Which Famous Highlights to see in Seattle this Spring?

The best part about my stay in Seattle was the Airbnb I found located in the West Queen Anne section of the city. The 100 year old, beautifully renovated home on the hill overlooking Elliott Bay was the best place I have ever stayed in. We had 2 large bedrooms with amazing views, a kitchen, living area and large bathroom as well as all in the modern appliances including a washer and dryer.

The Airbnb in Seattle

Years ago I booked a stay in Palm Springs a long drive from all the action. I learned that time that choosing a location when you visit a new place is paramount to the enjoyability of your stay. This home was located on a quiet street and in a neighborhood where you could walk to amazing restaurants, a general store and even Kerry Park for the best view of Seattle.

My son and I arrived at the airport and once we gathered our luggage, walked outside the doors where our TURO car rental drove up and the driver handed us the keys. We plugged in the address of our Airbnb and off we went. TURO car rentals are like Airbnbs in that you are renting someone else’s car at a predetermined rate. I have found the cars to be in great condition, less expensive than rental car companies and convenient. Geico insurance covered TURO rentals in Washington state, but some insurance companies do not cover TURO so check before you book.

After spending a week in Alaska, we had plenty of laundry so got started on that right away once we checked into the house. We had the entire lower floor of the home and never saw the owners. They texted to be sure we were OK and if we needed any suggestions on things to do in the area but we assured them we were fine.

The first night, we drove the one mile over to Queen Anne Avenue North and decided to dine at “How to Cook a Wolf” restaurant which was recommended by the homeowners. It was restaurant week and we HAD to have the three course meal which was pretty expensive and the chocolate dessert I ordered wasn’t available. Still, the character of the restaurant was nice and we ate outside which was fun.

Continue reading “Which Famous Highlights to see in Seattle this Spring?”

9 Amazing Reasons to Visit Alaska in Spring

Visit Alaska in Spring and drive – It’s a grand adventure

No one ever suggests visiting Alaska in the spring. I searched and searched for information to no avail. Is summer the only time to go? Sure it’s dark and cold in winter, but what about spring!?!

My son went to Alaska last summer to work at a fishery as a seafood processor. He stayed for the winter and was planning to return to the lower 48 in the spring, so I felt compelled to visit before he left. But what do we do in the spring in Alaska? Is everything fun closed? I found out one of Alaska’s biggest secrets. March is a great time to visit Alaska!

1 – DRIVING

Big city driving tends to stress me out and that is something you do not need to worry about in Alaska. I arrived in Anchorage and found the streets to be well labeled and easy to follow using directions on my maps app. Turo is a newer car rental company similar to Airbnb. You rent someone’s car at a predetermined rate. Some insurance companies will not cover Turo in different states, but Geico does cover car insurance in Alaska so I tried it out. The Ford Explorer I rented from Jonathan was clean and in good condition. He left it for me in the airport parking lot and that is where I returned it. No shuttle busses or cries of “sorry we ran out of cars” for me. I appreciated the convenience.

OUR PLAN

The roads in Alaska were pleasantly wide and relatively empty during my visit.

Day 1 – Anchorage – Lakefront hotel (Convenient, good breakfast and just OK)

Day 2, 3- Girdwood -Alyeska ski resort (Awesome! ski rentals in hotel and walk to ski lift)

Day 4 – Soldotna – Airbnb (Awesome! – love the view)

Day 5, 6, 7 – Palmer – Airbnb (Awesome! – love the view too)

Day 8 -Anchorage – Hotel Sheraton 4 Points (cheap and sketchy – not recommended)

We took the thirty minute drive south on the Seward highway from Anchorage to Girdwood and Alyeska ski town. Although known as one of most dangerous highways in America, we had good weather and no rock slides the days we were there. It’s hard not to be distracted with all the amazing views. We spent three days in Alyeska, two skiing and one on a fun snowmobile tour.

Next we drove south to Soldotna for one night after skiing to visit a friend who hosts a fabulous Airbnb. The next day we drove to Seward to the Sea Life Center on the Kenai peninsula, then up past Anchorage to Palmer.

We took a day trip for dog sledding and lunch in Talkeetna for views of Denali. Another day drove up the Hatcher pass to ski at the new Skeetawk ski area. Meant to get to hike Matanuska Glacier, never made it. Did see the Northern Lights from the Airbnb in Palmer though!

Who doesn’t love traffic free roads? Just beware of falling rocks, avalanches and potholes.

2 – WHERE TO STAY

Spring is considered off- season so rates can be better this time of year. I stayed in three hotels and two Airbnbs during my visit and I would highly recommend the Airbnb experience in Alaska. Traveling with my son it was nice to have a place with a kitchen and two separate bedrooms. The people renting out space in their homes are genuinely kind and thoughtful. They are willing to help you plan an unforgettable trip with recommendations for dining out and places to visit. I tend to look for places that also have a view and my search did not disappoint on this trip.

