golf courses. If we had chosen to stay in the immediate area of the park this is where would be have ended up. If you're thinking about making the trip to DW I wouldn't hesitate to book at any of the hotels we saw along the way. Once you've seen the amusement park there would still be plenty to do in the area. It would make for a nice long weekend or a short family vacation.

We arrived at the park right at opening time which on this day was 9:00am. After being directed to park in a huge lot and then driven by shuttle to the parks entrance we bought our tickets and were on our way.

The park is divided into several areas. Each contain shops, restaurants and amusements. I was there specifically for the crafts and headed to Craftman's Valley where the craftsmen and artisans are located. There are all types of crafts to see being made and to purchase. Blacksmithing, candle making, basket weaving, just to name few. We walked around, sampled the food and watched the craftsman at work. A lovely way to spend a beautiful fall day.

What I expected was a hokey, fake-sincere hoedown designed to suck money out of our pockets. What we got was a  fun, warm and friendly place filled with nice people who really want you to have a great time. Dollywood is very family oriented but definitely enjoyable for couples and groups of friends too.
If you find yourself in the Knoxville TN area with some time on your hands head over to Pigeon Forge and pay Dollywood a visit.  The fine folks there will be happy to see that you have a great time and I'm pretty sure you will.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Happy to be here

Everyone has a happy place right? That one destination that we return to time and time again. For me that place is Key West FL.
Just knowing that I have plans to be there are enough to lower my blood pressure a few points.
There's something about Key West. For all of the time I've spent there I've never been fully able to explain the draw. So much about the appeal is how I feel when I'm there. Calm, relaxed, freed from the day to day routines of life.
The smell of the ocean, the sounds of roosters greeting the sun, the bustle of Duval Street filled with tourists from the big cruise ships, all of these things say "relax you're here" to me.

Take a moment today, visualize YOUR happy place. Where do you find yourself? A beautiful vacation spot, your favorite coffee shop, at home on your own front stoop? No matter where it is, the happiness we feel when we're there is a gift.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fall Travel

We're going to Dollywood. I know, Dollywood! I can't wait. I'm looking forward to seeing the mountains lit with the red, yellow and orange colors of fall and to seeing what this iconic southern tourist area is all about.
I'm most looking forward to seeing the work of the craftsmen and artisans that ply their trades at Dollywood. Woodworkers, candle makers, glass blowers. It should be a fun trip.

After that, the Georgia Guidestones. If you're like me and have never heard of the Georgia Gudestones until now, take a second and google them. Sometime in the late 1970's a mysterious benefactor commissioned the creation and installation of this massive granite monument located in Elbert County Georgia. Sometimes referred to as the American Stonehenge, the monument is inscribed with 10 guidelines for how we should live on the Earth. I'm totally fascinated and can't wait to see it in person.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hilton Head Island SC

I have to say Hilton Head Island was nothing like what I expected. Well, I guess I didn't really know WHAT to expect as we made our way down US 278. The approach to Hilton Head is a tree lined highway that could be anywhere USA. I could have been traveling the highways of New Hampshire or Wisconsin for the lack of any hint of the ocean. This surprised me. I was waiting for the trees to part and a vista of the ocean, or at least a glimpse of the beach, to come into view. That never happened.
What I saw was a community that seems to hide its charms. I like the uncluttered look that is achieved, I can only imagine, by having very strict sign ordinances. No billboards, no large ad signs of any kind along the road. All of the businesses, both local places and national chains, have small monument signs marking their locations. Every business, from the diner where we ate breakfast, to the local CVS, are all signed the same way. While this makes for a uniform view and uncluttered roadway it makes finding things difficult for first time visitors. At least it did for this one. It also added to the overall feeling of unwelcome I felt.

Hilton Head doesn't embrace you with warm colors and brightly lit beachside stands. While it seems to have all of those things, it makes you work for them.
Once we sorted out where the public beach was (one of them in any case, Coligny Beach) we headed that way. We parked in a free lot and walked the short distance to the beach. The pavilion leading up to the beach entrance was just lovely. Nicely appointed areas for showers and restrooms, swings and adirondack chairs for relaxing and taking in the views. The beach itself was beautiful. Neatly lined up rows of umbrella chairs, nice paths to walk on, everything in its place. It was really very nice. We stayed for a bit, walked along the water and shopped for souvenirs. That was our day in HHI.

