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“Big things happen here”…..Dallas

Dallas city skyline: Dallas, Texas

“Big things happen here”. So this is the official slogan of the city of Dallas, not surprising coming out of the Lone Star State that boasts about the grand scale size of things. Texas is the second largest state in the US, but the largest in the “lower 48”. Alaska weighs in at 663,267 square miles, Texas at 268,580 and California is in 3rd place with 163, 695 square miles. Yes…Texas is very BIG. Big with a diversity of interesting things to offer. Visitors to Dallas can get a taste of Texan living with a great eclectic mix of sites and sounds. A blend of big city life and frontier living all rolled into one place that is quintessential life in the Lone Star state: Dallas. Dallas seems so vibrant and youthful. It was incorporated as a city in 1856, but much of the infrastructure is very contemporary. Like many larger cities in the south, Dallas has a large cross-section of people and many “transplanting Northerners” have made a home there. The diversity of accents are as prevalent as the different occupations. Dallas is home to 21 Fortune 500 companies including Exxon Mobil, AT&T and Texas Instruments.

Old Red Museum, 1892

When in Dallas, a great place to start your visit is the Visit Dallas Visitor’s Center located in the Old Red Museum, 100 S. Houston Street. You can’t miss it…it’s the big beautiful red sandstone building with cool looking gargoyles. It is adjacent to the JFK Memorial and Dealey Plaza.  Originally built as a courthouse in 1892, it houses an interesting museum and also the visitors center.  The center is staffed by folks that can help you plan your trip and know everything from great hotels, shopping and where to find the best BBQ around. The “Dallas City Pass” tickets are also available for purchase here for discounts on many major attractions.  When we were in Dallas, I did purchase them and saved quite a bit. (you can buy them on-line prior to your trip at: http://VisitDallas.com/CityPASS A word of warning, you have to use them up within 9 days, can’t carry over for your “next” trip.

 

View of some “spaghetti bowl” expressways from the Reunion Tower

Dallas is ranked as the 3rd largest city in Texas. Houston being the largest, than San Antonio. Like many big cities, negotiating traffic is a challenge. Roadways in the city are well-marked, but there seemed to be a preponderance of “access roads” running parallel to the major expressways which frequently begs the question: How do I get over there? I can see where I need to go but how do I get there? Hence the U-turn spot in Dallas in quite common. Granted, helpful….but I think the roads could have been laid out better to begin with. Once you get a feel for it, you’re fine but navigating some of the “spaghetti bowls” can be tricky. We had a rental car so we felt compelled to drive everywhere, but it is my understanding Dallas does have a good public transportation system: DART: Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Then you wouldn’t have to deal with the highways. Yet, it is interesting to note that Dallas is the largest  metropolitan area in the US that does not on a navigable body of water, hence the development of all those roadways. Four major interstates converge in the city. Providing transportation is also enhanced by the railroad system: you gotta move all that cattle somehow.

Pioneer Plaza~Dallas

This leads me to the next feature about the state that is  highlighted in the city of Dallas.  Texas happens to hold the record as the top producer of beef cattle in the U. S., with 2.42 million head of cattle. That’s alot of beef! The proud history and heritage of cattle drives is documented as a public art exhibit in downtown Dallas at the Pioneer Plaza (1428 Young Street). An entire herd of longhorn steers and cowboys on horseback are depicted in beautiful bronze statues. Situated in the heart of downtown in the convention district, it is odd to see an entire herd of life-size cattle making their way through a stream with buildings rising up on all sides. They seem so real, that it seems they should be grazing across fields of grass, instead of surrounded by towering high rises. Yet, that is what makes the exhibit so stunning and a wonderful tribute to the trail riders. Also, adjacent to the plaza is the pioneer Park Cemetery which includes the Confederate War Memorial.

“So….what are you having for dinner?”

