When your travels are football weekends, it limits the amount of sightseeing you can do. But during our trip to Kansas City to enjoy the OU-KU game in Lawrence, we saw just enough to know that we’d like to return to KC to see the sights and absorb more of the area.
We stayed at the Marriott Country Club Plaza, which offers a free shuttle to any place in the Plaza, so it was nice to park the car and not have to worry about driving and finding parking, etc. Country Club Plaza was originally built in 1922, but much of it was destroyed by a flood in 1977. It has been rebuilt, and is recognized around the country. It is a 15-block area of shops and restaurants, some uniquely local ones and some national stores.
Kansas City is known as the city of fountains and many of them grace the Country Club Plaza area. It was perfect fall weather, warm but not hot, with the leaves beginning to change colors and the fall flowers in full bloom.
One couple shouted out “OU!” as we crossed an intersection of the Plaza, and what a surprise to realize it was a couple we had known ten years ago in Oklahoma! Turns out they now live in Kansas City, and we had a nice visit. It’s definitely a small world!
Each year at the OU/TX football game weekend, we find ourselves indulging — usually in wonderful dining establishments. This year we enjoyed two excellent evenings of delicious dinners and a lot of fun in between.
Nick & Sam’s in Dallas was packed and rowdy and wonderful. There were frequent outbreaks of “Boomer Sooner” and “The Eyes of Texas are Upon You” from the clientele, and the pianist played both songs occasionally to keep everyone in the spirit of the pre-game evening.
The cuisine is primarily steaks, and the side dishes range from healthy grilled asparagus to rich and hearty lobster macaroni and cheese. Fine wines and incredible desserts make this a dinner destination that deserves the diners’ time to savor the evening.
Saturday’s football game at the Cotton Bowl provided the Sooner fans with an ample serving of victory. The rivalry of this game always makes it a special one, and even with OU favored to win this year, the final score of 55-17 gave the Sooners a chance to truly gloat! The Texas Longhorn fans were far less vocal this year than in years past, and many left long before the game was over.
Of course, the State Fair of Texas is held in conjunction with the Red River Rivalry (or is it the other way around?), so fair food and rides and games are part of the day for Sooners and Longhorns alike. If there’s a way to fry it, you can find it at the fair! Fried butter, fried salsa, fried pineapple upside down cake, chicken fried bacon, fried bubblegum… UGH! Don’t check your cholesterol for awhile following this weekend!
There are many rides at the fair, but the iconic Texas Star Ferris Wheel is a must. Besides being fun, it gives the best view of the whole fairgrounds.
OU/TX weekend is many things to many people – food, fun, football, the fair. Be sure to put it on your bucket list if you haven’t already had a chance to be a part of it!
For years we have made the annual “run” to Dallas for the OU/TX football game, commonly known as the Red River Rivalry. Over the years, we have tried a number of different routes and various modes of transportation. Here are a few to consider:
* Drive your car to Dallas and to the State Fair Park, where you and thousands of others are scrambling to find a close parking lot where they don’t charge an arm and a leg for a spot. We have done this very thing and found parking places in lots, in businesses’ parking areas, in people’s front yards (where the car got caught on a sidewalk step!). The cost for these depends on the distance from the Cotton Bowl, of course, but can run $20 or more.
* Take a chartered bus trip. Whether this originates in Oklahoma or at a Dallas hotel, it is great to “leave the driving to us” and not have to worry about the traffic to get to State Fair Park nor where to park when you arrive. Of course, the charge for these charters is considerably higher than just a parking spot; but it can be nice to enjoy your drink of choice while on the way and during the return!
* Dallas now offers several choices involving the DART system. Dallas Area Rapid Transit has buses and a rail system, either of which leaves you being the passenger and not having to worry about the driving. You still have to drive to a transfer station, though.Several years ago we took the DART rail by driving to the American Airlines Center to park. We arrived plenty early and had no problems getting on the train; and we ended up leaving the game a bit early, so we made the return train trip with no problems. We later heard many complaints, though, that there weren’t enough trains to handle the return riders, and some people had to wait hours for their return trip! * Last year we drove to the American Airlines Center, planning to catch the train again, only to find that DART was prepared for fair visitors en masse with many buses lined up and ready to load. We had taken the DART bus trip in previous years from a downtown station that required we park in a Target parking lot, much to the dismay of Target shoppers who then had limited parking; so we hopped on one of the waiting buses and were chauffeured to the Fair Park. Buses entered the parking area on the fairgrounds, unloaded, and were waiting in exactly the same place after the game. That was a smooth, relatively painless (and inexpensive) way to get to the game.
* So, which mode of transportation did we choose this year? The BEST! We jumped in the back seat of our son’s car, he drove to the fairgrounds, and we valet parked! The cost? $30. Worth every penny as we walked 30 yards to the gate to enter the fair and back to retrieve the car after the game.
There’s no doubt that being “chauffeured” to the OU/TX game makes it much more enjoyable. And look at all the choices you have!
We really enjoy taking a “road trip” and seeing the scenery as we go, and that is what we planned when we decided to go to the OU vs. Florida State football game this September. Using Google maps, we easily plotted our route to Tallahassee, and I began researching lodging.