The hotels in Anchorage were a bit on the run down side. I would recommend staying in the best hotel which may be the Cook hotel. Parts of Anchorage are indeed a bit sketchy and since the vacationers are limited in March, some areas are down right deserted except for homeless people who will approach and ask for money. The Lakefront Hotel near the airport was acceptable and had a good breakfast. Do not book the Four Points Sheraton in downtown Anchorage, enough said.

View from Airbnb in Palmer

3 – NORTHERN LIGHTS

This is a great time to see them in Alaska. After spending a week in Iceland with my sister on a tour specifically designed to see the Aurora Borealis, we were disappointed that we never saw them. In the summer the sky in Alaska is too light, and earlier in the winter it is super cold! Tours are available if you want to pay to sit in a van out on a field for many hours waiting. We used the app on our iphone to help know the best time to look outside. Just fair warning: In real life they are not as crystal clear as some photos you may have seen. Still awesome to witness.

Someone else’s photo – but what we saw one night

4 -WHERE TO EAT

Most restaurants are open year round and we did not have to wait to get service. We had good luck with Brewery type places. In Anchorage, we tried the pizza at Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria and it was very good.

Reindeer sausage pizza

At the Alyeska resort, there is a high-end restaurant called Seven Glaciers you can take the gondola up to but it is only open for dinner a few nights each week. It wasn’t open the night we stayed there but we did dine at Sakura Asian Bistro which was a great sushi place where everyone sits together at a huge table. Something different.

Continue reading “9 Amazing Reasons to Visit Alaska in Spring”

19 Awesome Things to do near Sarasota

Amazing things to do in the Bradenton – Sarasota – Tampa area. Outdoor fun for the whole family

My sister moved to Bradenton 15 years ago and after many visits, and a new home on the horizon, I can’t wait to share some of my travel highlights from this area. So much to see and experience in Florida, but within one hour from Bradenton, between Tampa and Sarasota, here is just a sampling of some of my favorite things to do.

1. Dine outside

Because you can. So many dining establishments are located outdoors on the water. Pelicans soar as dolphins pop up between jet skiers and fishing boats as if cued for posing.  Fish is fresh and tasty so indulging in fish tacos, grouper sandwiches and conch fritters are some of my favorites.  Drinking a margarita with fresh squeezed lime juice is also highly recommended.

Some outdoor dining restaurants we love are:

Woodys River Roo in Ellenton, dining outside on the Manatee river with live music and sandy outdoor dining with thatched roof coverings. Very tropical and tasty Old Florida Style food.

PIER 22 Restaurant in downtown Bradenton on the Manatee river.  Upscale delicious food yet still casual dining indoor and outside.

Daquiri Deck on Anna Maria Island – although they have 5 locations nearby. Casual dining, frozen drinks, happy hour specials and beautiful views from the top floor on busy Bridge Street.

Whiskey Joe’s on the Manatee River

2. Rent a bicycle on Anna Maria Island

Bike rentals are $12/day and well worth it for a fun time exploring the streets of Anna Maria. Sidewalks are plentiful as are bike lanes. People rent small cars (they look like bumper cars), golf carts and bikes. We even had fun taking Harry, the spoiled pup, in a back pack for ride around town.

Biking with dog back pack – Harry loved it!

3. Wash Elephants at the Myakka Elephant Ranch

Encounter 3 elephants up close and personal. My sister and I spent a few hours washing 2 elephants followed by a photo shoot. We were encouraged to interact by talking to and petting these beauties. After visiting with us, the elephants head out to their grassy fenced in field to dig and toss dirt onto their freshly scrubbed backs. Recently open to the public by reservation only, definitely a great experience if you love elephants like I do.

Continue reading “19 Awesome Things to do near Sarasota”

Savannah, Georgia: Ghost Stories and more

Savannah Georgia filled with ghost stories and Spanish moss laden trees and picturesque squares – A must see on the east coast road trip.

If you ever take the I-95 road trip on the east coast of the U.S., one of the most interesting cities to visit is Savannah, Georgia. Georgia was the 13th and last colony named after England’s King George. No place compares to this historical, picturesque, friendly southern city.

Established in 1733 on the Savannah River, Savannah was the first American planned city with 24 public squares in a a grid formation. Most of the squares are still standing today and provide peaceful shaded parks with plants and statues.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade brought many African-Americans through the port of Savannah to work the cotton fields on southern plantations. River Street with its cobblestones and old buildings is often said to be haunted. Warehouses along the river stored the cotton to be shipped out and held the slaves shackled together to be sold right there along the river.