Along with being the leading beef cattle producer, comes the wonderful reality that Dallas is one of  the best places for steak! Well, of course. Steak and BBQ, that is. There are so many fantastic places to choose, but choose we did. I found a place that had great food, but when in Texas I have to admit….I looked for the ambiance as well. Nothing says Texas like cowboy boots, whips and a giant steer mounted on the wall staring at you while you dine on steak. Really fun place and it happens to be a chain with a few locations. It was called Salt Grass Steakhouse and I would go back, it was delicious! I know we will probably be making future trips to Dallas.  I missed the Dallas Arboretum this past trip….looks so pretty and of course we need another trip to Salt Grass–Cheers! Put your traveling shoes on. JES

 

 

San Diego Sunshine

San Diego Harbor

The weathermen in San Diego are pretty much bored. It is the same old song every day: “Sunny and 70, Folks”. Out of the 365 days of the calendar year, San Diego’s average temperature is 63 degrees with 266 sunny days per year. Yet, that is such a lovely kind of boredom…and oh so pleasant. No wonder San Diego is such an intriguing tourist destination and the weathermen have such great job security; they are correct almost every day. The sun and surf are terrific, but you don’t have to be a sun-worshiper to enjoy all the sights and activities that this California city has to offer. An addition to enjoying the beautiful ocean views and beach, there are also many “must-sees” in the city itself.

Old Town Trolley Tours

My oldest son moved there several years ago, so I have been to visit this city many times and have favorites sights that I love to return to time and again. If you are just becoming introduced to the city, a great place to start is the Old Time Trolley Tours. They take you to 10 different stops throughout the city including: Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, the famous Hotel Del Coronado, the Maritime ship museum on the waterfront and many more. The trolleys have a “Hop on, Hop off” system that allow you to see what you want and visit your preferred sites at your leisure. In addition to getting a great overview of some of the key sights in the city, the trolley drivers share a multitude of interesting historical info and trivia.  Did you know that San Diego is actually the “Birthplace of California”. In June of 1769, the first Spanish presidio and mission was established by the San Diego River making it the oldest European settlement on the west coast of the U.S. In tribute to the rich history of San Diego, it’s very fitting that the Trolley Tours would be based out of Old Town. Established today as Old Town San Diego, the site commemorates life in San Diego from 1821 to 1872. It includes shopping, restaurants,museums and the logical start for the trolley tours. You can purchase tickets at any of the 10 stops, but Old Town is the main facility and the starting and ending point for the tours.

Being so close to the emerald waters of the beautiful Pacific, when in San Diego one must really check out several of the beaches there. Coronado, by the infamous Hotel Coronado, is one of the most scenic, pristine beaches in the area. Mission Beach and Oceanside Beach are loved and frequented by both locals and tourists. Of course shops for beach gear and souvenirs are readily found at both.

Brown Pelican~ San Diego Harbor

If the beach scene isn’t quite your thing, you can still enjoy the Pacific with the many day cruises available. Depending on the time of year, a whale watching tour can be an excellent choice because from December thru the beginning of March, the whale migration patterns skirt the San Diego coastline. I recently took a 4 hour whale watching tour with great success: we saw several whales breech. In addition to the grey whales we spotted an abundance of other sea life including dolphins, sea lions, pelicans and cormorants. My bird watching senses were on full alert. It’s hard to capture in a photograph a grey whale breeching, but it is easy to see and photograph the brown pelicans flying around. At first glance they seem like awkward creatures, but in flight they are rather majestic. It is also truly amazing how big some of them get. For more information on the whale watching tour, you can check out their web site at: http://www.flagshipsd.com

Cabrillo National Monument

Having a passion for our National Parks, I would be remiss if I did not mention San Diego’s National Park site: The Cabrillo National Monument.  It celebrates the natural and cultural history of the area.  Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo  was the first Eurpoean, in 1542,  to set foot on a “very good enclosed port”.  In addition to telling the story about the 16th century exploration, a visitor can take in a terrific  view of the Pacific from Point Loma, and also a lighthouse is on the premises. The Point Loma Lighthouse was originally built in 1855.  It ceased operation in 1891, but is open to the public today as a museum.  It may be a small, seemingly insignificant lighthouse, but it has many interesting stories behind it. During the time of its operation, it was at the highest elevation of any lighthouse in the United States. (Impressive!)

