Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Sorry for the lack of posts in the last few days.  Between Hurricane Irene and getting everything together for our trip, I have been swamped.

Well, we're sitting in LaGuardia right now and will be off to another adventure in a little bit.  Needless to say, the blog will be on vacation too.  But don't worry - we'll be back with lots of fun stories from this much needed vacation.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Everything I Needed to Know about Earthquakes, I Learned at Universal Studios

I’m breaking from my Wordless Wednesdays to quickly discuss the non-earthquake that was felt up in NYC yesterday. While I felt absolutely nothing, friends, co-workers and family members recounted their harrowing tales of where they were when the earth started shaking. I quickly realized that if I had felt the earth quaking, I would have no idea what to do. Sure I’ve lived through a terror attack, major blackout, subway evacuation and many Nor’easters, but have zero earthquake experience under my belt. It was then that a light bulb went off. I HAD experienced an earthquake before. In fact, I had experienced MANY, and by CHOICE.

So I present the valuable lessons that I took away from the Earthquake Ride in Universal Studios, Florida:

Pic via womansday.com
  1. The ‘big one’ will happen when I am on a train, so I can plan the other 22 hours of my day accordingly. Be sure to never get on said train without a bag full of water, snacks, flashlights and other emergency paraphernalia.
  2. If the earth starts moving and you see any type of gas truck – parked, moving, hell, even a picture of a gas truck, it will crash and explode. To avoid being taken out by the flames, just start running Forrest Gump style down the street without looking back.
  3. Learn to swim, because inevitably, there will be massive flooding and you will drown.
  4. Remain calm because the ‘ride’ only lasts sixty seconds anyway.
  5. Footage of you experiencing the earthquake will be all over the news, so be sure not to cry like a baby like you did on the ride. No need to embarrass yourself in public like that again.
 (Real tips on what to do in an earthquake can be found here. Thank me later.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Where are LC and Stephen?

A few years back, Dan and I took a last minute trip to San Diego. We had originally booked a trip to New Orleans to see a Saints/Giants game, but two weeks before we were to leave, Hurricane Katrina hit. We all know how that ended. With JetBlue credit in our hand, we looked at their list of cities and figured that we could find enough to do for a few days out in San Diego. Plus, neither of us had ever been to California!

Now readers, I think it’s pretty clear that I am a HUGE planner, so taking a last minute trip is pretty much against all that I believe in. But with a few quick google searches, I found tons for us to do in San Diego - Sea World, Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, Harbor boat rides, a visit to La Jolla. And low and behold, our hotel was across the street from the Fashion Valley Mall. (But for some reason, we got lost getting there an ended up driving for a good 40 minutes before we realized how lost we were.)

Perhaps my favorite part of the trip was our quick jaunt up to Laguna Beach. I’m a reality TV junkie and was a HUGE fan of the MTV show by the same name, so when I saw that San Diego was only like an hour’s drive away, I begged Dan to take me up there. With the words to Hilary Duff’s “Come Clean” playing over and over in my head, we headed for I-5.

Pic via wikipedia
Orange County could not be any more opposite from the sprawling metropolis that I come from. The air is crisp and the beaches are like none that I have ever seen before. Artist Marco Sassone once described Laguna Beach "a paradise, an inexhaustible source of inspiration." I could not agree more with his assessment.

Pic via wikipedia
Art galleries and cute boutiques line the streets, along with some delicious restaurants.  (Best meatball sub EVER at Gina's.)  Unfortunately, we only had an afternoon to spend in Laguna Beach, but in that time, we definitely were able to experience the local flavor. And I got to see some of the locations that LC, Lo and the gang frequented on the show.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Quirky Roadside Attractions, Part 3

You know the drill by now. I am fascinated by weird roadside things. Below are some more quirky places that were highlighted in this Travel & Leisure article. I was pleasantly surprised to see that one of the places my family made a pit-stop at during our eternal drive down to Florida on this list. (All pix in this post are from said Travel & Leisure article.)

The Thing, Dragoon, AZ

What IS the Thing? For $1, you can find out. (I NEED to know!)

Fort Cody Trading Post, North Platte, NE

The Fort Cody Trading Post is Nebraska’s largest souvenir shop which means I need to see it. And the store is connected to a free Old West Museum – super score!

Wall Drug Store, Wall, SD

It’s no secret that I am obsessed with South Dakota and this place has been on my ‘must see’ list for some time now. Giant jackalope statue? Singing gorilla? Sign me up.

