Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Merry Christmas to all

Enjoy the season and may you have a happy and prosperous New Year.

Even though times seem economically tough for some, it is incumbent on everyone to explore new places and enjoy new experiences, whether near or far.

Pease excuse this short post, but times have been hectic.

Next post: Jan. 10, 2012

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Amicalola Falls descends seemingly forever

Yours truly and wife Linda

Oftentimes one finds an interesting sight when not expected.

Such was the case on a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park a number of years ago.

We had decided to take a different route north from Atlanta seeking a new perspective on the countryside.

We were not disappointed.

As was the case, the March day was getting long and we started looking for a place to camp (in our van) for the night.

We checked our the Georgia map and saw that we were in the vicinity of  Amicalola Falls State Park.

We had never heard of the place previously but were willing to give it a try. There were a lot of empty camping sites and also a lodge and cottages.

But the most impressive sight was the falls itself. The 729-foot cascade is billed as the tallest in the Southeast.

And to get a good view (many at that) there is a pathway and also what is called a "challenging trail with staircases."

We chose to take the "challenging trail with staircases"  and thoroughly enjoyed the trip down the side of the mountain. The trip back up was also challenging. 

Because it was a March day, vegetation in the area had not started to blossom out  therefore offering an unencumbered view of the cascades all the way down.

We're always in a rush to get to the Smoky's, therefore we only spent one night there.

But the stop was a highlight of our trip.

Next post: Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

When in Boone, try Macado's

We like to try new restaurants and savor the previously enjoyed.

Such was the case when on a ski trip to Boone, NC this past year.

Two trips earlier, when by brother and his wife were with us, we went into downtown Boone and discovered Macado's on King Street.

Macado's is a great place to enjoy a meal. 

Boone is home to Appalachian State University (they beat Michigan a few years ago and became famous) and the restaurant is in close proximity to the university and definitely caters to the college crowd.

There's lots of seating, big screen TVs for sports action and enjoyable food -- good size portions at a reasonable price.

We had attempted to eat at Mercado's on our in-between trip, but when we ventured downtown that night, the temperatures were near freezing, the wind was blowing and the line was out the door.

We opted for a fast food outlet, one which we also enjoy visiting.

Nevertheless, when we return, Macado's will be on our list of places to revisit. (The Boone location is one of many throughout the Virginia-Carolina area.)

Next post: Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Davis Bayou, close and a paradise of nature

The Davis Bayou area of Gulf Islands National Seashore, located in Ocean Springs, MS, offers a respite from everyday life for those wanting to enjoy the out-of-doors.

For years and years, our family has made use of the site which offers camping, nature walks, opportunities for biking, fishing, crabbing and picnicking.

Also part of the Seashore, which includes facilities in Florida, is Ship Island on which Fort Massachusetts sits. The island is located some 10 miles offshore and offers beach combing, birdwatching, swimming and fishing.

The island is accessible by private boat or a passenger ferry that operates out of Gulfport March through October.

The visitors center at Davis Bayou has reopened this year following rehabilitation following damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Thousands enjoy the seashore facilities each year.

Next post: Dec. 6, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sitting on top of world at Balsam Mountain

On trips to the Smokeys, we often spend a night or two at the Balsam Mountain Campground.

This site is off the Blue Ridge Parkway just northeast of Cherokee, NC.

Its pretty and usually there are not a lot of people. After all, its about 20 miles or so to the nearest commercial area.

And it sits at 5,310 feet. That means it is going to be cooler than other campsites at lower elevations in the park.

That's what I like. Cool temperatures and although its not Texas, the stars at night are big and bright.

There are two other aspects that we seem to like. One is the unique picnic area that sits atop a hill about a half mile west of the campground. There are traditional picnic tables and also tables that are constructed out of huge slabs from rocks. I believe they were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps sometime back in the 1940s.

Sometimes fog hugs the top of the mountain and gives the area an eerie look, which somehow I seem to like since it makes for unique pictures.

