Posts Tagged With: travel

Dead Last beats Did Not Finish, which is better than Did Not Start

April and May did not work out like I wanted them to.  I still haven’t fixed my writing space; I’m still not sure how I could.

Instead of dwelling on that and the missed posts (and getting even more behind), I’m going to take this one word at a time.  It’s not a permanent solution by any means, but it’s better than what I’ve been doing.  And what a great week to start, because I did something really exciting this weekend that I’d like to share with you.

Friday, Jennifer and I (and Layla) drove down to Charleston.  It was exciting from the very start.  South Carolina drivers seemed to be holding a contest of who could kill us first.  But we did make it in one piece.  After checking in at our campsite (yes, campsite: more on that later) at James Island, we went downtown.

The stretch of King Street we were on looked like someone had turned Southpark Mall inside out and dumped it on the street.  But on the next block, down Market Street, we found some of the true gems of Charleston: the open-air market, Market Street Sweets, Kaminsky’s and the attached steakhouse that was recently damaged by fie, and the Moon Pie General Store.  We walked another twenty minutes to go to Blue Bicycle Books.

I don’t know how Jennifer felt about this bookstore, especially after all the trouble it took us to find it, but I love this place.  It’s quiet and peaceful, and I always feel like I’m entering a different world when I open the door and the cool air rushes at me.  We only stayed a few minutes, and we didn’t buy anything but my Charleston trip wouldn’t have felt complete without it.

With First Looks over, it was time to get to the reason we were there: Questival.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been describing Questival as a scavenger hunt, but it’s not that simple.  It’s 24 hours of adventures big and small.  The things we were challenged to do ranged from “draw a team crest” to “eat a bug,” “sing karaoke” to “ride a unicycle.”  Each quest was worth a certain amount of points.  Jennifer and I focused on location quests because we wanted to see as much of Charleston as possible.  We visited Rainbow Row, Waterfront Park with its pineapple fountain, and White Gardens.  We even drove out to the Angel Oak Tree, a 400-year-old oak.

Most memorable was the Four Corners of Law, not because of the  buildings themselves but because of the woman we met standing there: a 75-year-old former Marine who noticed we looked lost and stopped to help.  She suggested we go in the church, as both Washington and Lee had worshipped there, and eat lunch at Brown Dog Deli.  Unfortunately the church had just closed, but the deli was the most amazing meal I’ve had in a while.  I had the Fig’N’Pig, the perfect blend of sweet and savory.  Also a chocolate chip cookie, which was so sweet and gooey I almost died.

We finished Questival in 71st place.  Seventy teams did better than we did…but thirty did not.  At least ten of those had zero points because they didn’t even try.

Maybe we didn’t win, but we had a lot of fun exploring Charleston and stepping out of our comfort zone.  And yes, camping.

This was the first time I’d ever been camping.  We put up the tent and got a thousand bug bites.  We even made new friends with some girls from Asheville who camped a lot.  It was a great first camping trip.  We’re already looking forward to the next one.

Sometimes you step out of your comfort zone and find yourself in a magical place.

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Road Trip Book Haul

This was meant to be a vlog post, but I don’t actually feel like videoing myself right now.

I probably visited a dozen or more book stores on this trip.  Some were awful, like the one in Cuba, Missouri.  There were a few, like the one in Nashville, Tennessee, that were nice but didn’t have what I wanted.  There were six I found and purchased books from.

The first bookstore of the trip was in Chicago.  Selected Works Used Books & Sheet Music was a room and a half in a building so old the elevator was cranked by hand.  There I bought a Perry Mason mystery: The Case of the One-Eyed Witness by Erle Stanley Gardner.

Despite going into almost every bookstore I saw, the next place I found something was Palace Avenue Books in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  There I bought Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff. The owner saw that I was buying it and showed me an antique he’d recently acquired with some beautiful pictures of the pyramids.

I FINALLY found If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho translated by Anne Carson at The Writer’s Block Book Shop in Las Vegas, Nevada.

When I made it to The Last Book Store in Los Angeles, I almost didn’t find anything…but then I saw Brain Storm by Don Hahn and Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ Speech.

Originally, I expected this would actually be my last book store of the trip, but then I got to meet Anna Kendrick and get her book Scrappy Little Nobody at Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey, a bookstore well known for its author events.

