Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hot off the Press

"Advertising without posters is like fishing without worms."
- The Hatch Brothers

Chances are you’ve already seen the unmistakably recognizable posters that are printed at Hatch Show Print. Located in Downtown Nashville, Hatch Show Print has been printing posters since the 1870s and is one of the oldest working letterpress print shops in America. The hand-carved blocks that form Hatch posters are laid out in reverse on plates, inked and run through antique letterpress machines by hand. Since each piece of type was handmade over 100 years ago, every poster created has a slightly irregular look, making them appear antique.

Inside Hatch - the walls are lined with prints
Their first print job was a handbill announcing the appearance of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, brother of famed abolitionist and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” author, Harriet Beecher Stowe. It wasn't until the Grand Ole Opry began broadcasting a few blocks north of the shop, however, that business really took off. Over the years, Hatch has printed posters featuring country music legends such as Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, to non-country artists like hometown band, Kings of Leon and my favs, the Dave Matthews Band. Hatch Show Print was donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 1992 and is still owned by them today.

Posters via gigposters.com

Want to own your very own Hatch print? Stop by! Hatch Show Print is located at: 316 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37201 and is open 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM Monday-Friday; 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM Saturday & Closed Sundays.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Vacationing 101: How to Book a Hotel

Finding the right hotel is an art form that takes both time and patience. A picky traveler like me logs hours of research before committing to a hotel. Over the years, I have been able to refine this talent and today, I want to share my secrets with my readers. Without further adieu, below is my ‘how to book a hotel room’ checklist. Bookmark it, share it and enjoy it!!
  • Read reviews – You’d think this would be a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people pull the trigger on a hotel without reading what their fellow travelers have to say about it. Before any trip, I spend hours on tripadvisor.com to check out what people are saying. Is the hotel in a noisy area? How safe is the neighborhood where the hotel is located? Are the beds comfortable? You won’t find answers to these questions on the hotel’s actual website, but they are just as important when selecting where to stay. Another feature I love is that travelers can post photos of the hotel on tripadvisor.com. This takes the guess work out of trying to determine how old the stock photos are on a hotel’s website!
  • Check for bed bugs – Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard how big of a problem bed bugs have become in recent years. I would not even consider booking a hotel room without cross referencing it on the Bed Bug Registry. Granted, not all instances of bed bugs are reported to this site, and some of the findings might not be 100% accurate, but this resource is still one I utilize before any trip.
  • Look for discount codes – I never, ever make a purchase or book a vacation without checking for discount codes. Retail Me Not and Coupon Cabin are my two favorite coupon code sites, but if I can’t find a code there, Google is the next best thing. There are some fantastic deals out there if you do enough digging.
  • Consider staying outside the city – In most cases, you can find a great rate on a hotel located just outside of city limits. If you don’t need to be right in the middle of the action, this is an easy way to save some money on your trip. And if you’re worried about being outside the city, head over to Google Maps and look at an aerial view of the hotel to get a feel for how busy/desolate the area is.
  • Comparison shop – I love comparing rates on Kayak to make sure that I am getting the best discount possible. Sometimes you’ll see that the cheapest rates are non-refundable rates. I try to avoid booking a room that I won’t be able to receive a refund on, but if you’re looking to save money, that’s a good option to explore.
  • Take to Twitter – Travelling to an area that you know absolutely nothing about or no one in? Twitter is a great way to gather advice from the locals. Be sure to hashtag (#) your tweets with the city you are looking to stay in. Many cities’ tourism boards have a presence on Twitter and are very helpful to those looking to enjoy their city.
  • Add up extra costs – Sure you might be getting a great deal on the room itself, but how much will you be paying in additional costs such as parking? I have not booked hotel rooms simply because their parking rates were insane. Why stay someplace that is going to nickel and dime you when you can find a better rate elsewhere?
  • Freebies are GOOD – In order for me to book a hotel room, I need freebies. The feature that will always get me to book (pending good reviews!) is a free continental breakfast. I don’t need anything fancy – bagels and waffles will do. The amount of money saved on sit down breakfasts truly does add up, especially if you are staying at a hotel for a few nights.
  • Book through the source – I used to book my hotel rooms on discount sites, but really hated being charged for the cost of your entire stay upfront. To avoid this, I have started booking right through the hotel’s website. That way, I am not charged until I check out and can easily make a change or cancellation to my reservation without hoopla.
  • Join a Rewards Program – Customer loyalty DOES get rewarded, so if you’re partial to a certain chain, be sure to join their Rewards Program to reap the benefits!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Favorites: Curse of the Billy Goat

And now a Friday Favorite from Dan!