 

The California Tower and the Museum of Man~ Balboa Park

So I saved my very favorite feature of San Diego for last: Balboa Park.  It holds the title as the nation’s largest urban cultural park. Every single time I go, it never fails to amaze and awe me. Bird of Paradise flowers, exotic trees, jeweled mosaics in the architectures, fountains and of course an array of interesting people to watch. In addition to the natural beauty found in the park, there are 17 museums. The museums have something for everyone from art and photography to anthropology, aerospace and even a model railroad museum for all the train buffs out there! Also, within the park boundaries is the world famous San Diego Zoo. It is hard to spend only one day at Balboa Park to try to take it all in. I have been there several times, and every time I go there are new surprises and delights.

 

So, San Diego is highly recommended as a travel destination. Remember that travel and tourism is San Diego’s third top industry (behind manufacturing and the military) So they want you to have a great time. Put your traveling shoes on. JES

See you in Seattle! Top 5 attractions.

On the west coast, Seattle is an iconic waterfront city filled with experiences that you “gotta see” when visiting there. One of the neat features about Seattle is so many  of the  sites are along the waterfront or within walking distance of the main downtown area. Even if you only have a day or two to spend in this vibrant city, here are the Top Five attractions that really help to define the Seattle experience.

1–FERRY BOATS-Simplistic, but this is probably my favorite part of the Seattle area. Many native Seattle folks take them back and forth as commuters every business day and they are very commonplace along the waterfront.  Nevertheless, I find them so much an exciting part of visiting  this city.  It is really amazing how many people and vehicles fit on one of these huge boats. Even more amazing, is how smoothly and efficiently the loading and unloading is accomplished several times a day. For  more information on the ferry system, current schedules and sailing routes, check the Washington State Ferries web-site at: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/  Crossing the water to Bainbridge or Kingston is not a long journey, but just long enough to enjoy being on the water and fantastic views of the skyline.  Also, usually just long enough to polish off a specialty coffee drink.  There are quaint little coffee shops all over Seattle and of course, right at the entrance to the Ferry terminals.  Seattle is  really big on coffee and is known for being the birthplace of Starbucks coffee. Which leads me to my next favorite: the original Starbucks cafe.

Original Starbucks on 1st and Pike, by Pikes Place Market

2–ORIGINAL STARBUCKS- Yup…this is where it all began: Starbucks Coffee. Even if you are not a huge coffee drinker, it is so neat to visit the original site where the first Starbucks opened their flagship store in 1971. It is smaller than one would imagine,  but therein lies the charm of the quaint place for the birthplace of this coffee giant. Tourists and locals alike seek out refreshment at this iconic stop frequently on their way to or from the next Seattle landmark: Pikes Place Market.  Another place that lends itself to lots of photo opps and an abundance of great sights and scents to sample.

3–PIKES PLACE MARKET-There are outdoor markets aplenty, but none can compare to the excitement and bustle of Pikes Place Market.  The Market opened in 1907 and is one of the oldest operating farmers’ markets in the country.  Before I went there, I heard that the vendors throw fish to each other in the process of filleting and also filling orders. What?! Sounds strange, and it is…but when you see a 15 pound salmon flying through the air it really gets your attention, not something you see in the average supermarket.  The Market is full of wonderful fruits, fish, vegetables, flowers and homemade honeys & jams.   Also, various craft items including jewelry, leather working, glass-works and pottery can be found there.  The building itself is quite impressive and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. It sits overlooking the Seattle waterfront. Built on a steep hill, it has several different levels with an abundance of differing shops.  The vendors take pride in beautiful displays of their wares, even the peppers are an art form in and of themselves; so many different colors and shapes!

 

4–PIER 54-IVAR’S & YE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP-Probably these two are the easiest to find attractions on the waterfront. Literally right when you walk off the Ferry boat and next to the ferry terminals. Ivar’s is the seafood restaurant with both “casual” dining (more like a fast food style…but the food is still top-notch) and a lovely sit down restaurant.  Both Ivar’s restaurants offer great cuisine, depending what you are in the mood for.  The “casual” restaurant has outdoor setting by the water; and adults and kids alike are entertained by feeding your french fries to the seagulls. Entertaining yes….but the seagulls can sometimes get pretty aggressive. Just use caution; very small children shouldn’t partake in this activity.  Might be nice to keep all 10 digits.