And for the adventurous, there is the Heintooga Road which is a one-way, one-lane drive down the mountain. We like to make the trip.

The area has drawn a lot of good reviews.

Next post: Nov. 29, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tioga Lake campground -- beauty, cold temps

Snow still remains at Tioga, even in June

On trips out west over the years, while heading into Yosemite National Park from Lee Vining, we would pass Tioga Lake campground near Tioga Pass, but never stopped there.

It looked quite inviting.

Tioga Lake outside Yosemite National Park

On our last trip out west, our destination for the night was Tuolumne Meadows campground in Yosemite. It was about the second week in June and we figured it would be open.

That wasn't the case. The snowmelt had left the area rather damp and it was closed.

Wifey enjoying the out of doors

We hated that. Some 25 years earlier we became acquainted with Tuolumne. It was the location of I guess the best campfire program ever.

The ranger started the fire in a traditional manner, telling a story as he proceeded to light small tinder. As the fire began getting a little bit bigger, he added slightly larger limbs and then even larger ones until he had a ranger-approved roaring blaze.

My wife and, our only son at the time, sat around and listened to his mountain tales.

And we joined in with everyone else in singing that song about the woodchuck - "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood."

Those attending the program were broken up into groups and sort of had a competition with the song.

It was a truly great time and we were looking to another enjoyable experience on our latest visit.

But that was not the case.

With Tuolumne closed and knowing there wouldn't be any campsites available in the valley floor, we quickly retraced our steps and headed back toward Lee Vining. 

Although there are only 13 sites at the Tioga Lake campground, about a mile outside the park, we managed to get one. It was early in the day and we had our pick of the eight or so sites left.

By the time the sun went down, the campground was full.  We slept in our van and fixed our meals outside on the table that was provided. Bear-proof containers were available for storage.

The view from our site was beautiful, surrounded by the mountains, and even though it was June, there was still snow.

At an elevation of 9700 feet, the temperature that night dropped down below 32 degrees since the next morning we found water frozen that had been left in a milk jug.

We had all the requisite cold weather camping gear and clothes and slept comfortably that night. It was a little slow the next morning, having to get out and get adjusted to the temperature.

Sure enough, when we got down to Yosemite Valley that day, we checked to see if any campsites were available, but to no avail.

Although the June crowds were getting bigger, we did manage to do a little touristing before heading out in late afternoon to continue our adventure to the Coast.

Next post: Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

When it comes to travel, there's 'possibilities'

What do I want for Christmas?

A fantasy, of course.

It would have to deal with travel, be spectacular and a truly fantastic location.

There are a lot of places that fit the bill, but I'm thinking of a place right out of a movie -- no, not "Casablanca" (although I would take it), or "Roman Holiday," (I've already been to the Eternal City), or maybe the locations involved in "French Kiss"  but then again I've already enjoyed the City of Light.

Think 'possibilities.' Think Czech Republic. Think Karlovy Vary. Think Queen Latifah. Think --- The Grandhotel Pupp.

That's where I would like to spend some time -- of course, on someone else's dime. I think it would take a lot of dimes to stay at such a location but I could be up to it.

Queen Latifah starred in the movie "Last Holiday" where she played a sales clerk in New Orleans who was led to believed she had a brain tumor and only a few weeks to live.

She decides to fulfill her dreams and heads overseas to spend time at the hotel.

When the movie comes on TV, it trumps just about everything else going on at the time.

We've already watched it five or more times and continue to enjoy the plot line and her desire to enjoy to the fullest what she thinks is left of her life. She plays such a terrific part.

Timothy Hutton plays the businessman you love to hate. 

The meals prepared by the hotel's world-renowned chef (Gerard Depardiue) are enough to get anyone to want to dine there. 

Snowboarding and basejumping are not my ideas of entertainment but the movie makes it a world of fun.

In the original 1950 film, the leading character of George Bird was played by Alec Guiness. The updated story was for John Candy, but the project was shelved upon his death. 