Quick joke. What’s worse than being a Mets fan these days? Being a Cubs fan.

I know, not very funny. But from one depressed baseball fan, today’s post will detail our trip to another tortured fan base in Chicago at Wrigley Field. Steph and I went to Chicago for the first time for the Fourth of July weekend in 2004. As part of our journey to a land of 100+ degree heat, we decided to catch a Cubs/White Sox interleague game at Wrigley Field. As a seasoned vet of heated interleague/inter-city matchups between the Mets (my team, for better or worse…usually worse) and the Yankees (God, I hate those smug bastards and their fans), I was fully expecting an equally passionate hatred between the North and South-siders. Much to my surprise, I found our entire section to be pretty dead. I’m sorry to say it Chicagoans, but your fans couldn’t have cared less about the game or what was happening. I was amazed at how little they seemed to be paying attention or getting amped for big moments of the game.

In fairness, there could be a few reasons for this lack of enthusiasm. Maybe it‘s because the Cubs haven’t won a title since 1908 and fans have given up on rooting too hard because there is no hope. Or maybe it’s because it was roughly 140 degrees out (rough estimate) and everyone was just doing anything they could not to pass out. Or maybe it’s because, in Chicago, you aren’t allowed to put ketchup on hot dogs and everyone knows how delicious this would be and it consumes them. Or maybe, just maybe, everyone was just a little distracted by the obnoxious couple swigging whiskey out of a brown bag and proceeding to ‘get busy’ in their seats (true story!) making the baseball game a backdrop to that main event.

That amusing spectacle aside, Chicago is one of our absolute favorite cities and Wrigley Field is must see for any even marginal sports fan. The beautiful stadium is brimming with history; albeit mostly bad for Cubs fans. From the ivy covered walls to old time manual hand turned scoreboard and the mostly awful renditions of “take me out to the ball game,” it’s definitely an enjoyable experience!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Population 1

Pic via Buford Trading Post
I have a really weird fascination with small towns. Living in the biggest city in the country makes it impossible for me to fathom living in a place where people are not always on top of you every.second.of.the.day. There are some rare instances when I find myself completely alone – whether in a subway car or walking down the street – but they are few and far between.

Just this week, the TODAY Show profiled an American city with a population of 1. That’s right, just one person. Don Sammons is the lone resident of Buford, Wyoming, which just happens to be the highest elevation point along I-80. Don runs the Buford Trading Post, the town’s grocery store, hardware store and liquor store. He also owns the town’s only snowplow and tow truck.

I google-mapped Buford and was beyond excited to find out it is a short drive from Cheyenne. We’ll be out there in a month, so a trip to Buford has been added to my clipboard of fun. Don, see ya soon!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Welcome to the Land of Fame, Excess

Figuring out what part of a big city to stay in can be a daunting task. When we decided we were making the trip out to Los Angeles, the first thing I did was query my West Coast friends as to some of the best places to stay. One of the suggestions that kept coming up was the Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica. A quick glance at their website sold me.

While the Huntley was quite posh and the amenities were wonderful, we felt like we were a bit further from the action than we wanted to be. So for our second trip, our goal was to stay right in Hollywood, either on the Sunset Strip or Hollywood Boulevard. A quick look on expedia made me think that this wasn’t possible, given our budget. That is….until I found a diamond in the rough.

Tucked in between the big, fancy hotels lining the Sunset Strip is a Best Western. You read that right…a BEST WESTERN! Of course, I was skeptical. I read all of the reviews posted on tripadvisor.com (and cross referenced the hotel with the Bed Bug Registry – more on that in a future post) and was pleasantly surprised. People are digging this hotel. We couldn’t argue with the rates, so we took a gamble that paid off big time.