Located on the same Pier is a very fun, touristy shop: Ye Old Curiosity Shop. Filled with many “curiosities” like shrunken heads, a 4 -legged chicken and mummies.  Some of the stuff is kind of creepy, although entertaining.  It has been part of the Seattle waterfront since 1899.  They have changed exact locations several times, but are generally in the same area. In addition to all the oddities, they do carry lots of the “usual” souvenirs, jewelry and also unusual items for purchase to remember your trip to Seattle. The totem poles at the front of the stores make great photo opps for you and your group. A terrific place to stop by and it’s right by the waterfront.

5–SEATTLE SPACE NEEDLE-One of the most recognized landmarks in Seattle is the Space Needle.  It is an observation tower that reaches 605 feet high and resembles the home of The Jetsons, if you remember that cartoon from the early 60’s. The tower was opened in 1962 and was built in honor of the World’s Fair held in Seattle that year.  The views from the top are fantastic and every one visiting this ocean front city should go up once. Yet, if you’ve done it once, that is probably enough.  Great views, but repeat visits to the city don’t really warrant several trips to the top of “the Needle”.  We did it once when my kids were little, but on subsequent visits I have always longed for and participated in the above listed “top 4”.  I wouldn’t think of going to Seattle without a trip to Pikes Place and lunch at Ivar’s. Polished off with a view of the setting sun by the deck of a Ferry boat.  Just writing these words make me realize I need to get back to Seattle soon.  Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Photo by Sigma Sreedharan (on Twitter, WA State Ferries)

Put Your Traveling Shoes On

Why do I end every post with :”Put your traveling shoes on.  JES” ? Well, the last part is easy,  JES  are my initials: Julie Etta Smith. The  Put your traveling shoes on goes a little further than just a request for some sturdy footwear. It is always a good idea to wear comfortable shoes, a trek on a wooded trail would not be too easy with spiky sandals.hiking shoes Yet, I am using that phrase as more of a metaphor for preparing yourself, both mentally and physically, when starting out on a trip.  When you start to plan a trip, I like to encourage people to go beyond the usual hotel reservations, airline tickets and road map plan.   When you complete those first, it’s best to take it a step further and find out more about where you will be visiting.  What about the local history? Is there a favorite local cuisine? Are there products exclusive to that area of the country~ in my case: a fantastic wine, perhaps? Always good to be on the look-out for a memorable souvenir. It is so incredible to read articles and see photographs of an amazing feature or place and then view it with your own eyes. I remember seeing photos of the “freak of nature” prismatic springs at Yellowstone National Park and thinking to myself they must be photo-shopped. Nothing could look that strange. Yet, seeing the rainbow colors with my own eyes made it that much more spectacular. It is good to get some background on the local history and lore of an area.

On the same trip we made to Yellowstone I was in the back seat reading a local publication with a feature about a HUGE mansion that was being built in the late 1970’s.

Yellowstone-2012 188

Smith Mansion~on the road to Cody, Wyoming

The man building the Pagoda-inspired design was tragically killed when he fell from the highest floor.  Locals say that it is still haunted and sits atop the hill untouched since his death. AND to add a little more intrigue to this story, it is referred to as the Smith Mansion. I know Smith is a common name, but nevertheless this story just keeps getting better.   Do you have goose bumps yet? Well, as I was describing this story to my family, I looked up and there it was…just a short distance from the side of the road. “OH, MY GOD……THAT’S IT!”  I shrieked to my family as they wondered the cause of my alarm. Now that was creepy: just when I was reading about that local story it appeared before us. Other than a story of unique coincidence, if I had not read up on the local history we never would have known the story behind that interesting Pagoda on the hill.