Queen Latifah's agent read the script and suggested they revise it for her. I'm so glad they did.

An internet site says a room a the Grand Hotel Pupp can be had for about 169 euros a night. I'm sure the presidential suite is out of sight.

What do I want for Christmas? Think possibilities. Think a stay at The Grand Hotel Pupp.

Next post: Nov. 15, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Man's inhumanity to man

There are times when one is seemingly not looking for anything of significance when it appears.

Such was the case a number of years ago when visiting the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

My wife and I had entered the museum and viewed the displays within. Maybe it was too warm inside or I just got tired of all the modern art and decided to go outside.

I just walked around and shot some scenic pictures from the top of the hill on which the museum sits.

I was making my way along the sidewalk which encircles the parking area. It was a beautiful day outside and the skies were clear.

I shot some photos of the displays in the area and then upon almost ending my walk along the west side of the parking lot I came upon a display.

It was a stark reminder of man's inhumanity to man.

The "Holocaust Memorial" display was created by pop artist George Segall. The work was dedicated in November, 1984.

The artwork is simple and carries such a powerful message about the atrocities that occurred in Europe during World War II.

I spent a few minutes photographing the scenes. I tried to get an understanding of how they must have felt.

But I knew it was impossible. 

How can anyone standing in freedom and not faced with the prospects of  such incarceration ever have any idea of their terror.

Next post: Nov. 8, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bringing the Smokies home for Christmas

Campfire could help set stage for Smokies-style Christmas

I got a call from a niece this past week concerning the Skupien family Christmas get-together.

We always have supper on the Mississippi Gulf Coast at different locations whether it is our house, my mother's or some other relatives'.

We usually don't have a theme, although a number of years ago we had a "pajama" theme.

At that time everyone was asked to wear the nighttime attire. Why? 

Well, my mother fulfills what a mom and grandmother always seems to do at Christmas-- buy clothes for their offspring. My mother for years usually included a pair of pajamas in everyone's Christmas bag.

So that one year we decided to let her know we appreciated what she did. And everyone complied. It was not only a fun time, pajamas are really comfortable and with the elastic waist bands, we weren't as restrained when it came time to sit down at the table and gorge on the goodies.

Well, this year, we're going to have somewhat of a theme -- and guess what? It will have us experiencing some of the things from our favorite place to visit -- the Great Smoky Mountains.

We'll be meeting at her brothers in D'Iberville. It will be an open air place that will give us a feel of the outdoors but there will be protection in  case of inclement weather.

We'll probably have hotdogs, hot chocolate, s'mores, popcorn and favorite meals others want to bring and have enjoyed while in the mountains.

We won't have a cold running river, but someone might get splashed somehow.

Back in 2009, we did have a family get-together in the Smokies with about 30 in attendance for a few days.

As my niece said, its hard to get that many people together in the mountains, so this Smokies' Christmas party may be just the thing to get a taste of a place we all love and we'll only have to travel a few miles for the experience.

Next post: Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Traveling to the end of the world

There's a saying: "the end of the world as we know it." 

There's also a book out by that title. Maybe there are a lot of books out there by that title.

Each day we face "the end of the world as we know it." 

The situation can be different for each person. The world changes when one loses a job, house, spouse, children, when someone gets sick or has a heart attack or suffers a stroke. There are thousands of ways "the end of the world as we know it" comes about.

It appears that with all the turmoil in the world right now, there really could be another "the end of the world as we know it" moment that does actually affect the entire globe.

It could be catastrophic. It could be mind-changing. It could change the way or where we travel.

Right now, Greece, Italy, France and England don't look too inviting. Neither does New York City with the Occupy Wall Street groups massing on a daily basis.

There are other cities around the world facing the same situation.

But then again, there are still places that are safe to visit and enjoyable.

They can be close to home, or a couple days drive. Don't put it off. Keep on the lookout for good possibilities and take advantage of them.