Our flight got in super late and the front desk was very accommodating with our late check in. The room itself was very comfortable. What we loved the most was that we had shuttered windows that opened to the courtyard and pool below. I actually felt like we were staying at Melrose Place.

Location wise, the Best Western Sunset Plaza is in the heart of the action. The Chateau Marmont is literally right across the street, as is the Saddle Ranch Chop House, as well as one of Johnny Depp’s houses. Further down the strip are the Roxy, Viper Room, Whisky a Go Go and Rainbow Bar & Grill.

The hotel provided a complimentary breakfast consisting of the usual suspects – coffee/tea, cereals, fruit, bagels and freshly made Belgian waffles – my favorite. This feature is always a huge plus in my book because, right off the bat, we’re saving money on what we would have paid for a sit down breakfast. 

Parking at this hotel was fantastic. It’s a self-parking lot, which in my opinion is SO much better than having to wait for (and tip!) a valet every.single.time you need your car. Plus, we couldn’t argue with the rate - $14 per day, as opposed to the $30 per day we paid at the Huntley.

If you’re looking for a great and affordable way to experience Los Angeles, look no further than the Best Western Sunset Plaza. You will not regret it!

Monday, July 18, 2011

I'll be your Conway Twitty

One of my absolute favorite ways to get to know a new city is by taking a narrated bus tour. Nothing beats sitting back in a comfy seat as you’re chauffeured around town by an experienced tour guide who knows the ins and outs of their city. I’m partial to booking through Viator.com, but there are many great companies that offer these sorts of tours.

When we got to Nashville (where we were only spending 3 days) we decided to book the ‘Discover Nashville’ tour which promised a 3.5 hour journey to all the highlights of the city. We were picked up at our hotel by our tour guide, Rudy (loved him!) who stopped to introduce - by state of residence - every new group he picked to the rest of the tour bus. Rhode Island, meet Canada. South Dakota, you’re gonna be sitting with Louisiana. Rudy’s great personality definitely made the tour even more enjoyable and his knowledge of country music history was amazing. Too bad Dan and I had no idea who half the people he was talking about were….we’re Northerners! New York City doesn’t even have a country station on the dial…booo!

The tour took us past many of Nashville’s most famous sites - Historic Downtown, Fort Nashborough, the State Capitol, the Parthenon, Vanderbilt University and Music Row.

Tennessee State Capitol
The Parthenon in Centennial Park
Since the price of the tour included admission to the Ryman Auditorium AND the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, we were able to explore both at our leisure. I was most excited to see Ryman - the Mother Church of Country Music. It was wonderful to be in the place where the Grand Ole Opry was born and I could only imagine how fantastic the acoustics treated the voices of Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton. 

As far as the Country Music Hall of Fame goes – wow, so much to see here! This is someplace that we probably wouldn’t have gone to on our own, so spending an hour here was just perfect. I enjoyed seeing the Elvis memorabilia as well as some of the more current stuff from Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift, while Dan favored the exhibit on Hank Williams – who knew he was so messed up?

Outside the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Hank Williams' white cowboy suit
Johnny Cash's black guitar
Taylor Swift's Reem Acra dress from the 2009 CMA Awards

The last stop on the tour was the world famous honky-tonk bar, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge where we heard some fabulous live music and enjoyed a refreshing complimentary drink. Perfect end to the day!

If you’re looking for the ideal way to see Nashville in a short amount of time, we highly recommend taking this tour. Even though we didn’t know that much about the country music scene, we found it very informative and enjoyable.  However, we still have no clue who Conway Twitty is.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wavin' the Flag

I came across this posting called 'Sometimes State Flags..." on thehairpin.com this morning and it was too funny not to share.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Three Cheers for Ice Cream

Pic via Wikipedia
Ice cream might be my favorite dessert food in the world. I will try pretty much any flavor and don’t really discriminate much when it comes to this creamy treat.

Frommer’s just posted a list of America’s Top 10 Ice Cream Factory tours, and needless to say, there are 10 more places in this country that I need to visit.

Check them out – and click on the above link to see mouthwatering goodness!

