Some people like to travel to a new destination with each trip they take, while others prefer to return repeatedly to the same destination, or at least the same locale. Those in the second group may choose to purchase a timeshare property. This gives them the flexibility of returning to a particular condominium, while also allowing them the capability of using points to vacation in different spots.
We recently joined a friend who used some of his accumulated points to secure a condo for a week at Panama City Beach, FL. When we visited PCB in September, we were on an OU football trip and had very little time to relax, enjoy the beach and sightsee. Spending a week there in January gave us the opportunity to do some of that.
This trip to Florida was a driving trip, so we saw lots of interesting countryside as we drove east on I-40 to Memphis and southeast to Tupelo, MS and from there, on to Florida. It was a pleasant start to the trip to eat dinner on the outside patio at Vanelli’s, an Italian and Greek restaurant in Tupelo. Quite a change from the cold temperatures we left behind in Oklahoma!
Interestingly enough, by the time we checked in at our condo in Panama City Beach the next evening, the cold temperatures had arrived there and it was too cold to sit outside for the “Volcano Nachos” at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville at Pier Park.
Lawrence is less than an hour from Kansas City, so the drive to the game was short. As we passed downtown Kansas City before turning west, we saw the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It is an amazing structure and is sure to be a destination when we return to Kansas City on a future trip.
The drive from KC to Lawrence was uneventful and there wasn’t too much traffic; but once we hit the streets in Lawrence, it was a different story. As we neared the Kansas University campus area, the streets were lined on both sides with parked cars. We had been given directions to Memorial Stadium, so we didn’t have any problems finding our way there. Once there, however, we began to search for parking. We didn’t see any parking lots, so we looked for “yard parking” that wasn’t too expensive.
The parking closest to the stadium was $30, but a block and a half away we found a friendly young man who let us park in his backyard, accessible from the alleyway, for only $10. He and his friends (one a KU graduate from Midwest City!) even provided a beverage for everyone. How accommodating is that?! Maybe as much as the parking sign we saw: “$20 Park & Potty”!
As we prepared to cross the street to the stadium, we encountered a number of ticket “salesmen” who were only too happy to offer better seats than we had received from OU. With a little bartering back and forth – and a near fight as two of the salesmen argued over which of them had first dibs on our business – we ended up with 35-yard line seats on row 11, instead of seats past the goal line on row 44. Best move of the night for us!!
So… another football trip but new experiences. With three away games under our belt this year, we’re already talking about where we’ll get to go next year. Maybe as soon as the Big 12 knows WHO the Big 12 is, we’ll get to see a schedule!
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!
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 have traveled quite a bit, within the United States and outside its boundaries. We’ve been fortunate enough to see parts of Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize, and Italy; and we’ve visited states from California to Maine, Washington to Florida. Until this summer, however, we had never gone north on I-35 beyond Salina, Kansas!
In an effort to remedy that, we struck out a few weeks ago in our trusty Ford Fusion to Nebraska. With the goal of visiting my brother in Valentine, NE, we mapped several routes but decided on the easiest – north to York, west to North Platte, and north to Valentine. As we left the overwhelming heat of Oklahoma, we prayed for cooler temperatures as we went, and our prayers were answered!
The further north we went, the less the fields suffered from “sunburn” and drought. By the time we turned west at York, the cornfields had become lush and green. While we may sing about “corn as high as an elephant’s eye” in our state song, the corn in Nebraska truly was more deserving of that phrase.As we turned at North Platte, we began to encounter the sandhills that my brother had often talked about. While somewhat like the rolling pasture lands I grew up with in Osage County, the sandhills are a bit different – not quite as rounded, a little sharper. Knowing that the soil was totally sand in that area, it was interesting to see the green grasses, waving in the breeze.
Now Valentine, Nebraska would probably not be a typical destination for vacationers, but it truly was an interesting little town and does draw tourists for the hunting and fishing in the area. We stayed at a local motel, the Trade Winds , which was sold out, primarily due to the motorcyclists on their way to the 71st Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. During our week in northern Nebraska and a day trip into South Dakota, we saw literally tens of thousands of motorcycles!
With a population of just over 2800, a hospital, churches, and a charming downtown area, Valentine is inviting for those who enjoy hunting and fishing. It is obvious that is its major draw, when the motels offer “fish and fowl cleaning areas” as an amenity! To cater to the locals and visitors, there are several exceptional restaurants, including Cedar Canyon Steakhouse, Jordan’s Fine Dining, and our favorite, The Peppermill .We took a short drive to Merritt Reservoir, where the walleye lurk, just waiting for the fishermen to lure them with leeches. I like to fish, but I declined this time. Somehow or other, I just couldn’t imagine baiting my own hook with a leech. Fishing for walleye requires the right technique, and I felt that finding it on my plate, already caught, cleaned and grilled, was a much better plan!
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!
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!
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.
When retired, you should be able to take off on a whim and travel where you want, when you want – right?! Actually, that frequently isn’t the way it works. It seems there are still responsibilities and expectations that keep you tied down. So we’ve decided that now’s the time to “break the chains” and start the retirement life we expected.
Even though we have taken several trips since I retired, our plan to take at least one trip a month hasn’t quite materialized. As we began planning for our annual trip with Jim’s sister and her husband (part of our traveling companions on last year’s trip to Italy), we decided a Gulf Coast destination would be ideal this year, and though they would fly in from Maryland, we would drive. Taking driving trips, seeing the sights along the way, has been one of our dreams for retirement travel, so this would give us a good taste of that.
Using Google maps to plan our route worked out well and allowed us to determine the best places to stay overnight along the way. I have been the “travel agent” and “navigator” in our previous travels and this was no exception.
I used KAYAK to compare lodging prices, because it makes a comparison of the prices with Priceline, Hotels.com, TravelZoo, and others. I then made reservations on the websites for the specific hotel chains (such hilton.com and choicehotels.com). Making the reservations through KAYAK results in your credit card being charged immediately rather than when you check in. I prefer the latter option in case the reservation has to be canceled at the last minute. KAYAK also has user reviews of the hotels. These can help steer you away from hotels that might not meet your expectations.We also found that comparing the route directions from Google Maps with those provided by the Maps app on the iPhone and by the navigation system on our Ford Fusion gave us some options. Creating a route by selecting the fastest way or by blocking certain features allowed us to see a few sights we would have missed had we relied only on Google.
With all these reservations and decisions made in advance, we were ready to set out on our adventure. First stop: Hot Springs, Arkansas. Our drive was smooth and we made it to our first destination with only a minor change: we decided to alter our route and used the iPhone app to give us a shorter route by taking a minor highway instead of an interstate. That turned out to be an advantage, because Highway 7 in Arkansas is a beautiful drive through the Ouachita National Forest, and we would have missed the forest and winding road if we had stayed on Interstate 40.
So, we make our plans, plot our route, make reservations – and then make changes! Flexibility!