It is truly amazing the things you can learn before a trip that will really make your trip more memorable. So take a trip to the library, peruse the internet, talk to friends and family that have been there and be sure to enjoy the ride. Put your traveling shoes on. JES

 

For the Love of Lighthouses

My family & friends frequently tease me about my love (er…obsession perhaps…) of Lighthouses. Yet, fellow admirers of Lighthouses will agree with me that these majestic structures provide an inspiration and tales of their colorful histories abound.  Also, it never ceases to amaze me that no two lighthouses are alike and they are as varied as the shorelines they beautify.

port washington lighthouse

Port Washington Lighthouse ~ Wisconsin

I believe Lighthouses have evolved from their historical roots as a guide to ships in turbulent waters and rugged, dangerous coastlines to landmarks of great historical significance and beauty. Not only do they serve to guide ships, but they have an air of spirituality about them to guide troubled souls in a world of darkness.  Their beacons shine in such a way that they provide an inspiration to all who view them.  How can one look upon a majestic lighthouse perched on a cliff or at the far end of a pier and not help but smile at its beauty.

Living in the Midwest, I feel honored that we have the greatest concentration of lighthouses anywhere in the world.  By virtue of the five great lakes, that provide hundreds of miles of coastline that need lighthouses to provide safe navigation.  In recent years, many of the lighthouses have not continued to operate and function as navigating tools, with the advent of more technologically advanced methods replacing them.  Yet, since many are steeped in history and tradition, there are efforts to restore and maintain them. For more information, an interesting site on preservation is: www.lighthousepreservation.org

It is interesting when visiting a community that is fortunate enough to have a lighthouse; the local residents utilize it as a focal point and a tool for orienting. “Oh, that cottage is located just south-east of the lighthouse”, one might say; makes things easier to pinpoint.  Also, many times a specific lighthouse is symbolic to the area in which it is found and has unique characteristics to only that lighthouse.  That is the exciting thing about lighthouses: each one is different and each one has their own special features and attributes. Not all are the tall beacons rising high on a rocky cliff.  Many are actually relatively small structures, but are situated on a jutting landscape so as to shine their light on the water.  It never ceases to amaze me the different sizes, shapes and features inherent with all the different lighthouses.

When viewing, and visiting a lighthouse I try to appreciate the craftsmanship of the actual building and of course the view from the top, if one is able to gain access to the tower. In addition to the physical beauty you are surrounded by, it is wondrous to imagine the history, local lore and stories therein.

Split_Rock_Lighthouse_-_North_Shore_of_Lake_Superior

Split Rock Lighthouse~Minnesota

When close to a lighthouse I can’t help but feel a sense of serenity and guidance, a connection between the creations of man and the turbulence of waters of Mother Nature; both the sea and the massive stretches of fresh water lakes. Here is one of my favorite iconic lighthouses in the Midwest: Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior (Minnesota). It was built in 1910 and sits atop 127 foot cliff Now that is quite a cliff!

 

St. Joseph Lighthouse

St. Joseph Lighthouse ~ Michigan

Shown here is the St. Joseph Lighthouse on Lake Michigan. (St. Joseph, Michigan) Since it is situated across from Chicago on Lake Michigan, lighthouses were built at the St. Joseph location dating back to 1832, but the current structures were built in 1907. This is a lighthouse with such character and seems rather diminutive with it’s small “partner”building. The lighthouse itself is not that tall, but sits atop the pier as it juts out  approximately 1,000 feet out onto the turbulent waters of Lake Michigan.  I have walked all the way to the end of the pier to take in the view from the lighthouse.  Catwalks above the pier were built so that the lighthouse keepers could access the lights when the seas were rough and waved crashed over the pier. Walking on the pier on a sunny, summer day, I envisioned what it would have been like on the catwalks with snow and ice below you.

St.Joe Lighthouse,Frozen by Tom Gill

Winter dressing of the St. Joseph Lighthouse (photo by Tom Gill)

This particular lighthouse is frequently photographed when artfully depicted covered with snow and ice; as shown in the photo here.

I  was so charmed by this lovely little lighthouse, an artist friend of mine painted a beautiful oil for me that I have in my home. (Thanks Rebecca!)

So the next time you have an opportunity to visit a lighthouse, take the time to enjoy it’s unique design and think of its rich history. Ask a local about the history and the folktales of the lighthouse…I’ll bet there is a story to hear.

Put your traveling shoes on. JES