Category Archives: USA

A Mountain Railroad Experience on the Moonshine Express

Take the Moonshine Express run of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, and I promise you will not be disappointed.

Onthe Moonshine Express: seven shots of moonshine later.After booking our tickets online, we picked them up at 9:30 the morning of the trip and boarded the Carolina Shine car around 10 AM.  Before we even started rolling, we were served three of the seven moonshine flavors we tasted.  Starting with the basic White Lightening, we moved quickly on to Apple Pie and Cherry.  Our second flight featured Peach, Blueberry, Pina Colada, and Salted Caramel. Peach and Apple Pie were my favs . . . and I did try them all. Heartier souls can order all sorts of shots and/or moonshine-laced cocktails in addition to wine or beer from the well-stocked bar. It was a happy train car.

We rolled out of the Bryson City, NC trainyard under diesel power about half an hour into our five-hour experience, on a route along the beautiful Nantahala Gorge.  Our energetic, funny host, Steve, kept us entertained with all sorts of historic facts and trivia as we chugged along about 20 miles per hour through forests, around lakes, and over rivers.

Tasty BBQ lunch on the Moonshine Express with the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad..

A tasty BBQ lunch was served before our hour-long stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. At the Center, you see some beautiful (and scary-looking) class-5 rapids, as well as a kayak training course used by Olympic athletes.  There are ample restrooms, a restaurant/bar, and a shopping area focused on active outdoor clothes and accessories (think wetsuits and paddles).

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6 Fabulous Meals Worth the Extra Effort

The best meals are not always the fanciest, most expensive, famous, or easy to access. We always make the effort to find out the local specialties and tap into local sources for getting to the right place.  Join me as I recall a few of my favs:

Geneva, Switzerland

Breaking from our usual frenetic pace we enjoyed Geneva as the locals do.  Under the tutelage of our good friends, Geneva residents Eva and Bob, we are seeing some sites, relaxing, chatting, and enjoying views of the tranquil lake. A highlight for us was visiting the nearby country village of Hermance and enjoying some of the fabulous local perch prepared the typical Swiss way (with a butter sauce), at La Croix Federale.  No trip to this part of the world would be complete without sampling this delicious local fish. Good company, blue skies, perfect temperature, the harmony of the migrating songbirds, and cold white wine combined to create a day of really special memories.

Rhode Island

My husband and I love oysters and make it a point of trying them wherever we travel. I don’t know how it took us so long to experience these delicious bi-valves in a state we both love.  The Narragansett Indians inhabited this area and called it Matunuck meaning “lookout”.  Maybe the name reflected a need for security, or maybe it was the view. But the real stars here are the oysters.

University of Rhode Island aquaculture grad Perry Raso farms the delicacies close by on Potter Pond. His pond-to-plate concept at Matunuck Oyster Bar is a winner and his restaurant is on our must-visit list whenever we are in Rhode Island. Three varieties: Matunuck, Rocky Road, and Wild Goose.  So sweet and tender. Rocky Roads are our favs.  Go Rhody  Read the rest of this entry

Where to Stay on a First-Class Kentucky Bourbon Tour

IMG_2163September is National Bourbon Heritage Month and so it is only fitting for this week’s post to celebrate that great Kentucky whiskey:

Our whirlwind Bourbon Tour involved 3 other couples, a rented van, and a lot of details, but it was worth every second of the planning. We had great weather and in just four summer days drove through beautiful horse country, ate incredible meals, and tasted some mighty fine bourbon. Our travels took us from Buffalo Trace (home of Blanton’s and the famous Papy Van Winkle), to Woodford Reserve (official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby), Makers Mark, Heaven Hill and Jim Beam (where my favorites Basil Hayden and Knob Creek are distilled), and last, but not least to the Craft Distillery, Willetts.

 21c Museum Hotel | Lexington, Kentucky

Bourbon flight at the Lockbox Bar at 21C.

Corner room, 23c Museum Hotel, LexingtonThe 21c Museum Hotel is a great hotel with a contemporary vibe and a focus on historic preservation and art; what a winning combo. And yes, there is an art museum. This is one of several art museum/hotels in renovated sites by this innovative company. I loved the rooms in this repurposed historic bank building. I particularly enjoyed the fun the designers had with color and art. Bright colors were used as accents in the rooms and public spaces, and photography by one of the owners was beautifully featured in the room.

