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Saturday, January 15, 2022

A Weekend In Atlanta, Georgia

I was thinking about changing the title of this post because we have since made another trip to Atlanta recently and have something to add here. We also have plans to return this coming summer! That is how much we love this city.  

If you didn't have a chance to read this post the first time around, please do. If you did, you can just skip all the way down to the end of this post and read about our second trip.


We planned a road trip to Atlanta, Georgia to watch our favorite baseball team, the Mets, play their away game against the Braves.   We arrived the day before the game to make it a mini vacation.  (You can read about our first day and all about Stone Mountain Park here.)  We chose to stay at the Country Inn & Suites, Atlanta/Galleria, Ball Park because it was within walking distance of of the stadium.  This made the hotel very convenient for us.  They offered shuttle service to the stadium but we found out about it after the shuttle left!  There's never any harm in getting a couple of extra steps each day so it was actually a good thing that we missed the bus.  If we would have skipped the sightseeing we would have made the bus but then we would have missed out on seeing some awesome sights.  We researched before we left on our weekend road trip and found a couple of things we had to see and do here.

Our hotel was only a few miles from Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park.  This park spans about 35 acres and consists of several buildings and sites that includes Martin Luther King, Jr.'s childhood home on Auburn Street in the Sweet Auburn Historic District.  We didn't have time to look inside, which was free to do, but we were thrilled to just stand on the same porch where one of the greatest people in history once stood.

Down the block is Ebenezer Baptist Church where both Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dad, were preachers.

Across the street from the church is the visitor's center which has exhibits telling the story of the Civil Rights Movement.  There is also a theater here and the D.R.E.A.M Gallery that holds exhibits that will change from time to time.  You can pick up the free tickets to enter King's childhood home in the visitor's center here.

A few blocks away from the park was the Krog Street Tunnel.  I was thrilled to find this tunnel as we love to seek out the unusual sights in a new city.  This tunnel was perfectly quirky.  If you are an artist with a paint can, you can display your art in this tunnel.  It was so colorful and so fun and the paint cans thrown around throughout the tunnel just added to the ambiance of this place.


The walls outside the tunnel were also decorated with works of art and a couple of restaurants and stores in the few blocks surrounding the tunnel also got in the spirit and decorated their businesses with spray paint as well.

Now it was time to get to the game.  We went back to the hotel to drop our car off and walked up the hill towards SunTrust Park along with lots of other people doing the same thing we were.

I had completely forgotten that the Braves fans were the ones who did the tomahawk chop when they were cheering for an amazing play.  I remembered the rivalry the Mets and Braves had when I was a kid and how much that chop annoyed me haha!  If the Brave fans were cheering, the Mets were probably in trouble!  It all came back to me when we got to the stadium.  Everything is about the chop.

We had great seats and were able to watch the Met's pitchers warming up before they got into the game.

And because it was Memorial Day, there was a wonderful pre-game show honoring every branch of the armed forces and the brave men and women who serve or served in them.  Throughout the game, between innings, individuals were singled out for either serving, formally serving or being the family of someone who gave their lives while serving.  We saw their images on the big screen and gave them standing ovations.  There were also taps and a moment of silence in honor of all those heroes who never returned from their tour of duty.

Unfortunately, the Mets lost but we had fun in spite of the loss.  The Mets hadn't been doing so well so we kind of expected it.   We are fans for life, though, no matter how bad their seasons are.

After the game we wanted to find somewhere fun to eat.   There was a burger place in Atlanta that was recommended for us to try by our son Joe.  He has made trips to some really out of the way places to try a burger he has read about so we trusted his suggestion.  We found H&M Burger in Ponce City Market.

H&F Burger is where we could find the famous H&F burger that local chef and James Beard Award winner Linton Hopkins created.   This burger was first served at Holeman and Finch Public House.  There would be only 24 burgers prepared each night at 10 p.m.  First come, first served.  You would have to come back another night if you missed out.  The original H&F burger is a double cheeseburger, topped with red onion and house-made pickles served on a freshly baked bun which is made to be the same size as the burger.  It is buttered and toasted on a griddle before the burger gets to sit inside it.  It is served with made from scratch ketchup on the side.  We ordered french fries and shaved crisp onions to eat with our burgers.  I have to say that this burger is on the top of my "best burger I have ever eaten" list.  And the fries and shaved crisp onions were not too shabby either.