And of course, once in New York City, I couldn’t resist going to one of my favorite bookstores: The Strand.  That’s where I found In the Next Room by Sarah Ruhl, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  These were all books I’d wanted for a while, so that was extra wonderful.

I’ve stopped going into big chain bookstores because I’ve found half the fun of buying books is where you get them.  So where are your favorite independent bookstores?  And be sure to shop there Small Business Saturday!

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The Road Less Traveled

Well…I made it.

I got to California on November 1st and LA on the 4th.  on Sunday, I drove out to the Santa Monica Pier.

The end of the Route.

It will be another week and a half before the trip is over, but my ride down the Mother Road is done.

Cars was not exaggerating.  I passed SO many towns that had died because I-40 overlooked them.  But there’s a certain camaraderie on 66 that you don’t find on the new interstates.  I don’t know how it was in the heyday but, ironically, this comraderie today is borne of the isolation.  There are so few people left on the old roads that you feel a connection to the few you do meet.

Maybe it’s not for everyone, but it was the perfect blend of solitude and companionship for me.  It was just the right blend of speed and easy-riding.

There’s a certain nostalgia on Route 66 as well.  The most celebrated establishments are the ones that have been around since the 40s or earlier.

And yet…talking to Fran of the Sunflower Station, it’s not the same road it was 90 years ago.  “Oh yes,” she said, when I asked if she’d actually taken the Route.  “Several times and it’s different every time.”

She’s right.  Between the detours and the businesses opening and closing, it changes all the time.  My Route 66 does not match anyone else’s, which is part of the magic of it all.  All Route 66 travelers see most of the same sights, but they each have their own experience.

If you’re planning your Route 66 experience, here are my 6 (see what I did there?) top must-dos on Route 66.

  1. Lou Mitchell’s.  I almost didn’t stop here, but I am SO glad I did.  Best pancakes EVER.
  2. Luna Cafe.  The neon sign is one of the oldest on the Route and, if you show up at the right time, they’ll easily make you feel like a regular.  This is the most socializing I did on the whole Route and it was pretty fantastic.
  3. The Petrified Forest/Painted Desert. You have to pay for it, but the view is SO worth it.  The view is beautiful and, halfway through, you get to the only place the old Route intersected a National Park.  Take this road.  It’ll be worth it.
  4. The Midpoint Cafe/Sunflower Station.  Classic Route 66.  First of all, if you make it during the On season, you will have the best pie and coffee of your life.  It’s delicious.  But the best part is the people.  Fran, who owns the Sunflower Station, is an incredibly sweet person who also knows a lot about the old road.  And the family at the Midpoint Cafe is hospitable and kind.  Make sure you stop in.
  5. Black Mountains.  The drive between Kingman, AZ and Oatman, AZ was the hardest I’ve ever done, but it was also the most beautiful drive I’ve ever taken, so make sure you don’t bypass this one with I-40.   Though also make sure you don’t take it at night.  It’s pretty dangerous.
  6. Santa Monica.  I love beaches, and there is something magical about seeing the sunset there, but the pier itself is also amazing.  Between the people and the neon, it’s everything the Mother Road itself promises.  It’s the last stop on the Route, so make sure you spend some time there.

Now, this isn’t my master list of things I’ve done on this road trip, or my list of “road trip tips,” because I’m not done yet.  But these were my favorite spots on Route 66, the places where I felt the spirit of the old road and its people.

Keep on cruising.  It may be old, but there’s life in these places still.

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Meet Me In St. Louis (The 6 Best Things I Did There)

After spending a week and a half in Illinois, it was time to move on.  Just over the state line was St. Louis, Missouri, and I arranged to spend two nights there.  This list may tell you more about me than the city I visited, but I recommend these experiences.

6. Eating on the Hill – I wound up at Mama’s On the Hill and the toasted ravioli was delicious.  Anywhere you get Italian food here is going to be authentic and tasty, but I recommend Mama’s.

5. The St. Louis Zoo – This zoo is expansive, but easily walkable  The animals and exhibits are engaging.  And, best of all, the zoo is focused on conservation and education, so you know the animals are well cared for.  I’ve been to three “zoos” on this trip, and this is the only one I recommend.