The room was comfortable, bed great, shower excellent. We had no trouble getting feather pillows. Our corner room was on a high floor and the views of the city were terrific. I arranged the trip for a group of friends and we enjoyed the bourbon package. Breakfast was excellent and our bourbon flight was a lot of fun, with a super bourbon steward. Valet was efficient and the staff was very friendly. The only hitch was check-in which was very slow and disorganized, a contrast to everything else about the hotel and our stay.

The Brown Hotel | Louisville, Kentucky

Entrance to The Brown Hotel, LouisvilleThe Brown Hotel was a real step back into another era. We loved the hotel’s colorful history. We were traveling with a group of friends and enjoyed the Club Level service – it proved very convenient, and was more than adequate for breakfast and afternoon wine, beer, (no hard liquor) soft drinks and snacks.

Chef's Table at The Brown Hotel, LouisvilleOur Chef’s Table dinner in the kitchen of the English Grill was a wonderful and memorable occasion. Under the direction of English Grill Manager (and Sommelier/Bourbon Steward extraordinaire) Troy Ritchie and Chef Dustin Willett, we enjoyed a first-class event. I had worked with Troy in advance to put together the details and he was delightful, creative, and very easy to work with. Read the rest of this entry

Off-road in America: The House of Mugs

The House of Mugs, located in Collettsville, NC

If you enjoy the quirky side of Americana you will love the House of Mugs (aka The Collettsville Cup House). Located in Collettsville in rural western North Carolina, near the Wilson Creek Recreation Area, about 12 miles from Lenoir. The house is a testament to something – I’m just not sure what.

The House of Mugs, located in Collettsville, NCIt’s estimated there are 25,000 mugs covering the house, fence, and arch; feel free to bring one along to add to the collection. It’s free and there is a guest book to sign. We didn’t see anyone around when we visited and it doesn’t look like anyone actually lives there. It’s a really nice country drive and we crossed at least three single-lane bridges until we reached the lovely setting along a pretty riverbank. Read the rest of this entry

At the Summit of Mount Mitchell

Top of the world, Mount Mitchell State Park, NC

Observation deck at the summit of Mount Mitchell State ParkIt’s pretty easy to get to the highest point in the eastern US; visit Mount Mitchell in western North Carolina and most can easily maneuver the 285 yards paved Summit Tower Trail to the top observation deck.  It is handicap accessible.  But be prepared for chilly weather with temps about 20 degrees cooler than lower elevations, experts say the climate is more like Canada than North Carolina.  At 6,684’ you will be rewarded with a 360-degree view for up to 85 miles of the surrounding Black Mountain Range and the On he trails, at Mount Mitchell State ParkPisgah National Forest.  There are many trails of varying levels throughout the Park and several easy trails from the summit. The informative signage about wildlife, plants, and geology make it a particularly enjoyable, educational experience for families. Read the rest of this entry

Golf and Non-golf Perspective: Erin Hills and Kohler

Straits Course, Whistling Straights, Kohler

This post marks the first time I have ever uploaded copy I did not write. After reading an email from my friend KC, I thought it was just too good not to share. KC and her husband are life-long friends of mine and he is a serious golfer, she doesn’t play but knows her stuff.  Together they raised three children who all became golfers at the University of Florida. So, you get the picture, they know golf. Enjoy the read.


If you haven’t yet played golf in Wisconsin at Erin Hills and/or the Kohler courses (site of the 2020 Ryder Cup), I can vouch for both that they are fabulous. We read that the lodge at Erin Hills is in the top few lodges for golf in the country and we found it to be nice, though not extraordinary. Our room was minuscule and had no internet access, though it was well decorated and nicely appointed. There was much needed bottled water on tables in the hallways, in the rooms, and elsewhere around the resort for guests to take as needed. This was definitely appreciated as the sun was surprisingly intense and there is limited shade, so even with relatively mild summer temperatures, we felt parched.

We stayed only one night and that was plenty given the small room and limited non-golf activity options. King beds are a rare find here. For larger groups, there are some cottages with multiple bedrooms and a common area. We arrived the day before hubby’s tee time and he played the warm-up holes (Kettle Loop) in the late afternoon.  We both tinkered around on the putting course, and had a delicious dinner and chatted with a lovely family at the table next to us.