Villisca Ax Murder House, Villisca, IA

Surprisingly, I am not at all familiar with the unsolved murder of Josiah Moore’s family that occurred here in 1912. This place is uber haunted and some tours have even been cut short due to flying objects and paranormal activity.

South of the Border, Dillon, SC

On our drive down to Florida, we saw a TON of signs for South of the Border along I-95. The closer you get, the more frequent the signs become and it gets to the point that you just have to stop there to see what all the fuss is about. Spoiler: the build up is far better than when you actually arrive there.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On with the Snow

I'd like to introduce today's guest blogger - my good friend, Chrissy.  We've been BFF since college and since she is more of a snowbird than I (ok, I'm not AT ALL) I thought it would be fun for her to share her experiences in Park City, Utah with you all.  Enjoy!

So, I have a confession. I’ve never blogged, but when Steph asked me to guest blog about Park City, UT I was happy to say yes because it’s probably my favorite place to visit! I know what you’re thinking – “Utah? The Land of Mormons and no alcohol?” Well yes, because Park City is amazing, and the alcohol laws have been relaxed. Less than 40 minutes from Salt Lake City International airport, it’s an oasis of good times to be had by all, whether you enjoy skiing or snowboarding or just enjoying fresh mountain air.

For those of you that do enjoy on-mountain activities, your first stop should be The Canyons. Located a short drive from Main Street and all the great hotels (and on the free bus route to boot) The Canyons doesn’t seem like much at first, but after trip up the gondola, you really start seeing what you’re getting yourself into – and that is pure awesome.

Once you get situated with lift tickets and all that jazz, take some nice, long runs to get your ski/board legs under you, but then get up the nerve to do some black diamonds. Go slow if you’re scared, but you’ll thank me because the views and the fun are worth it!

When you’re ready for some lunch, head up to Cloud Dine at the 9,270 foot top of Dream Peak. Heck, grab a beer too because let’s face it, what is there not to like about sipping a cold brew while sitting in the sunshine at 9,000+ feet elevation?

Once you’re done skiing or riding your face off, head back to wherever you’ve decided to stay – but make sure it’s close to Main Street. If you’re lucky enough to have friends that live in Park City, that’s awesome, but if not, you should definitely check out The Sky Lodge – it’s at the base of Main Street giving you access to the numerous restaurants, bars, shops, etc that line Main Street and gives you across the street access to the Main Street lift into Park City Mountain Resort – but that’s a story for another day! Take a nap, sit in the hot tub on your own balcony and get ready for the evening’s festivities.

Pic via theskylodge.com
By now, it’s time to eat! Start off by treating yourself to a great meal at Zoom, Robert Redford’s restaurant, which is conveniently located next to The Sky Lodge! The food is great, the drinks are flowing but make sure you save room for dessert.

Pic via http://www.canoe.ca/
Now you’ve got a full belly, but it’s time to party… and the best way to do this is to walk up and down Main Street and pop into whatever bar or restaurant tickles your fancy. Want to feel like a local? Head to O’Shucks Bar and Grill (427 Main Street) where peanut shells line the floor, craft brews are on tap, and Buckhunter is being played. Head from bar to bar to get a feel for the action, or simply head into the many stores and galleries along the way! Park City really does have something for everyone!

So, that may just be one day in Park City in the winter, but it’s worth it. Just go out and do it all again the next day by heading to one of the two other resorts in the area (Park City Mountain Resort or Deer Valley) or take a drive out to the Cottonwood Canyons and go to Alta/Snowbird or Brighton/Solitude. For those of you who wish to not be surrounded by the greatness that is snowboarding, head to Alta or Deer Valley and hang with skiers only.

Park City summertime visit happening in about 2 weeks – will share that greatness upon my return! IF I return that is :)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Favorites: Jetsetter

Being the King of Rock and Roll requires a lot of travel, so why not do it in comfort and style? On the grounds of Graceland are two of Elvis’ planes - a Convair 880 Jet named the ‘Lisa Marie’ and a Lockheed JetStar named the "Hound Dog Two.” One of our favorite parts of our visit to Graceland was getting to climb aboard these jets to take a peek at how the King flew the friendly skies.