4. Bellefontaine Cemetery – If you enjoy history, especially Civil War history, this place has plenty of things for you to see.  Personally, I enjoyed seeing the different monuments and which stories went with them.  For instance, I am never going to forget about the man who went to France, fell in love with a model, and commissioned a sculpture of her when he got home…which was moved to the cemetery because his wife got sick of living with the thing.

3. Shameless Grounds – This isn’t for everyone.  Literally…you have to be 18 to even walk through the door.  But if you like barbecue, you should have a chauvinist pig sandwich.  The chocolate chip scone and coffee were heavenly.  And the meal comes with a side of sex-positivity and a queer-friendly library.  Nice and cozy, if you’re into that sort of thing.

2. The Arch – St. Louis is famous for this, and you have to do it at least once.  The view at the top is spectacular, and even the experience getting up there is an exciting ride.

1. The City Museum – There are two ways to describe this place.  The short way is “Gryffindor Paradise.”  For those of you who need more, here it is: Imagine a McDonald’s play place.  Make it twenty-times bigger (yes, even the slide).  Put a ferris wheel and a second playplace on the roof.  And remember that nothing is off-limits.  I literally got lost in a cave at this place.  I loved every second of it.

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I’m Going to Chicago and I’m Going to Take…

I leave in five days and there’s an astonishing amount of things that need to get done first.  One of those things is my least favorite in the world: packing.  I’ve tried making lists before, like Jennifer does, but it somehow makes me MORE anxious.

Still, it has to get done, as does this post.  So I hope you don’t mind if I multi-task.

Kentucky bag: denim shorts, Firefly shirt, pajama pants, small toiletries bag, phone charger, book, and travel journal.

Small toiletries bag: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hairbrush.

Chicago bag: 3 towels, large toiletries bag, 2 pairs of jeans, 3 t-shirts, 2 nice shirts, Cinderella dress, sparkly heels, 2 pairs socks, Converse, jacket, laptop, laptop charger. Hamilton ticket.

Large toiletries bag: shampoo, conditioner, hair dye, body wash, baby powder, hair straightener, hair dryer.

Secondary duffel: other shorts, other towels, 5 t-shirts, 2 nice shirts, other Converse, flip flops, sandals, 4 pairs of socks, pads.

Front seat: GPS, maps, guide books, AUX cord, first aid kit, hotel printouts, cell phone, wallet, adventuring purse.

Cooler/Food bag: sandwich stuff, Freeman’s sauce, water bottles, apples, spaghettios, granola bars.

Other: box of books/journals, emergency bookbag/kit lovingly packed by Jennifer (with medicines, sunscreen, and a first aid kit, among other things), emergency ID/cash, bag for dirty clothes, Tide, dryer sheets, oil.  The Spirit of Adventure.

I hate packing because I know I can’t plan for everything.  I’m sure I’ll get somewhere and realize I missed something.  But then…that’s what credit cards are for, right?

Anything else you think I’ll need?

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A Long Day Trip

I was seven or eight the first time I went to Atlanta.  My dad took me to see a Braves baseball game at Turner Field.  I’ve been to the city a few times since then, and all but one of those trips has centered around that stadium.  When we heard it was being replaced, we knew we had to go for one last game.

There’s a theme in my life right now of plans going out the window.  Originally, we were going to an evening game and staying overnight, but the only game we could get to before my trip was at 1 o’clock.  I still voted for an overnight trip but Mom and Allison wanted to sleep in their own beds.

From the moment we pulled into the parking lot, we were surrounded by history.  We were mere yards away from the monument to Hank Aaron’s 715th home run.

Once we reached the actual park, the history got more personal.  The giant baseball where we took pictures at our last game, the programs my dad used to teach me how to keep score…even the helmet of ice cream he bought me at my first game.

With all of these memories — and the fact that it’s coming to an end — I expected to be sad.  Instead, the nostalgia just fueled the game-day excitement.  The Braves won, and I left the stadium elated.  As we drove out, we went by the construction zone that is going to be the new stadium.

It’s more than a stadium: it’s a complex.  There’s a hotel built into one of the walls.  We’ve already discussed going to a game next season and staying in that hotel.  And I’ve already imagined the day I take my kids there for the Season Opener.

In Atlanta, I was too busy looking into the new beginnings that I couldn’t be sad about the endings.  Because it felt like moving forward, like carrying on a legacy and not like I was losing something.

That’s what I love about travel, and that’s what I’m looking forward to on my big Route 66 trip.  Here’s to Onward.