Ben & Jerry's - Waterbury, Vermont (complete with ice cream filled picnic!)
Goody's Chocolate and Ice Cream - Bend, Oregon (admission includes 6 spoonfuls)

Graeter's - Columbus, Ohio (sample provided)

Boulder Ice Cream - Boulder, Colorado (comes with 2 ounce free sample)

Berkey Creamery - Penn State University

Turkey Hill Experience - Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Ye Olde Mill at Velvet Ice Cream - Utica, Ohio

Blue Bell Creameries - Brenham, Texas; tours are also given at the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and Sylacauga, Alabama, locations (comes with a generous scoop)

Homeland Creamery - Julian, North Carolina (includes free 6 oz cup)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cities of the Dead

Pic via Wikipedia
Cemeteries may creep some people out, but I find them quite serene and beautiful. The first time I visited New Orleans, I took a guided tour of the St. Louis Cemetery #1. This cemetery is the oldest (opened in 1789) and most famous cemetery in the Big Easy. Best recognized for their above ground tombs, the cemeteries of New Orleans do not bury their dead six feet under. The water table in NOLA is pretty high, so when you dig just a few feet down, the graves become soggy and water filled – meaning a casket can literally float away – even after a slight rainfall. Early settlers attempted to combat these rising caskets by putting in a few heavy stones, which worked until the next rainfall. Therefore, above ground tombs were built to hold the city’s dead.

There are a few significant New Orleanians laid to rest in the St. Louis Cemetery #1. Most notable is the renowned voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau. Her tomb is the most recognizable in the cemetery. Legend has it that if you draw three "x"s (XXX) on its side, Laveau will grant you a wish. The tour we had taken even handed out little Gris-Gris bags at her tomb!

Pic via Wikipedia
The inner constitutional law nerd in me was super excited to see that Homer Plessy is also buried in this cemetery. You may remember him as the plaintiff of the landmark ‘separate but equal’ court case Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896.

Other noteworthy New Orleanians buried here are Etienne de Boré, the wealthy pioneer of the sugar industry and the first mayor of New Orleans; Ernest N. "Dutch" Morial, the first African-American Mayor of New Orleans; Bernard de Marigny, the French-Creole playboy who brought the game of craps to the United States; Barthelemy Lafon, the architect and surveyor who allegedly became one of Jean Lafitte's pirates; and Paul Morphy, one of the earliest world champions of chess.

A word to the wise – if you are going to check out the St. Louis Cemetery #1, do it with a tour group. It isn’t in the safest of areas and it’s certainly not a place you’d want to be alone.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Favorite: Get Him to the Greek

While we both enjoy taking in the sights and doing ‘touristy’ things on vacation, we also like to try and fit in with the locals. One of the more fun ways to do so is to see a live concert at a local venue. When we book a vacation, we always check and see if there are any good bands playing while we are in town. My newest favorite concert venue is actually one we experienced on vacation. Located in Griffith Park, the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles is surrounded by mountains and trees and is simply amazing – the perfect place to see a concert!

Pic via Wikipedia
Before we left for LA, my friend saw that Maroon 5 was playing at the Greek while we were there – total score! We didn’t buy tickets in advance and thought that we’d have no problem getting them from a scalper outside the box office. PSA to my NYC friends - LA is NOT NY and the venue wasn’t crawling with scalpers - there was literally 1 guy selling tickets. (Dan stalked him for an hour and couldn’t determine if he was homeless, stoned, or a serial killer...or all three!) The possible psycho killer only had 2 tickets and we needed 4, so we sat outside the venue for a good while trying to figure out how to get into the show. Turns out, the box office had ‘bench’ seats for sale (read: absolute back of the theater) but we figured that was better than nothing. Bench seats have assigned numbers, but no one really sits in their actual seats so we didn’t have too much of a problem sitting together. The show was great, especially because Maroon 5 is actually FROM Los Angeles – hometown show!