We presented our boarding passes and hopped on the Lisa Marie first. Elvis spent an upwards of $1 million refurbishing this jet which became his main form of transportation while on the road. Walking through the plane made me actually forget that I was on a plane. The Lisa Marie had a living room, conference room, bedroom (complete with an FAA regulation seatbelt on the bed!,) 2 bathrooms dripping in gold and was designed by the same team that customized Air Force One. Elvis referred to it as his ‘flying Graceland.’ For someone like myself that hates flying, I’d go pretty much anywhere on the Lisa Marie. (Although you can't really tell from the pictures, both planes have the TCB lightning bolt log on their tails.)

The Hound Dog Two is a much smaller plane that Elvis bought in 1975 while he was awaiting delivery of the Lisa Marie. Since the cabin is much smaller than the bigger jet, you aren’t allowed to do a walk through. But you could snap pictures of the inside of the cabin and cockpit. 

Touring these jets was the perfect way to cap off a great day at Graceland. In addition to the mansion tour, car museum and walkthrough of the planes, we also had a chance to see some of Elvis’ amazing costumes and priceless memorabilia. And while we may not have been big Elvis fans when we walked through the gates of Graceland, we certainly walked away with a greater appreciation for the King.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

She's a Sweet Ride

Thank goodness I looked at our tickets before leaving the mansion tour, because I had completely forgotten that the admission price included entrance to some of the other exhibits on the grounds. We decided to visit 3 of them – a tour of Elvis’ custom jets, Elvis Presley: Fashion King and the Elvis Presley Car Museum. (There are a few more that we just didn’t have time for - Elvis! His Groundbreaking, Hip-Shaking, Newsmaking Story, '68 Special Exhibit and Elvis Lives: The King and Pop Culture Exhibit.)

The absolute sweetest man was working the door of the Elvis Presley Car Museum. When he found out we were from Brooklyn, he and I proceeded to chat about the Sons of the American Revolution (Dan REALLY enjoyed that!) and the various Revolutionary battles that took place in Brooklyn. As an aside, not sure if it’s a Southern thing, but pretty much EVERYONE in Tennessee and Arkansas asked where we were from. And when we said New York, the response was always ‘what are you doing down here?’ Give yourselves some credit! Both Tennessee and Arkansas are beautiful places. Why wouldn’t a Northerner want to come and see them?

But anyway, I digress. The museum itself houses some of Elvis’ most iconic cars and vehicles. The first 2 that we encountered were a pair of 1966 Rolls Royce Silver Clouds in black and white. A man after my own heart – you like it in one color, you buy it in another. I wouldn’t be able to decide either, Elvis.

Maybe you’ll recognize this 1960 MG MGA Roadster from the Elvis classic, Blue Hawaii. Oh you don’t? Yeah, I didn’t either.

Elvis owned not one but 4 Stutz Blackhawk III’s. The one pictured below is perhaps the most famous, as Elvis was driving it in the last photograph taken of him on August 16, 1977.

But of all the cars in the museum, the most recognizable was the pink 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 60. Even though his mother, Gladys didn’t have a license, Elvis gave this car to her as a present. (Trivia: Elvis’ neighbor painted the car a customized pink color which Elvis dubbed ‘Elvis Rose.’)

There are over 33 vehicles in this museum including motorcycles, dune buggy, motorized 3 wheelers, snow mobile, golf cart and a John Deere 4010 tractor.

Up next, Elvis’ planes! But on the way to that exhibit, I somehow ended up in 2 separate gift shops and blew $100 bucks on Elvis stuff. How that happened, I still don’t know.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Down in the Jungle Room

Confession: neither Dan nor I are what you’d call Elvis fans. We knew he liked peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but collectively we can name just a handful of his songs and movies. But this did not stop us from taking a visit to Graceland. I mean, we WERE in Memphis, right?

Graceland is the 2nd most visited private home in the United States (bonus points if you can name the first) and is just a short drive from downtown Memphis. Not knowing what the line situation would be once we arrived, I purchased my tickets online ahead of time. The package we chose included entrance to Graceland, an audio tour, and access to a few other exhibits on the grounds.

After picking up our tickets and taking our ‘souvenir photo,’ we boarded a bus that took us from the Visitor's Center through the music-note clad iconic gates, right to the front steps of Graceland. (The bus literally takes you across the street – not really sure the point of it, but I didn’t complain.) We sat in the back of the bus fearing that we’d be quizzed on our knowledge of the King, but thankfully, there were some mega-fans on the bus that deflected any attention away from us.