Well, that was a different story! Tallahassee was ready and waiting for the Sooner fans, with the cost for a motel room tripled on September 16-17. My Rabid Red looked for recommendations on some of the Sooner chat rooms and was directed to look at Thomasville, Georgia (yes, as in Thomasville Furniture). Sure enough, we found a reasonable room at the Holiday Inn Express there.As we talked about it with the other couple that was going to make the trip with us, however, the two-day drive with four people (and accompanying luggage) began to sound a bit cramped. So we began to look at other possibilities. Flying would still necessitate renting a car and driving from Tallahassee to Thomasville, then back to Tallahassee for Saturday’s game, and a return trip to Thomasville. But then we found the perfect solution: University VIP Sports Tours !! And what a perfect vacation/Sooner trip was planned for us! We flew out of Oklahoma City on Thursday to Panama City, Florida, and stayed in condos at the Grand Panama on the Gulf; were bused to Tallahassee for a Tailgate Extravaganza and the OU-FSU game; were bused back to Panama City Beach; and flew home to Oklahoma on Sunday afternoon.
Yes, we’ll be happy to “leave the driving to others” and save a road trip for another day!
We planned our trek back to Oklahoma from Alabama along a southern route so we could see new things. We crossed the rising Mississippi River again, but this time at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As we headed north from there, we also crossed the Morganza Spillway, which had been opened the previous week to relieve some of the flooding upriver.
Our overnight destination was Natchitoches, Louisiana. We had no expectations, just wanted a comfortable bed, a clean room, and some dinner. How lucky we were to find that Natichitoches is very historic and has many bed and breakfast establishments, particularly close to the historic downtown area.
We drove around the area, enjoying the ornate filigree balcony railings on the riverfront buildings and the riverfront park. Natchitoches is the oldest established town in Louisiana, and is the setting of the movie Steel Magnolias.
After looking at the quaint shops and numerous restaurants along the street, we selected “The Landing” and were pleased that we did. Though we were casually dressed and some of the diners were somewhat dressed up, we were greeted graciously and shown to our table. The waiter gave good recommendations for our dining pleasure, and we were thoroughly satiated when we left.
Natchitoches is one of those places that invites the traveler to return. I hope we find our way back there one of these days and can explore some of the historic sites — forts, Creole plantation homes, the Cane River National Heritage Area, museums, historic homes and churches, pecan plantations, just to mention a few. It has Southern charm and hospitality oozing out its pores!
Since the purpose of a vacation was relaxation for us, it stands to reason that I’m going to talk about that at some point, doesn’t it? And what better place to relax than on the beach! The sands of Orange Beach were definitely NOT orange. To the contrary, they were beautifully white!
There were several boardwalks on the public beach areas and we investigated several of those. The protected beach grasses and other flora and fauna provided a lovely natural landscape, and the boardwalk kept pedestrians from interfering with their growth. There were families picnicking near the water, windsurfers, people enjoying a casual beach stroll (like us); and all seemed to enjoy it as much as we.
Of course, to us the most perfect way to enjoy the beach was to alternate strolling along the water’s edge and inhabiting beach chairs. Because the beachfront location of Sugar Beach Condominiums is considered a private beach area, we were able to reserve the chairs plus umbrellas for the day. An on-site attendant would periodically offer to adjust the placement and position of the umbrellas, too, so we felt totally spoiled.We read (four people, four Kindles), napped, watched children frolicking in the surf – in short, we relaxed! At lunchtime two of the group went for burgers, and we enjoyed a beach picnic of the easiest kind!
To have a true beach vacation, Oklahomans have to travel out of state. Many will head south to Galveston or Padre Island or Mexico, given the chance; but we would recommend going a little further east to the Gulf Coast of Alabama for a delightful change of scenery and excellent cuisine (oh, I didn’t even mention the great eating we enjoyed!), wrapped up in an affordable vacation.
The Gulf Coast at Gulf Shores/Orange Beach is beautiful, and we picked it because it is nearer Oklahoma than a Florida destination. It was a bit cooler than we expected for a May vacation, but we didn’t let that slow us down. Two particularly things we enjoyed actually did not involve the beach itself.
One morning we drove to Gulf State Park, which was just across the highway from our condo. As we drove through the park, we saw cranes but not a lot of other wildlife. We were looking for a walk path, and finally saw a bridge from the road into a wooded area, so we parked and prepared for a hike.
As we started across the bridge, a group of hikers were finishing their walk. They said that they had been told by a park ranger that a mother alligator and her babies had been sighted down the road and to keep a lookout for them. We were glad for the alert and kept our eyes peeled for any sign of them.
As we walked along the wide, well-established path, we saw lots of Spanish moss hanging from the trees. You know it is parasitic, but it does present a pretty picture. We saw several ponds and a great variety of trees and plants but luckily, no alligators!
The other activity we thoroughly enjoyed was a sail in the Gulf. Captain Ryan Rayfield took the four of us on his lovely big sailboat Sailob. It was perfect weather for a sail, not too cool nor too hot, and it was just wonderful letting the breeze blow through our hair and view all the hotels and tall condo buildings from the water side.