Ghost tours are popular in Savannah. Stories of seeing shadows along the dark alleys of River Street or hearing chains rattling are common and tours are provided with visits inside the warehouses and to haunted homes.

My first winter as a widow, my colleague and I took a road trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina for spring break. She had been very supportive of me after my husband died and even joined me as we visited psychic mediums in an effort to communicate with my dead husband.

Savannah is a short drive from Hilton Head so one night we decided to have a night on the town. After some exploring we signed up for the ghost tour which started in a dark warehouse with a pirate. Next we boarded a trolley where previously witnessed ghost sightings were pointed out. The trolley stopped at a haunted house: 432 Abercorn Street. We were encouraged to take photos and promised, if we were lucky, could score a photo with an actual orb in it. I took a photo of some creepy old dolls, but no orbs appeared in my photos that night.

creepy dolls at 432 Abercorn Street

If you have no luck communing with the dead on the ghost tour, it is a thrill to visit one of the beautiful old cemeteries in the city. Spanish moss hanging from the old oak trees provide a spooky, eerie image any time of day or night.

Last month on our visit south we brought our Yorkie Harry along. On the trip from New York to Florida we planned one night in a $65 Comfort Inn along the side of the highway in North Carolina. For New Year’s Eve we splurged on a luxury boutique hotel called The Drayton Hotel. One lesson I have learned in my travels is that location is key to a good visit. This hotel is located right in the middle of Savannah, across from the famed River Walk and has easy access to streets with shops, dining and bars.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner in the St. Neo’s Brasserie located next to the hotel lobby and were given complimentary tickets to a New Year’s Eve party at the rooftop bar. I was a bit surprised that the upstairs party was serving platters of appetizers on a table and that people were mingling about without wearing masks during this time of COVID-19 pandemic. After checking out the scene we took our free drinks to our room and waited until 11:50pm to head back upstairs with Harry to watch the fireworks and join in the countdown to 2021. He wasn’t too happy with the party so we did not stay long.

Our visit to Savannah was great. The weather was beautiful. The shops and outdoor dining establishments welcome dogs. People are friendly and the charming character of the buildings and city squares are enchanting.

The biggest surprise for us was finding out that not only was the fee for parking $35 but in addition for bringing our dog to this particular hotel we were charged $150 additional per night. Many hotels have a cleaning fee of 25-50 dollars for pets so their fee was exorbitant! Since we had not been informed of it in advance and Harry is an emotional support dog we were able to have the fee waived but it took a bit of effort. Cautionary tale for my dog traveling friends.

Savannah is a beautiful city to visit with such history and visual highlights. Be sure to keep your camera with you and look for those orbs of souls who lived here before and remember to check the pet fee before booking your stay.

Dogs welcome at outdoor dining

Long Island’s Beautiful North Fork

As the temperature begins to drop, the urge to embrace the season with farm stands, pumpkins, apples and vineyards set in.

This post was originally written in 2017, remember those pre-COVID days?  Well, happy to report all is not over on the North Fork of Long Island.  The vineyards are welcoming visitors, just not huge bus loads of party animals which may be more enjoyable in fact.  The sunflower fields in Riverhead, pumpkin patches, and farm stands are open for business, just requiring that you wear a mask when indoors.

I recently had the exciting experience of celebrating birthdays with some friends on the “Wine Wagon”.

With a limit of 10 people we met up at Osprey Dominion winery for snacks and some live outdoor music.  Soon Gary pulled up with the wagon and we lovely ladies boarded a seat at the wagon counter and placed our feet upon the pedals.  We were off down the road to our first adventure.  Of course, we were in for a bit of a surprise when Gary alerted us that by law he had to turn off the engine on the road, and it was up to our pedaling efforts to get us to the next location.  

At our first stop, we remained on our wagon and were served a choice of 4 different vintages.  After one hour, we headed on back to the main road this time with someone’s iphone blasting country music.  As we passed the local animal shelter, we met a man walking down the street with a puppy.  We invited him to join us and sang to the puppy until our new friend had had enough of us.  

At the next vineyard, we went inside with our masks, ordered small glasses of wine to taste and sat outside to enjoy the beautiful sun on this fall afternoon.  As the sun went lower in the sky we took some final photos and boarded the wine wagon with Gary to head back to our starting point.   Indeed, a good time was had by all and maybe we even burned a few calories with exercise?

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NORTH FORK

Drive east on the Long Island Expressway until the end, then take route 25 east through Riverhead.  On my last visit, we had the app WAZE turned on and took some back roads to avoid traffic in Riverhead.  It did not save much time, as it still took almost 45 minutes to drive the 12 miles to the first vineyard.