Once everyone gets off the bus, the tour begins. Before the front door opens, it is pretty much drilled into your head that flash photography is strictly prohibited. But the interior is well lit so it really didn’t turn out to be a problem.

Upon entering the vestibule, we saw the living room on the right and dining room on the left. Probably most recognizable to me were the stained glass peacock doors adorning the entrance to the music room. (I have a slight peacock obsession so I was entranced by them.) Since the tours are on a timetable, the tour guides gently push you through the rooms to keep the traffic flow moving. To maximize our time in each area, we stayed toward the very back of the pack. This gave me a chance to take pictures without anyone blocking my view. Because believe me, grown men and women were throwing elbows to jockey as close to the velvet ropes as they could. Love me tender, people!


There is a staircase leading to the upstairs bedrooms, but they are off limits. So you’re not going to actually see the room where Elvis got his beauty sleep.

Moving down the hallway, we find Elvis’ parents bedroom. Elvis treasured his parents and gave them a room of their own in his home. I truly loved the furniture in here.

Next up is the kitchen. Holy hell, it was dark in there! What were you thinking, Elvis? Carpeting on the floors?

A small stairway leads past the Jungle Room (more on that in a few) and down to the billiards room (again with the dark upholstery…this time on the ceiling and walls!) and the TV room, or as well called it the ‘Takin’ Care of Business’ room. We LOVED this room. From the lightning bolt ‘TCB’ insignia on the wall to the 3 TVs, it was perfection. Fact: Upon hearing that LBJ had 3 TVs turned to the big 3 networks, Elvis felt he needed the same. He WAS the King…

Back up the stairs, the tour concluded in the infamous Jungle Room. You wanna talk about tacky? Green shag carpeting on the floors and ceiling. Bamboo walls. Hmm, I guess it was the 70’s and all… Turns out, the design of this room provided pretty decent acoustics and Elvis recorded “The Jungle Room Sessions” here.

If you’re a non-Elvis fans like us and end up at at Graceland, you’ll find the audio portion of the tour invaluable. Without it, I probably would have just snapped pictures and meandered through the house clueless of what I was seeing. I learned so many random Elvis nuggets of information that might actually help me out during an episode of Jeopardy! one of these days.

Stay tuned for the next installment of our trip to Graceland -  Elvis’ planes (yes, he had multiple planes) and automobiles.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Celebrating Elvis Week

Memphis is getting ready to kick off Elvis Week this week and I thought it would be fun to spend the week recapping our visit to Graceland. So stay tuned for fun stories and great pictures of where the King spent his time.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday Favorites: Hard Time

Back in the early 2000’s, MTV used to air an amazingly awesome reality show called Fear. The basic premise entailed a team of kids completing dares at supposedly haunted locations, while recording themselves to see if they could capture paranormal activity. Every Sunday night, my brother and I would plant ourselves in front of the TV to watch kids get terrified as they explored scary places in the dark. One of the locations had always stuck out to us and since it was close enough to NYC, we said we’d get there someday. For me, that someday came three years ago.

Eastern State Penitentiary is located in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Considered the world’s first true penitentiary, Eastern State was in use from 1829 to 1970. All inmates at Eastern State were put in solitary confinement and only allowed to spend an hour (isolated, of course) out of their small cells . Whenever they left their cell, they’d have a hood on as to not be recognized as a former criminal once they were released. This new prison system of uniform solitary confinement is referred to as the Pennsylvania System. The thought process was that if a criminal was left alone to reflect on their crime, that they would become genuinely penitent. Famous prisoners include Willie Sutton and Al Capone.

We took the audio tour (narrated by Steve Buscemi!) and were allowed roam around the grounds freely. I was shocked to see how small the actual prison cells were. I’m just over 5 feet tall and I had to duck to fit into the small doorway. Spending endless nights here must have been awful.

For me, the creepiest part of Eastern State was death row. Although no one was actually put to death at the prison, this is where some of the most hardened criminals spent some time. And this is the one place in the entire prison that I experienced that really weird, ‘hard to breathe’ sensation and I definitely did not want to stick around to see what might happen next.

Another of the scarier places was The Hole. Now, I used to watch Oz and let me tell you, the Hole on that show looked like the Plaza Hotel compared to the Hole at Eastern State. If you were punished and put in the Hole, you had to climb down into the dark pit and were left without food or human contact for up to 14 days. One prisoner actually came out blind!