Captain Ryan was a very interesting young man and his story made the sail all the more interesting. Though he was originally from the area, he had been part of corporate America after college. In 2006 he left the corporate world and in 2007 began his sailing charters at Orange Beach. Sailing in the Gulf of Mexico for day sails and overnights, he has won several awards, including the 2010 Best Sailing Charter on the Alabama Gulf Coast.
The trip was every bit as educational as enjoyable. Our only complaint was that the 2-hour sail was too short. We would have loved to do that every day of our stay in Orange Beach!
After enjoying several days in Hot Springs, we began our journey onward to the Gulf Coast. The flooding of the Mississippi River was a big news topic we faced. Where would be the best place to cross the
“Mighty Mississip”? All reports indicated that it would be later in the week before Vicksburg was in jeopardy, so we followed our route guidance and had no problems crossing there.
Actually, the crossing at Vicksburg was much easier than the last time we had crossed there. In the 70s we had been on that highway, pulling a 17-foot travel trailer, and the bridge was a narrow two lanes. The bridge today is high and wide and much safer.
After an overnight stay in Hattiesburg, MS, we forged on to our destination at Orange Beach, Alabama, where we were to meet Jim’s sister and her husband (from Maryland). Our accommodations for the week were reserved through VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner). This website serves as a portal for listings of properties all over the world. A friend had recommended it after having used it for stays in a number of places in the U.S., but we were still a bit apprehensive.
The reservation process had been seamless, and we were hopeful that everything would be as lovely as it looked online.
After sending an e-mail in January with a request for information about the specific property we thought looked good, I received an immediate response from the owner. The reservation for May was secured, a deposit sent, and over the next few months, we received e-mails several times about the refurbishing that #290588 (VRBO property number) was undergoing. In the last couple of weeks prior to our trip, the owner graciously gave us suggestions for their favorite eating places and things to do in the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area.
On arrival we met our family at Sea N Suds for lunch, then went to check in at the beach-front Sugar Beach Condos. In an area of hundreds of high-rise buildings, the 4-story Sugar Beach was great. Parking was on the ground floor with three stories of apartments above. Our 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo was perfect, and the balcony overlooked one of the three swimming pools, with the beach directly past that. What a sight for land-locked Okies like us!
After unpacking and a quick (well, sort of) trip to the grocery store, we were ready for sun and sand and relaxation!
Hot Springs, Arkansas was named for the springs of healing waters that converge in a pool in the national park there. The area is sometimes called the Valley of Vapors, because of the mists that rise from the warm mineral waters. Legend has it that warring Indian tribes would not fight there, believing the gods gave mystical powers to the waters and the sparkling mists that would float up from the valley.
The legends may be true, but what is definitely true is the wonderful warm waters are used in several public bath houses. I am not sure what I expected a “public bath house” to be but was very pleasantly surprised at how lovely the Quapaw Bath House was. The reception area was furnished with comfortable seating for waiting guests and a large reception desk for purchasing a variety of bath services, including time in the public pools, private baths, massages, etc.
We opted for a private couples bath and were shown to another waiting area that was surrounded by individual rooms, each with a large two-person, Jacuzzi-type tub. The twenty minutes allotted was just the right amount of time to spend in the very warm mineral baths.
The real purpose of our time in Hot Springs was to luxuriate with personalized spa services, and by Googling that topic, we found a very accommodating spa that designed specific services to meet our wishes. Andrea Rose Day Spa and The Rose Cottage Inn inhabit three historic old homes that sit on one of the hilly side streets. A full menu of services included various types of massage, sugar scrubs, mud wraps, facials, etc. The services that we chose were therapeutic and the results were very beneficial.
Is it “over the top” to go to Hot Springs for spa services that we can get at home? Maybe so – but we’d do it again in a heartbeat. It was sheer luxury to be pampered and spoiled for a day and I highly recommend it!
Some years ago Hot Springs, Arkansas was a preferred honeymoon destination for the region around that state; but I haven’t heard anyone mention it in those terms in a very long time. Nevertheless, that was an “interim destination” we chose for our recent trip to the Gulf Coast.
It’s important to remember that most any place can look good on the Internet with well-staged pictures and creative verbage, so reading reviews can help make decisions. Rather than selecting one of the typical chain motels, we chose a gem of a motel that was near downtown, the Alpine Inn. While the motel was obviously old and the room was small, it was a wonderful value and we enjoyed our stay and the convenient location.
What makes a motel “obviously old”? you might ask. Well, having to unplug the closet light to plug in the coffeemaker for morning coffee is one telltale sign. Keeping the bathroom door open so the bedroom will stay cool because the air conditioner is in the bathroom is another!
And how small is “small”? Because we opted for a room with a king-size bed, the floor space allowed for only one person to walk around at a time. The inn has other larger rooms and suites, but ours was “cozy” and functional for us. And the best part? The Scottish owners, Eric and Leslie Wilson, are delightful and, as one reviewer said, provide European-style hospitality!
Note to self: Take time to find charming older places when possible for our travels.