We were on vacation so that means we could splurge on desert.  I noticed something delicious that I had never had before, on our way over to H&F, and I had to have it.  But first we needed to walk off some of the calories of our delicious dinner.  We went window shopping and then checked out the rooftop area.   We didn't, but could have had a cocktail up here while we relaxed and enjoyed the view.   We passed an area with a piano and comfy couches and listened to a young couple playing Chopsticks

After our walk I was ready for desert!  Batter Cookie Dough Counter served "cookie dough" that you could eat before it turned into a cookie.   I've always thought that the best part of baking a cake or cookies is being able to lick the spoon that stirred the batter even though I know I am taking a risk of getting sick from the raw egg.  I don't know how they did it, but you can eat the dough they sell here without worrying.  I picked brownie batter and sugar cookie.  They were yummy but a little too sweet.  I would love to go back one day to test out the other flavors though!

Needless to say, I was stuffed after all the eating we just did so it was time to head back to the hotel.
We had a great time in Atlanta.  We will be looking for another Mets game here in the future for an excuse to visit this fun city again!


We knew we would be back!

What brought us here this time was because we couldn't get all the way to Mammoth Cave National Park, the first stop on our 5 National Park Road Trip.

We camped at Stone Mountain Campground. Soko notice that there was a campground here on our first visit. It was nice to get a chance to camp here as we were hoping that one day we would be able to check it out.

We were not disappointed. It was a 5 star (our rating) campground with a couple of easy trails we enjoyed hiking on. (Read more about this campground here.) You can hike here whether you are camping at the campground or not. We would definitely recommend hiking along the Stone Mountain River, if you have time, on your trip to Atlanta.


We hiked the Evergreen Trail which would take us to the Cherokee Trail which would take us to the century old Washington w. King Bridge.

We got a glimpse of the carving on the side of Stone Mountain at this point on the trail. Read more about this carving here.

It started to get late when we finally made it to the Cherokee Trail so we decided that we should head back to the car and drive to the bridge instead. 

We only had 1 1/2 days to spend in Atlanta this time. We decided that we would spend the one full day we had here at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

On any given day you will find Atlanta Botanical Garden hosting a special event. We were lucky enough to be at the garden for the SUPERnatural: Aerial Art in Motion exhibit. We enjoyed watching the streamers dancing in the wind as we walked along the suspension bridge they call the Kendeda Canopy Walk.

Everywhere we looked we saw gorgeous displays of colorful flowers and beautiful foliage.

There are specialty gardens and greenhouses throughout the garden. You will need a few hours to be able to see all Atlanta Botanical Garden has to offer.  
                                                                  Fuqua Orchid Center

                                                                     Tropical Rotunda

Japanese Garden

                                                                            Children's Garden

In addition to the live flowers in the garden, there were amazing glass flowers that were almost equally as beautiful as their counterparts. These glass flowers were a collection in another exhibition that was currently being featured here, Glass Art in Bloom.

But the highlight on our day at Atlanta Botanical Garden had to be suddenly coming upon the Earth Goddess as we turned a corner. This beautiful lady was installed in 2013 as part of a mosiaculture (sculptures made out of plants) exhibition that became a permanent resident. The goddess is 20 feet tall, weighs 29 tons and holds more than 18,000 plants. She has to be trimmed weekly to keep her gorgeous shape.

We had another awesome visit to Atlanta and are excited to know that we already have plans to visit for a third time. Keep an eye out for Part 3!

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Monday, December 20, 2021

What You Should Know Before Cruising Again

We have a cruise booked for April 2022. It was going to be our first cruise since before the pandemic. It is a repositioning cruise which means we start the cruise in Miami and end the cruise in the Netherlands. We made the reservation for this cruise when it looked like the pandemic was finally done and then the Delta variant started the whole thing over again.

We were really starting to think that we should cancel our plans and then we were offered a free 4 day cruise from Royal Caribbean. We thought that this short cruise would be a great opportunity for us to see whether we were comfortable to cruise again. 

After this short cruise, we pretty much decided that we could on the repositioning cruise. Royal Caribbean has put in place many safety measures and created a "new normal" for cruising that definitely made us feel safe and comfortable.

1 - Everyone 12 and over must be vaccinated. I'm not sure if this will change to include younger children once the vaccination becomes readily available to them. You will have to present your vaccination card at check-in. We now keep our cards in a holder along with our passports.

2 - Everyone, 2 years and older, needs a covid test before getting on the ship. Vaccinated passengers need a test no later than 2 days before boarding. Kids 2 - 11 need to get tested 3 days before the start of the cruise and will be tested, free of charge, before boarding the ship. Click here to get more information on cruising with unvaccinated children.