The staff at the resort was wonderful – friendly and helpful and good at their jobs.  We almost felt like we were visiting the home of a very gracious and hospitable friend.  Erin Hills is out in the middle of nowhere and a bit pricey for the room we had and lack of amenities beyond golf-related activities, but there aren’t very many other options nearby except lower end hotel/motels some 8-15 miles away.  However, the entirety of Erin Hills is like a giant playroom for those who love golf with a brand new cool 12 hole putting course, a 5-hole warm-up course, a great practice area, and the course itself, which has hosted multiple USGA championships in recent years. The course looks like the moon with grass on it. You will walk many miles up and down hills to play or observe and there isn’t a tree in sight! Hubby’s caddie was a darling girl whom we just loved having with us on the course. Caddies generally pull a double loop unless you request a caddie for a single. Read the rest of this entry

Best Casual Waterfront Dining in NYC

Brooklyn Smorgasburg

Only seven types of velvet cake available this day; I wanted to try their Praline Bourbon.

Only seven types of velvet cake available this day; I wanted to try their Praline Bourbon.

On Saturdays during the warmer months, NYC locals swarm the Smorgasburg held in the Williamsburg neighborhood by the East River State Park just off the ferry landing. Dubbed by the NY Times as “The Woodstock of Eating”, it features more than 100 gourmet booths offering every imaginable type of food. We sampled Texas-style moist beef brisket, Maine lobster rolls, hummus, red velvet cake, and a salted chocolate ice cream sandwich.  All delicious.

Details:  From Manhattan take the East River Ferry @ 34th St, to East River State Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The Smorgasburg event has expanded throughout the boroughs on different days with different names.  Can’t vouch for the other locations, but you can find more food on Sundays in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 5 (near Manhattan’s NY City Hall); and Long Island City, Queens on Saturdays.  All open 11 AM – 6 PM. Since these events seem a bit transient, Google before you go.

The Frying Pan, Hudson River Park

Historic waterfront dining and bar in NYC, The Frying Pan.This popular local spot started its life as a Lightship in 1929, keeping ships from running into the Frying Pan Shoals (thus its name) 30 miles off Cape Fear, NC. In 1965 she was abandoned in the Chesapeake Bay and apparently sank, spending three years underwater before being rescued.

Today, the Frying Pan is a floating historic lighthouse, permanently docked at Pier 66a in the Hudson River Park, West 26th Street, and 12th Ave. The food is average but I hear the evening bar scene is lively; plan to visit for the history and the incomparable setting.

Only open seasonally, table service is available in the summer months, starting around Memorial Day, 11:30 AM – 11:30 PM.  The best thing to do is follow them on Twitter and/or Instagram to make sure they are open and check the hours. Their Facebook page, Frying Pan-NYC, also has information, but, be forewarned, some of the info on their website is incorrect. Read the rest of this entry

Madison County NC has Barns, Not Bridges

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about buying a painting at a fundraiser for the Appalachian Barn Alliance, a group dedicated to documenting historic barns in this part of western North Carolina.

My husband and I decided to take one of their self-driving tours and visit the barns of Walnut Township in Madison County. Once in Madison County, we followed winding country roads for about two hours to nine different barns the preservation group researched, including the one featured in our painting. There were many other old barns and farm buildings along the route, turning our drive into a sort of barn-treasure-hunt.

A few of the barns were not exactly where we thought, but the directions got us close enough to figure it out. Most of the structures were eventually used for tobacco drying of some sort, and many were originally built to house livestock. The history of each barn was as interesting as its deteriorating appearance and we could soon spot the distinctive monitor roof and gambrel roof designs. Along the way, we learned about many used as flue-cured tobacco barns and converted in the 1920s to air-cure burley tobacco (used primarily for cigarette production). Many early barn-owners sold (or bartered) their barn roofs for advertising . . . maybe our first billboards? Does anyone else remember those “See Rock City” barn ads?

The group has several self-guided tours. guided van and private tours, and other special events you can read about on their appalachianbarns.org website.

It was a wonderful way to spend a beautiful day.

 

Hummingbirds Rock & Roll

In the North Carolina High Country, I have never seen so many hummingbirds flying in and out of the trees to the feeder and nearby flowers. Dipping and diving too fast to get a good still photo. They were magical.

A Little Church in the Woods

 

St John's Episcopal Church near Valle Crucis, NC.St. John’s Episcopal Church is a little gem tucked away in the woods down a gravel road in Sugar Grove, NC.  Not far from its parent church The Church of the Holy Cross Episcopal* in Valle Crucis, St. John’s was built in 1862. It came about through the fortitude and aspirations of William West Skiles who gave his life to the church and was deaconate in Valle Crucis.  He served the people of this mountain region from 1847, often on horseback, until his death in 1862, just after the new church opened. Read the rest of this entry