Just hearing the stories about the history of the prison and its methods of reformation made me totally understand why there are so many reports of hauntings here. While I would NEVER in a million years step foot in Eastern State at night, you can certainly experience a very eerie feeling there during the day.

Eastern State Penitentiary - 2027 Fairmount Avenue between Corinthian Avenue and North 22nd Street .

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Written in the Stars

Pic via lionking.org

During my senior year of high school, a few friends and I decided to enroll in a one-trimester Astronomy class. I always had an interest in the planets and outer space, so this was a great opportunity to actually learn and identify what I was looking at. Equipped with my planisphere and dad’s binoculars, I had a nightly ritual of standing on my stoop, craning my neck and playing ‘name the constellation.’ Passers-by probably wondered what the hell I was doing, especially when I would actually lay on the pavement after my neck started hurting. (I always got a kick when they nonchalantly looked up to see what I was looking at!) What sucks about living in a big city is that bright lights make star-gazing next to impossible. Sure you can see some of the ‘brighter’ spots in the sky, but getting a true star-gazing experience just won’t happen.

I just came across this fantastic article on msnbc.com which highlights some of the best places to stargaze in the 50 states. And a quick shoutout to Mr. B - I still think of you whenever I see the Summer Triangle!

  • Cherry Springs State Park, Pa.− The 48-acre park, one of just eight International Dark Sky Parks, treats pure darkness the way jewelers treat gems − like it’s something precious. Cherry Springs is situated amidst the 262,000-acre Susquehannock State Forest and features some of the darkest skies on the East Coast.
  • Sky Meadows State Park, Va. − The aptly named Sky Meadows is just an hour’s drive from the nation’s capital and presents a black canvas upon which celestial objects can dazzle.
  • Big Pine Key, Fla. − Night skies here will look alien to most North American terrestrials. It’s the only place in the continental U.S. where stargazers can spy the Southern Cross and other features familiar to equatorial dwellers.
  • Eagle Harbor, Mich. − This Keweenaw Peninsula is just a little lick of land that juts out into Lake Superior towards Canada. The only lights to distract you from mesmerizing auroras and star splashes are on passing freighters.
  • Canyon of the Eagles Lodge and Nature Park, Texas − Home to the Eagle Eye Observatory about an hour north of Austin, the canyon’s a great place for pros and amateurs alike.
  • Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah − Stargazing here during a monthly new moon is as close as you’ll get in the continental U.S. to viewing the stars the way the cavemen did.
  • Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Calif. − The park is 600,000 acres of splendid desolation just two hours east of San Diego. The weather here − moderate temperatures and low humidity − combines with the lack of light to give the skies a truly starring role in evening entertainment.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Love Lucy

During our recent visit to Atlantic City, NJ, we decided to make the short drive over to Margate City to visit Lucy the Elephant. Because, let’s face it, it’s not every day that you get to see a giant, six story elephant.

Why does a six story elephant guard the Jersey Shore? Back in the 1880’s, real estate maven James V. Lafferty sought to attract tourism and sell real estate in South Atlantic City. But, how could he draw interest to the properties he was selling? By erecting an elephant shaped building, of course! A construction of this nature was something unheard of back in the 1880s, but Lafferty knew this would be a huge draw. 

In 1881, Lucy was built – a 65-foot high, 90 ton elephant constructed of wood and tin sheeting.  Lafferty could take prospective buyers up into the giant elephant and point out the plots of land available for purchase. Lucy did gain national headlines, and Lafferty being the savvy businessman he was, didn’t want others capitalizing on his brainchild. In 1882, Lafferty was granted a patent giving him ‘the exclusive right to make, use or sell animal-shaped buildings for seventeen years.’

Lucy has had an illustrious career over the years, including stints as a restaurant, a tavern, a house and a tourist attraction. (Imagine living INSIDE Lucy?!)  After falling into disrepair, Lucy moved to its current location in the 1970's where she underwent major restorations. Today, Lucy stands proud as a National Historic Landmark in New Jersey. Tours of Lucy are also available where visitors can enter Lucy via a spiral staircase in one of the hind legs and climb up to the howdah (or seat on Lucy the Elephant's back) for a fantastic view of the shore.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the energy to take the 20 minute tour up into the great beast. Maybe next time?  Until then, enjoy this video.