3 - Vaccinated cruisers are required to wear a wristband for the duration of the trip. Part of the check-in process includes getting a bracelet to wear to show that you are fully vaccinated. This bracelet allows you to walk around all areas of the ship freely. Crew members are stationed at the entrance of certain venues and are checking to make sure you are wearing the wristband before you enter. 

4 - You must wear a mask on the ship at all times with a few exceptions. When you are on the outdoor decks, in your room or eating or drinking are the only times the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike do not have to wear masks. There are a couple of more exceptions to this rule for the vaccinated.

5 - You need to get tested for covid before getting off the ship and into some ports. We didn't need to get tested when we got off at Royal Caribbean's CocoCay port or when we docked in the Bahamas. We most likely will have to get tested before we leave the ship when we go on our trans- Atlantic cruise next year. After talking to a representative in the Next Cruise office, we found out that if testing is necessary, Royal Caribbean will perform this service at no cost.

6 - Areas in the ship are designated to vaccinated only. Two areas that we frequented the most, the My Time Dining hall and casino, was off limits to anyone that was not fully vaccinated. Also, being fully vaccinated allowed us to sit in the lower level of the entertainment venue. Masks are optional in this section of the theater. A perk you get for being fully vaccinated. There were ship crew that watched as you were leaving the auditorium who reminded you to put your mask back on before entering the ship's common area. I had to be reminded a couple of times!

7 - Social distancing is required in venues that unvaccinated guests are allowed in. The ice skating arena where the ice show is held is much smaller than the main entertainment venue so vaccinated and unvaccinated guests sit together. Here you had leave 2 seats between each party. This rule also held true in the upper level of the entertainment venue where vaccinated and unvaccinated sat together.

8 - You must wash your hands with soap and water before entering the Windjammer buffet. Huge sinks line the two walls of the entranceway to the buffet. A crew member stands at the entrance and merrily chants a "washy washy" reminder as you enter. Also, you must check in with the hostess before entering into the buffet which we never did before the pandemic. I am not sure why but am thinking maybe for contact tracing.

9 - Helping yourself is not permitted at the buffet. You can help yourself to a drink that has been poured into a glass and some dessert or salad that is pre-made and in some kind of container. All other food is served to you. Plates and silverware are handed to you. The condiment containers are only accessible to the gloved crew member who will serve you. It took me a couple trips to the condiment counter to finally get over the embarrassment of asking for my ketchup to be put in the big bowl and not the small one!

10 - Hand sanitizer is available throughout the ship and sometimes required to be used. Before covid, the only place we saw hand sanitizer was at the entrance of the buffet. Now it is everywhere. The person at the ice cream station at the pool will remind you to use the sanitizer before she serves you. She was not there on our last cruise.

11 - You must always look before you sit. There is constant cleaning of certain high contact areas. Before sitting down at a table, anywhere except the main dining areas where you are led to your seats, you had to make sure the note on the table is flipped to the side letting you know the table was clean. Sometimes it took a bit of searching for a clean table but we definitely wouldn't complain about this small inconvenience. We appreciated the extra assurance that we were sitting somewhere that was clean and germ free.

We were very happy with all the new protocols we had to follow onboard the cruise ship and we felt comfortable in all areas of the ship. We felt confident that we didn't have more of a chance contacting covid on this ship, or any other Royal Caribbean ship, compared to getting it anywhere else. That being said, we came home and booked the flight from Amsterdam to Miami that we were holding off on. 

Going on this short cruise trip turned out to be a very good idea for us. We can't wait to go on the next one now! Hope this list helps you decide if you are ready or not for your next cruise.

Bon Voyage!

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Sunday, December 5, 2021

It's Christmastime In The City

In 1986, I was running errands in my neighborhood at that time, Nanuet, NY, and saw a huge tree being carted away on a flatbed truck.  I didn't know until the annually televised tree lighting that the tree I saw was the one.  I couldn't believe how awesome it felt when I realized how close I was to the tree that was going to make history!  People come from all over the world to ice skate at Rockefeller Center and to see the lighting of the magnificent (and soon to be historic) tree.  I don't know if there is another city in America that can rival the holiday displays and festivities of New York City.

New York City


I live in North Carolina now and just recently went to our city's tree lighting.  Although Leland's wasn't as grand as the one in Manhattan, they did have guest singers singing Christmas carols and Santa Claus made an appearance.  We were offered free coffee, hot chocolate and cookies which was really nice.  No, it didn't come close to NYC but we did have a fun night!  