To be fair, it was a very short visit. We stayed in the Savannah area longer than we expected. That said, I will most likely visit again. I can only assume that staying in one of the many beautiful beach front resorts would provide for a whole different experience than the one we had and would show a totally different side of the island.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Lady and Sons Savannah GA

One of my must do's when visiting Savannah GA was to dine at Paula Deen's Lady & Sons restaurant. I was in Savannah on Friday and got to do just that. We had heard so much about the potential wait that we had no idea what to expect. We took a chance and walked over from our hotel on Friday evening. When we arrived there were only a couple of people in line at the hostess stand. We spoke to the hostess and found out we could be seated upstairs immediately.
The restaurant is in a multi-storied building with lots of dining spaces. We sat in the third floor dining area (accessible by elevator) adjacent to the bar.
We were greeted promptly by our server, drink orders taken and menus dropped off. Not long after we were treated to some delicious Hoe Cakes and Cheddar Biscuits, a Lady and Sons tradition. Both were very tasty and a nice start to our meal.
We looked over the menu and selected a couple of appetizers and our entrees. We started with the Shore Seafood Dip and the Fried Green Tomatoes. We enjoyed them both with the seafood dip taking the lead spot for me. I decided on the buffet so that I could try several different dishes and my husband had the Chicken Pot Pie. The Chicken Pot Pie was very pretty. A lovely lattice crust over what looked like a very generous portion of pot pie filling. I was told it was very good. The buffet was really nice. I got to try Paula's fried chicken, greens, mac&cheese and some very tasty yams. The buffet also included a low country boil which consists of shrimp, sausage, potatoes and corn all boiled together in a seasoned broth. It was easily the highlight of the buffet. A definite must try.  For dessert there was Gooey Butter Cake. Overall, the food from start to finish was very good.
 I enjoyed my experience at The Lady & Sons. If you are any kind of Paula, Jamie & Bobby Deen fan put it on your must do list. You won't be sorry you did.

Savannah & Tybee Island GA Saturday

One of the other must do's on my list was to visit the Bonaventure Cemetery to see the Bird Girl statue. This is the statue made famous by the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Unbeknownst to me, and I'm sure I was the last to know, the statue had been removed from Bonaventure and placed in the Telfair Museum. I have to admit, I'm not a huge museum fan. I've been to plenty of museums but given the choice I'd rather do something else. But, if I wanted to see the Bird Girl in person that was the only way. We walked over to the museum and took the tour. It was fine, a nice exhibit of watercolors, some examples of living in a bygone era. I recommend checking out what passed for a kitchen then. Very eye opening. Finally, after our stroll through the exhibits we came to the statue I had come to see. It was lovely and all that I expected. I can't say that I wasn't more than a little bit disappointed to have to view it this way. I was looking forward to getting a picture with the Bird Girl but of course, in this setting, that wasn't allowed. Too bad. I hope that someday she moves back to her original home and I get another chance.

Later that afternoon we headed out of town towards the beach. On the way we stopped and had lunch at Uncle Bubba's Oyster House. I'm really glad we did. Uncle Bubba's, part of the Paula Deen restaurant family, was a great surprise. A big place located in a picturesque marsh setting with outdoor and indoor seating and a large bar. I had some of the best Key Lime pie there that I've ever had. The rest of the food was good too. After lunch we headed a bit further down the road towards the beach and found ourselves in Tybee Island.

Tybee Island was everything I expect in a beach community, colorful, fun, inviting. A very nice beach with a huge pavilion. There was music and laugher, people sunning and playing on the beach. Just great. We walked out onto the fishing pier, watched the ocean and a few surfers catching what waves there were. All the while I was wondering when I could get back out this way and spend sometime vacationing here. Hopefully I get the chance soon.

Back to Savannah and another stroll through the City Market. Pizza and beers at Vinnie Van Go-Go's and dessert at another restaurant along the market. A nice ending to a lovely day.

Lunchtime in Savannah

We went to Uncle Bubba's Oyster House Saturday 09/17/11 for lunch. No wait and we were seated promptly. Our server was great and made certain that we had an enjoyable lunch. We went in with no expectations but we did know about the association with Paula Deen. I really enjoyed my meal at Uncle Bubba's. The bite size corn muffins with honey butter are a nice start. We ordered the conch fritters appetizer and I have to say, along with the key lime pie, were better than any I've ever had in the keys. Light, not greasy, nicely spiced with great conch flavor. I had the Shrimp and Grits entre and my lunch companion had the Low Country Boil. Both entrees were vey good. The shrimp in both of our lunches were cooked perfectly. Finally for desert we had the Key Lime Pie. Just fabulous. The crust went beyond the basics with the addition of slivered almonds. It was buttery and sweet and the perfect foil for the tart, creamy filling. All of it topped off with a generous dollop of perfectly whipped cream. I can't recommend it highly enough. 
The space is nice. A large restaurant with a big bar, outside dinning and great marsh views. Family photos are hung around the restaurant giving it nice feel and at the same time highlighting the connection to the Deen family. 
I enjoyed Uncle Bubba's and will make an effort to go back if I'm ever in the Savannah area again.