Taken from the 2nd to last row..not too shabby!
We had a great experience at the Greek and are counting down to our next road concert – Kings of Leon at Red Rocks – CANNOT WAIT!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

America’s Weirdest Themed Hotels

Food & Wine recently put out a list of some of the more unique hotels that our country has to offer. I have to admit, some of these are pretty cool! My top 4 are below:

Dog Bark Park Inn - Cottonwood, ID
Pic via Wikipedia
Originally a roadside attraction, this massive wooden beagle is now a B&B. Alongside, there's a port-a-potty hidden in a 12-foot-tall fire hydrant.

Wigwam Village - Holbrook, AZ

Pic via Wikipedia
A must see if you’re travelling Route 66. 1940s road-trippers witnessed the country's brief profusion of "wigwam hotels." A few remain, like this Arizona property where guests sleep in freestanding concrete tepees.

The Liberty Hotel - Boston, MA

Photo via The Liberty Hotel
For more than 100 years, this riverside property was a prison with a view. Today, it's a luxe hotel that retains the cell doors and catwalks from its past life.

McMenamins Kennedy School - Portland, OR

Photo via McMenamins
Chalkboards hang on the walls of the classrooms-turned-guestrooms at this 1915 elementary school. The sizable, pink-tiled girls' restroom is now a brewery that turns out nearly half-a-million pints each year.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Won't You be My Neighbor?

When we get to a new city, both Dan and I love to get out and explore it. In most cases, we sign up for guided bus tours to get the full lay of the land. But when we don’t have the time to take a longer form tour, we do the next best thing - hit the streets and try to figure out the city’s transportation systems. Coming from the complex NYC transit system, we like to think that we can figure out pretty much any city’s mass transit. In most cases, we have been successful…minus that one night in San Francisco….but that’s another story!

One thing we don’t have in NYC is street trolleys, so whenever we are in a city that has them, we try and go for a ride. When we were eating dinner in Memphis, the waiter told us about the awesome vintage streetcars that run throughout the city. Since we weren’t in Memphis that long, we decided to give them a whirl.

The MATA has three lines – the Main Street Trolley, Madison Avenue and Riverfront Loop. We walked down to the Mississippi River and grabbed the Riverfront Loop Trolley where $1.50 gets you a 2.5 mile ride around the entire city in one of the heritage trolleys. (I was pretty stoked that our trolley was purple.)

According to the MATA website, the Main Street Trolley operates along the beautifully updated Main Street Mall and serves many downtown landmarks. The famous Pinch District, Cook Convention Center, Civic Center Plaza, Court Square, Peabody Place, Beale Street, National Civil Rights Museum, FedEx Forum and the South Main Historic Arts District can all be easily accessed by the Main Street Trolley. Riders can take the Riverfront Loop Trolley to visit the Tennessee Welcome Center, the grounds of the Pyramid Arena and Mud Island with its Mud Island Monorail, the 5-block long River Walk, and the Mississippi River Museum. The Madison Avenue line features public art at each trolley station along the route. Each of the six artworks - which range from mosaic murals to sculptures - are designed to reflect the community in which the transit station is located.

If you find yourself in Memphis, I highly recommend taking a ride on one of these streetcars. It’s the perfect way to take in all the sites for peanuts!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Friday Favorites: Boston Pops

Pic via cityprofile.com

Even though Boston isn’t a far drive from NY, I didn’t get a chance to visit until a few years after college graduation. Dan and I, along with a few friends, took a fun road trip up to Bean Town for the 4th of July to check out the celebrated Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular. Now in its 38th year, the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular is known as the premier Independence Day celebration in the nation. Each year, since its inception, hundreds of thousands of people come from all over the country to the banks of the Charles River to celebrate America’s birthday. And if you’ve ever seen the fireworks show on TV, you’ll know why. It really is simply amazing.

Since we knew we wouldn’t get a spot to actually see the Pops perform, we headed across the river to view the fireworks from Cambridge. (However, we did get to SEE the Pops in the lobby of our hotel. I may or may not have waved wildly at them.) My one tip is that if you do the same, plan to spend a few hours there as the line for the T is I-N-S-A-N-E after the show. We got back into Boston well after 2am. But that didn’t destroy the huge surge of patriotism I felt for being in such a historic city for our nation’s birthday. I probably would have draped myself in a flag if I could have wrestled one away from one of the revelers.