After all, "the end of the world as we know it" may happen and we won't be able to travel at all.

Next post: Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Short trip and taking it easy

I-10 welcome center near Slidell

New Orleans beckoned over the Columbus Day weekend.

We were ready to head out of town, and the Big Easy was an easy decision.

Our last trip of the vacation type was to the Smoky Mountains in June and July.

The weekend trip ended up being an overnight type as we sought to find out how things would work out for my wife who had suffered a stroke in April.  The stroke caused Linda to lose mobility in her left side.

She can walk, but not too fast. During therapy, she usually has level, even floors.

New Orleans was different. 

There were all sorts of angles to maneuver over and around. It seems that when one is not handicapped, obstacles, in the form of uneven sidewalks and streets, are not that big of a deal.

When the going is slow, and each step is thought out, one looks down and what is seen in New Orleans amounts to challenges.

But we met the challenges and managed to go from our hotel, the Provencial, down to Cafe du monde and around Jackson Square where we came across entertainment, artists and fortune tellers.

The going was slow and steady, and tiring.

We found a shop around the corner from the hotel and for lunch ended up getting the last sandwich in the store (it was a busy day).

And of course, at the Cafe Dumond, the traditional cafe au lait for me, cold chocolate milk for Linda and an order of beignets to split.

Temperatures were on the mild side, but heating up during the day.

Linda decided to pull a San Francisco bit on me. She sent me out to pick up something for supper (it's Sunday so it must be pizza) while she rested in the room.

It was a good test for what we could do under new circumstances. The trip wasn't as inspired for photography as past excursions (a little too warm).We still plan to return to do Miracle on Fulton Street during Christmas time and maybe both of us will have more stamina and will be able to "do the town right."

Next post: Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sultry temps and sand beaches

Sometimes when there's not anything in particular to write about, one tends to write about things closer to home -- and in this case, it is home.

Well, it is our hometown Ocean Springs, but it has to do with the beach. We don't get down to the beach to walk as much as we should, but every so often it does occur.

Since Hurricane Katrina hit some five years ago, local officials saw to it to have a sidewalk built on the beach extending from the bridge to Biloxi back to the town's inner harbor. This is about a mile and a half walk, give or take a little.

It has become a popular place since the walkway was put in and firepits added. There's ample lighting for nighttime excursions. People can be seen walking, jogging or biking the bridge and then they come down to the sandbeach and go along it.

With the wind almost constantly blowing from the south, it is rather comfortable even though summertime can be quite 'sultry.' That word is an euphemism for 'humid.' Nobody likes high humidity, but wow, sultriness can't be that bad.

The word just has a better feeling to it. 

Its a good place to see a full moon rising, watching the shrimpers come in from the gulf or checking on whether or not fishermen along the breakwaters have caught anything.

I really don't like sand. And it is a sand beach. That's why I don't get down there that much.

But when I do, I wonder why I don't do the beach more often.

Next post: Oct. 11, 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Blowing Rock hugs side of mountain

There are many times when the unexpected crops up.

And there isn't necessarily enough time to fully enjoy.

Such was the case last year on our skiing trip to Sugar Mountain outside of Boone, NC.

We took a different route and found a place we would like to revisit during either late spring, summer or early fall. It seems the place is not as bustling during the winter time.

And the place --  Blowing Rock, NC.

Their web site indicates that Blowing Rock is "only 3 square miles yet home to more than 100 shops, about two dozen restaurants and nearly 20 hotels and inns."

Its just south of Boone.

Heading north, we cut off the main highway (321) upon seeing the city's sign. The road took us through an area with homes and businesses seemingly hanging over the side of the mountain. 

There were numerous vistas, where one could see for miles.

Because our main quest was to go skiing, we just enjoyed the trip through town and headed to Boone. And then we enjoyed the visit through the town once again on the day we left Boone.

It was a place that beckoned to my sense of adventure.

Next post, Oct. 4, 2011