Savannah GA

Savannah GA - Friday evening/Saturday morning

Savannah is a beautiful city filled with history and southern charm. It's a genteel city with a storied past and a long list of colorful characters that have and continue to inhabit it. 
This was my first trip to Savannah and there were a few things on my "must do" list. First on the list was a visit to Paula Deen's Lady & Sons. After dropping our bags at the hotel that was the first thing we set out to do. We were able to get immediate seating and off we went.
The restaurant is in a multi-storied building with lots of dining spaces. We sat in the third floor dining area (accessible by elevator) adjacent to the bar. 
We were greeted promptly by our server, drink orders taken and menus dropped off. Not long after we were treated to some delicious Hoe Cakes and Cheddar Biscuits, a Lady & Sons tradition. I enjoyed my experience at The Lady & Sons. If you're any kind of Paula, Jamie & Bobby Deen fan put it on your must do list. You won't be sorry you did.
We stayed in a contemporary hotel set in a historic building in Savannah's Historic District. The location was perfect for walking to all of the nearby sites.

The following morning we made our way to River Street. This is Savannah's River Walk area. Lots of touristy shops, bars and restaurants. Perfect for exploring on a leisurely walk. I was interested in see the Waving Girl statue that is located in a spot along the river so we headed that way. *
There were several informative markers along the walk as well as a WWII monument. The monument is shaped like a globe and is engraved with the names of local veterans. It is also surrounded by a brick walk. Each brick in the walk is also inscribed with a name for remembrance. 

Walking back to the hotel we passed through the City Market. The market is a pedestrian friendly area lined with art galleries, shops and restaurants. There was live music being preformed and the whole affect was very nice. Later in the evening we came back and grabbed a bite to eat and a beer at Vinne Van Go-Go's pizza. Nice spot to sit for a bit and good for people watching. I did notice that several of the area restaurants had pet friendly patios. Something to consider when traveling with Fido. I enjoyed seeing all of the four-legged guest enjoying the festivities. 

* Florence Martus aka "the Waving Girl", took it upon herself to be the unofficial greeter of all ships that entered and left the Port of Savannah, Georgia, between 1887 and 1931. From her rustic home on Elba Island, a tiny piece of land in the Savannah River near the Atlantic Ocean, Martus would wave a handkerchief by day and a lantern by night. According to legend, not a ship was missed in her forty-four years on watch. A statue of Martus by the sculptor Felix de Weldon has been erected in Morrell Park on the historic riverfront of Savannah. [From Wikipedia]

More later

Friday, September 9, 2011

Getting to know you - Savannah GA & Hilton Head SC

While I'm living in South Carolina I'm going to try and visit the sites both here and in the surrounding states. One of my first forays will be to Savannah GA and Hilton Head SC. 

I've wanted to visit Savannah ever since I read the book Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil. I want to visit the downtown Historic District, the famous squares and of course the Bird Girl statue in the Bonaventure Cemetery. I'm going to try to have lunch at The Lady & Sons too. I've heard so much about Paula Deene's place over the years I just have to go. And I really want to try the hoe cakes. Savannah also has a riverwalk which I want to see. I enjoy the riverwalk in San Antonio and I'd like to see how the one in Savannah compares

Hilton Head has been on my radar for a while now. Friends and family have been telling me for years how great the area is. Now I'll finally get to experience it first hand. I'm looking forward to learning about the island's history and eating at A Lowcountry Backyard. I'm head over heels for pimento cheese and shrimp & grits and both of these favorites are on the menu. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why do we travel?

I would bet that there are as many answers to that question as there are people in the security lines at the airport. Why do you travel? To get away, to experience new places and new people. To stretch your knowledge of the world we live in? All of those reasons and many more.

There is some travel that we do out of obligation. Business trips to far flung places, trips to visit family. But the trips that we take because we want to, because we can, because we need to, that’s a whole other story.

For me travel has to do with renewal. The chance to take ourselves out of the routine of our ordinary days. Places where all of the hustle and bustle has no bearing on me, where I can be anonymous and just take in the sights and sounds around me. How nice to be able to shrug off our day to day responsibilities and just go where our whim takes us.

There’s something relaxing, almost magical, about being in a place where I don’t understand the language. All of the voices become a background chorus. A back drop of the exotic that lets you know right away that like Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore.

There are many schools of thought on HOW to travel. There is the organized and agenda’d travelers who can tell you right where they’ll be on any given day of their trip. Planning makes sense but too much of a good thing can back fire. There has to be some forgiveness built into your schedule. If not any missed connection could be catastrophic. There has to be time for the spontaneous side trip. Time to eat lunch at a hidden gem of a restaurant that you’ve stumbled across. Time to just be.

I don’t travel nearly as much as I would like to. Life and work often find a way to limit my wanderlust. When I do travel it’s for relaxation, to recharge my batteries and take myself out of the routine obligations of life. Why do you travel? What one place or places do you secretly yearn to visit?

Originally posted at Lazy Lightning

Here we go!

Even with the current state of air travel few things make me happier than hitting the road. I love to travel. Planes, trains, automobiles, I love them all.
My goal is to share my travel, dining and odds and ends in this space. Travel tips I've learned over the years and things I feel need to be shared. Thanks for joining we go!