Take the Moonshine Express run of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, and I promise you will not be disappointed.
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.
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).
Pretty much any resort in Africa is going to offer guests a thrilling vacation escape. We loved every aspect of our time in Africa. Sadly, one of our favorite spots, &Beyond Xudum Okavango Delta Lodge, was completely destroyed by a bush fire this past May. I hope they rebuild, it was such a special place. Here you can read about two of our favorites from South Africa, the Forest Lodge at Grootbos down on the southern coast of and the &Beyond Ngala Tented Camp in Timbavati.
Once at the Forest Lodge at Grootbos, we met with an activity staff member and planned our stay, checked into our beautiful, private suite and enjoyed a relaxing lunch.
We have a lovely, very modern suite – set up like an apartment with separate living room, bedroom, two bathrooms and walls of glass windows overlooking the reserve and ocean. Dinner was a lovely multi-course, gourmet experience that included horseradish hummus, lentil & saffron soup, pork, and a white chocolate mousse for dessert. The meal was served with a special starter from the chef, palate cleanser sorbet between courses, and very unusual (but tasty) garnishes and sauces. Even my husband liked his tempura-style salmon and Thai soup.
From the Lodge there are all sorts of active outdoor activities and hikes and visitors are perfectly positioned for nearby adventure activities like cave exploring, whale watching in Hermanus, and White Shark viewing in Gansbaai.
&Beyond Ngala Tented Camp|Timbavati
The dusty airstrip in Ngala in about a half-hour away from the &Beyond Ngala Tented Camp and our Ranger was waiting for us when we landed.at the strip to meet us.
The ambiance at Ngala is incredible. The facilities are very elegant, upscale, permanently tented suites with full power, A/C and heat, no windows-just screens open to the elements and, of course, incredible gourmet meals. My husband can be a picky eater, but he even said: “I have nothing to complain about the food here, it is really good.”
Ngala borders Kruger National Park, and our camp with just a few permanent tented rooms is very laid-back with much more flexible schedules than many safari camps and a bigger focus on tracking. A lot more time here is spent waiting and watching – often, with great rewards.
Ngala means lion in the local Shangaan language and our safari drives lived up to the inferred promise. In fact, in 2019, the area is home to two rare white lion cubs many lucky guests have been able to spot.
The food was exceptional and they had no difficulty in producing gourmet fare for a vegetarian guest. At this camp, unlike some others, we shared meals with other guests (unless having a romantic dinner on your own) making for some lively, interesting conversation. We were the only Americans in a very international crowd.
On a typical morning drive, we turned a corner and there was the staff cooking a fabulous breakfast. Linens, glassware, champagne, yogurt/granola cups each with special nametags for us, and breakfast made to order – it was a dream.
It can get quite cold here at night and while we were at dinner, staff put down shades and drew drapes making guests extremely comfortable and cozy, tucked in the wonderful bedding with dual control electric blankets. We also had an outdoor, secluded shower in addition to the indoor bath with freestanding tub. Glamping at its finest.
The night sounds are amazing as the temps drop and many animals move around; we heard the lions roar, elephants trumpet, monkeys play, and many more sounds I am happy not to be able to ID.
While a few guests napped or hung out by the pool between safari rides, the staff made arrangements for us to visit a local school. The impeccable service and attention to detail continued until we went back to the dusty airstrip and boarded our next small plane.
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:
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.
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 More
Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Hotel
We stayed at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel so we could swim in their iconic rooftop pool, located 57 floors high and it was worth the experience. Warning – the water is freezing (at least for this Miami girl), so I didn’t stay in long.
The only way to get in this pool is to stay at the hotel, otherwise, visitors can go up to the SkyPark or dine in nearby restaurants. Spago is adjacent to the pool and has good views, so if you don’t care about getting in the water, that’s a good way to go. BTW – You can get drinks and food when you are by the pool, but it comes from Spago and is expensive. Read More
September 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
The 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
The 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.
Our 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 More
The Brijrama Palace is a luxurious heritage hotel on the ghats (high embankments with steps leading into the river) in Varanasi. More than 200 years old, it’s been open since 2016, after 18 years of restoration. It is beautiful and opulently furnished with antiques and 18th-century art. Located on the Darbhanga Ghat, the only way to get there is by boat. Following a fascinating hour-long drive from the airport to the Mahishasura Assi Ghat, we took our first trip on the sacred Ganges. Luckily for us, once at the Brijrama, it’s the only hotel on the ghats with an elevator (the first in India). When we arrived, we were met by a priest who anointed our foreheads and gave us each a traditional marigold garland.
If you must consume alcohol and eat steak nightly, this is not the place for you. Since the Ganges is a holy river, there is no alcohol or meat served in facilities along its waters. Several kilometers inland you can eat and drink whatever.
This is one of the best ways to experience India as it has been for thousands of years and we were happy to forego cocktails, wine, and meat. From a culinary standpoint, the elegant restaurant Darbhanga at the Brijrama was wonderful and we really enjoyed our dinner of the traditional vegetarian Banarsari Thaali. It was actually more like a feast, delicious – I wish I knew what everything was. Read More
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.
It’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 More
It’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 Pisgah 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 More
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 More