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A Slow Burn of a Miracle


We landed in Phoenix early, before ten Friday morning, and followed the signs to get our rental car. There was a line of them, different colors and models from all different places. We chose a blue Versa with Arizona tags. “The Grand Canyon State,” it read. It was the same tag Jennifer and I saw three years ago that got us talking about how much we wanted to see it one day. From there, it evolved into a four-day road trip up and down the state.

For three years, we didn’t do much planning…which worked out for us. We thought we’d check into our Tuscon AirBNB and head to Tombstone for the afternoon. Instead, we went downtown, we walked through history at the Arizona State Museum. We rested underneath the Women’s Plaza of Honor on the University of Arizona campus. Al, our neighbor for the night, recommended El Charro for dinner. The appetizers were pretty good, but I didn’t care for the entree or margarita.

Some people judge a city on the food. For me, it’s all about the bookstores. In Tuscon, it’s Antigone Books. With a healthy feminist section and a larger LGBTQ+ section, that was the first moment I felt I didn’t want to go home. The first but not the last because, after a night of margaritas and chocolate chip cookies, we stopped at Cafe Luce (try the Azteca Mocha, it’s delicious) and headed south to Tombstone.

On I-40, the signs read El Paso, and I got the feeling that I could just keep driving forever. The sun was shining, and hills with rocky cliffsides reached out in all directions. The speed limit was 75 mph, for crying out loud. I felt good. No: I felt free.

But we did stop at Tombstone for a taste of the Wild West. We saw a gunfight at the O.K. Corral, had a drink at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, and placed our bet at The Bird Cage Theater, a historic casino/brothel (not a working one though, Mom, I promise).

With the wildness out of our systems, we went for a little peace underneath the world’s largest rose bush, one that’s been standing for over a hundred years. Standing there, looking out over its branches, I started thinking about the hundreds of coincidences that’s led to this moment. Almost 24 years ago, my father gave my mom roses because she’d given birth to me. Over the years, roses became my favorite flower.

But I wouldn’t have gone to Tombstone if Jennifer and I hadn’t had one class together a decade ago, if we hadn’t reconnected during my college years, if her family hadn’t been obsessed with the movie, or if we hadn’t seen one random license plate in Gaston County, thousands of miles from its home. If one thing had been different, I wouldn’t be standing there.

All that to say, we’d already been astounded by The Grand Canyon State before we’d even made it to the Grand Canyon.

There’s a lot to be said for its size. It stretches further than the horizon so that you can’t see the end of it. It’s so deep that the helicopter flying through it was the size of an ant to us as we watched it from the South Rim. But the size is only part of its majesty. There’s a reason it’s called a Wonder. Sitting on the ledge overlooking the cliffside, I could only think this:

“I keep thinking about how far it goes…just on and on and on. About the thousands or maybe millions of years of coincidences that led to the exact formation of those rocks. And then I think about the thousands of coincidences that led to me being this woman that I am in this place right now, at this point in my life.”

And as we left Flagstaff for Phoenix and the airport, we drove several miles down Historic Route 66. I feel ready for that adventure. If this trip has taught me anything is that, plan or no plan, through thousands or millions of coincidences…we do end up being exactly where we need to be…exactly when we need to be there.

So I may have to wait a little bit longer for my Great Escape. It’s all part of the journey, and I have faith in the timing of it.

This blog is supported by Patreon.  Special thanks to Molly Marus to for being my first Patron!

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FAQ about Kari’s Route 66 Trip

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5 Ways to Make The Most of Your Disney Vacation

There are, as I mentioned, six Disney theme parks in the world, and I have been to three of them.  I won’t tell you how many times I’ve been to Walt Disney World, but I did work there for a while.  At this point, I know what I’m doing.  Here are a few tricks to make your Disney trip easier and more fun.

  1. Plan ahead.  The Disney properties are full of award-winning restaurants.  While you may be able to get reservations when you get there, it will be easier to book in advance.  If you know you want to meet a lot of characters, you can book a character meal and take care of two priorities in one.  It’s also a good idea to look at the maps and list of attractions before you go.  If we hadn’t, we would have missed La Tanière du Dragon at Disneyland Paris.  It’s unique to that park and tucked away; it would have been easy to miss if we hadn’t been looking for it.  Speaking of planning and knowing what you want to do…
  2. Fast passes are your friend.  They work a little differently at each resort.  At Walt Disney World, make the FastPass+ kiosk your first stop.  There are some rides that always have a long wait, but you can tell what’s popular that day and compare it to what you want to ride.  These you can change later if you want to do something different or, on the flip side, you can book them up to 60 days in advance if you’re staying at a Disney hotel.