Leland, NC

I haven't been to too many cities, though, at Christmastime and I'm sure that most towns across the United States have their tree lighting evenings, festivities and holiday displays.  So since our Christmas tree and decorations were up and most of the presents were bought, I decided to plan a road trip or two to check out some holiday decor.  I was on a quest to find and enjoy the best holiday displays in as many cities as I could get to in the two weeks before Christmas.

Week 1

The first stop of this adventure, would be the nearest city to us, Wilmington, NC.  Me and Soko headed downtown to see the huge tree that I knew was there somewhere.  I was hoping, and was pretty sure, that there would other things to see.  And, yes, there was lots of festive decor all over the city to enjoy.

Wilmington, NC

Lots of the restaurants and shops downtown had holiday displays and this one even used the tree in front of their business to put Wilmington in a festive mood.

On our stroll down the Wilmington Riverwalk, was where we found the tree in front of the court house.

And the menorah...

And where we found the horse drawn carriage, lampposts and many other things shouting "It's Christmastime In The City!"


Our final stop here in downtown Wilmington was Front St. to see if the historic homes on this block were decorated for the holidays.  There were and they were gorgeous.  

We will definitely try to get downtown at another time to check out the other historic homes in the area but it was time to get ready for my next stop to find Christmastime in the city.

Charleston, SC

Early the next morning, me and my daughter, Lisa, hopped into the car and settled in for our four hour drive to meet some friends in Charleston, SC.  I was very excited for this road trip as I had been to Charleston and it was such a charming old town and I was sure it would be even more delightful at Christmastime.

Charleston, on a gorgeous winter day with my best friends and favorite daughter.  I can't think of a better way to enjoy the holiday displays of a beautiful city!

The first place we wanted to check out was the Charleston City Market...  

 which was right where the city put their tree.

Then a stroll around the town where we admired the creativity of this building...

and where we enjoyed the many other decked out buildings, and homes that filled their window flower boxes with festive plants and decor.  We noticed that almost every building had a wreath hanging on it, either on a door or window, one prettier than the next.

A visit to Charleston wouldn't be complete without a walk down Rainbow Row.  

Me and Lisa had a great time in Charleston, especially because we got to spend the day with good friends.  The city was as we imagined and more.  Now it was time to head back home but not before stopping for something to eat at one of Lisa's favorite places, Broadway at the Beach in Myrtle Beach, SC.

Charleston, SC Part 2

My second trip to Charleston at Christmastime, again with Lisa, happened 4 years after our first trip. Lisa had some work to do for her blog, Drugstore Divas, here and asked if I wanted to come along. Of course I did!

The first time we visited we only had a day to enjoy the holiday festivities, this trip we had a whole weekend. Lucky for us, we were in town for the city's annual Christmas parade.

Christmas classics blasted out of speakers put in some of the floats and added to the fun of the parade. In the distance, we could hear one of our favorites, the classic piano solo Schroeder played in A Charlie Brown Christmas. We were very impressed to find out, when the group finally got to us, that the music was actually being played live on the piano the local Baptist church managed to somehow get on their float.

The first time we came to Charleston at Christmas, we met our friends and just enjoyed a day of walking around the city admiring and enjoying the holiday decor. We especially enjoyed the decorations that adorned the many grand estates here. Me and Lisa had a chance to take a couple of walks this weekend and stopped to take pictures of some more of the beautifully decorated homes.

We voted this home "most fun".

Lisa had to meet someone at the visitor's center when we first got into town. We were very excited to find out that there was a Christmas tree display here. Each tree was unique and decorated and donated in honor of a loved one who had a battle with cancer. You could bid on a tree and the money received for the purchase of the tree would be donated to Dragon Boat Charleston, a non-profit organization. We could feel the love these trees were decorated with.

This tree was donated by a sister who lost her beach loving brother to cancer. The tree was filled with bought and handmade decorations, as most of the trees were. We couldn't get over the starfish tree topper created for this amazing tree. I think the brother would be (and is) very happy with his tree.

Once again, we enjoyed all Charleston had to offer for the holidays! 

Myrtle Beach, SC

Not only did we enjoy dinner here, but we were treated to some really beautiful and festive decorations!  Christmas lights are really special at night and this stop had one of the prettiest displays I had seen so far.

And, just when we thought this day could not get any better, we saw the tree, spectacular and glowing with hundreds of colorful lights!

Click this link to read all about week 2 of our travels to find Christmas.  It takes us six hours west to see what we can find in the mountains of North Carolina and into Tennessee.  I also added our trip to Savannah, GA where we found the holiday spirit everywhere.

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