One never knows what to expect when visiting a new place to experience their Christmas lights.
Such was the case this past weekend. Wifey and I decided to take an overnight trip to Canton, MS which hosts a "City of Lights" celebration for the holidays.
I had done a search on the Internet for Mississippi locations offering Christmas festivities and then headed out on the 200-mile one-way trip and I was hoping that it would be an unusual experience.
We arrived early in the afternoon and took a walk about the courthouse square which was lined by buildings dating back to the 1800s. Unlike some cities that haven't been able to keep up with the changing times, the area, although having a few vacant spots, was vibrant and alive.
We could see figurative displays and trees that were to come alive with thousands of lights once the sun went down.
A trip around the square and we then headed to our accommodations with plans to return about 5 p.m. after resting from the five-hour trip.
Our return included experiencing bumper-to-bumper traffic heading into downtown. Lights outlined the buildings along the main thoroughfares adding to the festivities.
And then the courthouse square came into view and it was a delight to behold.
We couldn't find a place to park on the square so settled for a spot about a block away.
Our trip around the inside of the square brought on a feeling joy.
Hundreds of children, parents and grandparents made their way around the square enjoying the sights and sounds of the holidays.
There was a carousel and other rides for the little ones. Rides were also offered on horse-drawn buggies, a small ''train'' and trolleys, all which circled the town square.
As we began to leave the area for the night, I just felt like I could sit on a park bench in the square for hours on end just enjoying what Canton had to offer.
Gatlinburg, TN knows how to put on a Christmas parade.
There was something for everyone -- marching bands, floats, dancers, muscle cars, mini cars, balloon figures and of course even Santa Claus.
And there was even the sheriff of Hazard County chasing the Duke brothers down the main thoroughfare.
But there was one thing not making an appearance -- snow.
The parade was held the night of Dec. 7, and as anticipated there were thousands lining the route along the Parkway with the parade starting around 7:30 p.m. and lasting almost two hours.
The temperatures weren't as we had expected. The cold hovered in the high 40s for most of the parade which was fairly comfortable.
This was the first time we had visited for the holiday event and thoroughly enjoyed the festivities. Earlier in the afternoon, I traveled down the main thoroughfare and saw an interesting sight.
It was interesting to someone who hadn't seen the parade before. Along the sidewalks adjacent to the main thoroughfare, on both sides of the street, people had already staked out their spot for the parade by placing their folded up chairs end to end from one end of the parade route to the other.
Click to see very, very lighted car
During the parade there was the typical noises provided by blasts from the firetrucks and sirens from police cars.
Musicians rode the floats, marching bands blared out Christmas songs and lights of all colors were strung along the floats and even the cars in the parade.
Following the parade, it was an easy walk back to our hotel just a block away. An hour or so later I looked out the window and saw that cars were bumper to bumper trying to get out of the city.
About the only great architect I know of is Frank Lloyd Wright.
I've read articles about his work over the years and the only structure that he created that I can remember is Fallingwater. It is a dwelling perched on a hill with a waterfall coming off of it.
During our West Coast visit in October, there was a newspaper article my wife read that indicated the residents of Marin County (north end of the Golden Gate Bridge) were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of their civic center which was his last commission.
Well, wifey wanted to take a drive-by look. She figured I wasn't that interested and so she didn't want to make it too difficult for me.
We decided to visit the facility after spending a night in Sausalito. We had to backtrack a bit to San Rafael. We had gotten a glimpse of the blue-roofed facility off into the distance as we were going down Highway 101. The blue roof reminded me of the hundreds of blue tarps used to protect the roofs of homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina and other storms on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Wright was 90 when commissioned and he died before construction. The civic center work began in 1960 followed by the Hall of Justice, the Veterans Memorial Auditorium and the Exhibit Hall.
There was a lot of controversy about the facility concerning cost, location, color and Wrights' "socialist" design philosophy.
We drove around and through the archways a number of times with wifey shooting a number of pictures. And then she was ready to go, apparently feeling that she had taken enough of my time on this project.
But I ended up insisting that we at least park and go into a section of the facility.
And I am glad we did.
If I had been a resident back then, I probably would have been against its construction since I err on the side of economy. I'm cheap.
But I am glad that the leaders forged on to see the facility completed as Wright had envisioned.
We went up to the library and walked around the halls on the south end of the massive structure which are arranged around an open atria which allows natural light into the area.
There was a pleasant and comforting feeling about the surroundings.