    At Disneyland, each ride has its own kiosk, so head straight for the one you want most.  Everything is close enough that it won’t be too far out of your way to begin with.  This is one of the ways the app will come in handy.  It can show you wait times for each attraction so you can tell which rides you’ll need the fast passes for.

    You can also get fast passes for the best view at certain shows, which reminds me…

  3. View your day holistically and prepare to stay late at least one night.  Every park has a show of some kind and it usually involves fireworks.  I’m biased: I think everybody needs to see Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios but, honestly, there are no bad shows at Disney, and they’re usually celebrating something.

    Each park also has parades, shows, and character meet-and-greets throughout the day.  Pay attention to the times and prioritize.  You’ve got a lot of options but you can miss them if you don’t time it right.

  4. Get the Park Hopper.  It’s a little more expensive, but trust me.  If you get to a park and realize it’s too crowded, if you have a meal reserved in one but want to start elsewhere, or if you get to your last day and realize there’s something you haven’t done yet, you’re going to be glad you have the option to go back and forth.  It makes scheduling SO much easier.
  5. Pick a couple of things to focus on and just let the rest happen.

    Most of these tips are about planning, which does help ensure you don’t miss out on your must-sees.  But you can also miss out if you aren’t open to possibilities.  There are often performers in the streets or you’ll notice a super short line for something you didn’t think you’d want to ride.  Plan for those things that are most important to you, but leave room for Disney magic.  It’s everywhere and it’s often the parts you don’t expect that you’ll remember most.

There’s not really such a thing as a bad Disney vacation…at least, not that I’ve experienced yet, but these things always make my trips a little less overwhelming.

Have fun at the Happiest Place on Earth, whichever one you decide to visit.

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Hometown Snapshot

My friend Caroline (from UNC) came to stay with me this weekend.  We had a lot of fun.  At least, I had a lot of fun, and I figure she did also.

She got here Friday night and I made her watch O Brother Where Art Thou, which is an excellent movie.  (“He’s bonafide.”)  Then we slept because it was late and I had to work the next day.

Which I did.  She hung out at the library while I ran around and helped people.  I wore my witchy boots, which came in handy when there was an incident with a roach that would not die when sprayed (it’s dead now).  After work, I took her to R.O.’s.

I’ve been going to R.O.’s my whole life.  It’s a staple in Gaston County, although it has a rival, Black’s.  Basically, if you live in Gaston County, you either eat Black’s or R.O.’s.  R.O.’s is clearly the best, as it has the best burgers, original Cherry-Lemon Sun Drop, and TWO food trucks that make their way around the county.

Then I took her to Will’s (the comic book shop, actually All Things Collectible).  I bought a couple, but the point was really just to show her where I spend a lot of time (usually, though I hadn’t been in a couple months).  When I visited her at school in April, she took me to her comic book store, so I thought I would return the favor.

After a small break, I took her to Freeman’s, which is my regular bar.  I made her try the Guinness wings because I LOVE love love them.  (My friend Jennifer is actually the one who makes them and they are the best.  I did try a salad too and ended up scarfing it down.  It was great.)  Of course, we also each had a pint of Guinness, because she had never tried it before and it’s my favorite thing to drink.

So home it was, where we…watched another movie!  This time it was Penelope.  And then bed.

When we got up, Jennifer brought over Starbucks and we made Caroline watch Descendants with us because, for a movie that came out less than a month ago, we’ve each watched it an astonishing number of times.  We all had Chipotle for lunch, because its the best, and then we went to Tony’s for ice cream.  There is no ice cream better than Tony’s ice cream, I’m entirely convinced of that.

These are things I don’t usually share because they are just a part of the landscape to me.  I grew up on these things.  But places like Freeman’s, Tony’s, and R.O.’s are some of the places that make my hometown special.  So if you ever visit, make sure you stop by.

Personally, I love them all, but I have to say: you’ve never really been to Gaston County if you’ve never tried an R.O.’s burger.

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