We stopped at a delightfully colorful farm stand with painted antique tractors, gigantic pumpkins, pies, bread, local honey, roasted corn and ripe tomatoes like my dad used to grow.  After filling some bags with tasty treats we got back on the road and headed towards the vineyards.

Considering the traffic was so slow, we stopped at the first one.  Paumanok Vineyards is conveniently located just off the main road and has a wide variety of wines available in the tasting room ranging from $8 to $20 per person to taste 4 samples.  The tasting fee is credited toward a purchase of a bottle so that is an incentive.

What I loved about Paumanok was that they were offering oysters outside on the deck.  It is a very pretty location but they do not allow you to bring your own picnic foods.

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Next on our self guided tour, we stopped at a small vineyard called Sherwood House Vineyards. This was different as it was a small and cozy farmhouse with a quaint fireplace and bar and the size alone did not welcome larger tours.    Again outside food is not permitted, so we took our picnic basket and continued onward.

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Macari Vineyards has opened another location on Main Road in Cutchogue as well as the original location in Mattituck.  The Macari family started growing grapes on a 500 acre former potato farm in 1995.  The family boasts an ecological and holistic approach to the soil which includes a complex composting program and a herd of Long Horn cattle.

By this time we had eaten our picnic lunch in the car and no longer asked if we could eat inside.

Next stop was the Pellegrini Vineyards in Cutchogue.  We had been heading here initially because they had posted on the website liwines.com to have live music.  Not only did they have live music, but we did bring out some cheese and crackers and had decent size small cups for our 4 tastings at $12.  The wine was good and the sunshine was terrific.  We even saw one of the common sightings out east – a bachelorette party!

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Since we were close to the end, of the North Fork, we kept driving to visit Orient Point.  The ferry to Connecticut had just arrived and several cars were exiting onto the only road east. We took pictures and speculated about the mysteries of Plum Island that we could see from the beach.  Did you know that Plum Island was originally established by the Army to protect livestock from diseases, such as the study of foot-and-mouth disease in cattle.  Apparently there has been some controversy over the safety of the facility and the author Michael C. Carroll wrote a book called Lab 257  alleging a connection between Plum Island Animal Disease Center and the outbreaks of West Nile virus, Lyme disease  and duck plague.   Makes you wonder…

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But not for too long, we started heading back home but ended up on the north road, County Road 48, so we stopped at Sparkling Pointe Vineyards and Winery in Southold.  This vineyard plants only the classic Champagne grape varieties, so if you like Champagne, this is the place to go.  The tasting house is large with high ceilings and light.  In the gift shop are Brazilian costumes that the owners have worn in Brazil during Carnaval so a unique experience is enjoyed at this location.

After a fun afternoon, we were once again hungry and found the best place nearby to purchase fresh seafood: Southold Fish Market on Main Road in Southold.  You can eat inside or out and there is a bar that serves drinks as well as oysters! We took some fresh striped bass home to cook later and it was amazing.

Not to be missed on a trip to the North Fork would also be a visit to the quaint village of Greenport.  Although important for the fishing and whaling industry in the past, it now entices tourists with adorable shops, good restaurants and a carousel from the 1920s.

If shopping for name brand items is your thing, you are in luck as Tanger Outlets is located at the end of the Long Island Expressway and features so many great retail stores.

Being a local Long Islander I have had many visits out east over the years.  I must also include a favorite vineyard I visited with my book club several years ago in Baiting Hollow.  Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard is special and if you only have one place to visit I would highly recommend seeing this vineyard.

The tasting house is large, there is plenty of outdoor seating and you can bring your own food. In addition I have been there 3 times and always enjoyed live music.  The best part is that the vineyard has a rescue farm for horses.  Horses whose lives were at risk are brought here for a peaceful sanctuary and a second chance.  You can support their horses and learn more by logging onto their website bhfhorserescue.org and view the beautiful animals.

Don’t we all deserve a second chance?  Thanks for reading.

tour eastern Long Island New York wineries

Ang Thong National Park, Thailand

Unforgettable Day trip to Ang Thong National park in Thailand

Due to limited travel plans, I am revisiting my blog of runaway widow travel posts this month highlighting some of my favorite photos and places I was fortunate to see. Thailand…

Ang Thong National Park, Thailand
LINK: https://runawaywidow.blog/2016/08/24/ko-samui-ang-thong-national-park/

Erawan National Park, Thailand

Link – Surprising Benefits of small group tour in Thailand

3 days Johannesburg SOUTH AFRICA
Iceland horse
beach wedding
Chapel in Sudeley Castle
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3 days Johannesburg SOUTH AFRICA
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Iceland horse
beach wedding
Chapel in Sudeley Castle
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