The accommodations were spartan, but comfortable. At the time, we felt like $28 (it's about $70 or so now) for a night's stay was more than acceptable especially since our room was almost hanging over the edge of a cliff and we could hear the Pacific as it crashed upon the coastline.
The experience was new and exciting and we especially love the beauty of the area.
The next morning we decided to find a place to eat and ended up stopping at a coffee/sandwich shop called "Coastal Affair."
Coffee shop owner Amber offers us a sunflower
At that particular time, Bill Clinton was running for president.
We got some coffee and tea, hopped on a couple bar stools and began an engaging conversation about politics. We were polite to the other two, but were on opposite sides of the spectrum.
This last October, we decided on a couple-hour jaunt back to the area. We pulled into the parking lot of the lighthouse and enjoyed the scenery, but didn't stay long.
Is seeing a waterfall worth adding six hours of driving time to a vacation schedule?
It just depends.
And, yes of course. Especially if one is in new territory -- everything along the way is an adventure.
The second day of our October trip out west, we were originally planning on leaving Yreka, CA early on a Sunday morning and moseying over to Coos Bay, OR taking in a few sights along the way.
It was to be a leisurely four- or five-hour trip, not counting stops and we hoped to arrive in Coos Bay no later than about 5 or 6 p.m.
Well, those plans went out the window.
In perusing some Oregon travel brochures, I saw a picture of a waterfall and just felt that since we were going to be in the area, I just had to go and see it -- it being Toketee Falls.
The cascade is located on the North Umpqua River just off Highway 138 about an hour east of Roseburg which is located on I-5.
The area is part of the Rogue-Umpqua (rivers) Scenic Byway, a loop that winds its way for 172 miles through a beautiful mountainous and forested area.
We arrived at the waterfall about 4 in the afternoon, expecting the brochure describing the walk to the falls to be accurate. It wasn't. Expecting a short walk off the main parking area, we discovered the path to wind up and down, over and around.
The trail was rough in places and ran along the edge of the mountain which had a pretty good dropoff. There were rocks and trees to go around, steps to climb and descend.
I worked up a pretty good sweat trying to make sure I arrived while there was still enough light.
The mission was accomplished and there was even a viewing platform from which to enjoy the falls.
I snapped away, enjoying another travel accomplishment.
Our 8-night West Coast trip in early October had us staying in seven different lodging establishments.
For whatever reason, I guess I had heard of Coos Bay, OR, before, and so we decided to make it our northern terminus.
San Francisco was the arriving and departing point.
Upon checking out our rental car at Budget on the Saturday we arrived, I asked the agent what kind of mileage was allowed. He said it was unlimited. Upon returning the vehicle the next week, the check-in guy commented that I must have gone everywhere. Not quite, but in those nine days, we logged just a little over 1,600 miles in that Toyota Corolla. And it did a good job, and got good mileage.
I had begun making reservations back in May, doing Internet searches and checking out old brochures we had picked up on previous trips.
Our first weekend on this trip included the Columbus Day holiday. I recalled another trip we took to California during that same timeframe years ago. We were heading down to see the Hearst Castle and couldn't find a room anywhere within about 100 miles of the place.
The Tides Inn, Shelter Cove
We ended up spending a somewhat unusual night sleeping in our vehicle at a state park. Since we are campers, we managed to easily adapt to the situation, although it wasn't as comfortable as our van. And not nearly as comfortable as a motel room would be.
It was a holiday weekend, the weather was great, there were a lot of activities going on and everybody seemed to be traveling. It was a lesson learned.
Old West Inn, Willets
Based on this past information, and the fact that my wife likes to know where she is going to stay each night, I managed to book all of our accommodations before the end of July. This was comforting. And since most had a cancellation policy, I could have changed plans if need be.
I made decisions, pulled the trigger and booked all those nights early. And I never did go back and change any although I felt some were above what we normally pay for a room. But then again, we don't spend that many nights in a motel during the course of a year and when going to the mountains we camp for about $10 a night.
I seem to be entertaining that entitlement-to-something-better feeling although I am paying for the trip out of our own resources, not anyone else's.
Five nights were more or less having a place to stay while the other three were "experience" stays, one being the Coos Bay Manor bed and breakfast; The Tides Inn overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Shelter Cove and The Gables Inn, an upscale stop in Sausalito. (More on our 'experience stays' later.)
I'm ready to do it again, although I think adding an extra seven days, or more, would be better.