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About admin

Mary Jo Is a journalism and language arts major from the University of Minnesota. She was the travel editor for Marco Polo Travel Magazine for ten years and the editor for Travelroads.com.She has traveled extensively through Latin America, Asia, Europe and the United States as a travel journalist.

Asheville in Autumn

Mountain vistas from Craggy Gardens Pinnacle

Mountain vistas from Craggy Gardens Pinnacle

A Few Favorite Activities
By Charlene & Richard Mixa

Slivers of bright red, sunny yellow, and brilliant orange cover the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina.  The last week of October the autumn leaves are getting ready for the annual burst of fall foliage in these brilliant colors.  Our timing is great as a cold front comes through and the trees show off their colors in just a few days.  Autumn in Asheville is spectacular and even more so for Florida folks, who don’t get an annual “Leaf Experience.”

Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, as it travels up the mountains from Asheville, we are greeted with an array of fall colors.  Today, it is absolutely clear Carolina blue skies.  The road is mesmerizing as the colorful trees overhang the parkway then breathtaking vistas offer miles of mountain views showing off their autumn foliage.  The Parkway offers many Scenic View areas for an easy pull-off to better take in the spectacular mountain vistas and snap some pictures.  After enjoying an enchanting scenic drive on the Parkway, we reach the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area.  (Only 18 miles from Asheville on the Parkway).  Plenty of picnic tables are available offering great views in this hillside picnic area.  It is a relaxing picnic lunch near the mountain top.

Our annual photo stop

Our annual photo stop

Now to get up close and personal!  It’s hiking the Craggy Garden Pinnacle Trail, a 1.4 mile round-trip hike to the 5,892-ft. to the top.  The trail winds through a canopy of rhododendron and various trees as it ascends 600 ft. to a fantastic panoramic 360-degree summit.  We have hiked the trail many times and have favorite spots for taking photos of the winding trail as it climbs through the canopy of trees.  Each year we take a photo at a special tree on the trail and recently added a photo of a tangled roots from a fallen tree.  A volunteer Ranger points out Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River, a few miles away.  Today it still fascinates us the scenic beauty along the trail and the fantastic vista at the Pinnacle as the mountains display their brilliant fall colors.  On the return along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a must see is the Folk Art Center, a fascinating museum of Appalachian arts and crafts.  The craftsmanship and talent are amazing.

Downhill hole with Scenic Blue Ridge Mountains

Downhill hole with Scenic Blue Ridge Mountains

Another favorite activity is a round of golf at the legendary 18-hole course at The Omni Grove Park Inn.  Arriving early for our 8:15 AM tee time, the weather has an impact with a 2 hour frost delay.  Despite having played the course several times in the past, on each visit this 6,400-yard championship course continues to challenge and intrigue us.  Selecting the proper tees is imperative to really enjoy this Donald Ross course.  The front nine is mainly in the valley and then begins to wind through the hills on the last few holes.  The back nine really brings in more holes with elevation changes demanding more accuracy with our club selection.  Putting is consistently a challenge on these greens that often prove difficult to read.  Be prepared for long uphill fairways to tiered greens, downhill fairways to elevated greens and more nuances to add plenty of challenge for each level of golfer.  It is terrific day of golf as we navigate the tree-lined fairways and bent greens with amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains all around and the stately stone structure of the 100+ yr. old Grove Park Inn.  Elevated tee boxes on the par-70 course provide perfect sight lines for each drive.  Again this fall day is clear blue skies making for even more spectacular scenery.

View from the Sunset Terrace

View from the Sunset Terrace

After golf, we enjoy lunch at the Grove Park Inn.  Today it is the Sunset Terrace where we are ready to recharge our batteries.  Taking the shuttle from the golf course to the Inn, we are quickly seated on the Sunset Terrace with views of the golf course and Blue Ridge Mountains.  On this beautiful clear autumn day, under “Carolina blue skies” we enjoy both the ambiance and lunch with scenic mountains.  On many visits, the Blue Ridge Mountains have been hidden by clouds but today with no clouds in the sky we truly see for miles from the Sunset Terrace.  Enjoying our drinks of a local beer and a rich Chardonnay we soak in the beauty of the mountains.  Opting for sandwiches the “Seared Crab Cake” and the “Smashed Cheeseburger” are tantalizing.  Sharing the sandwiches gives us each a chance to enjoy the various flavors.  The Crab Cake sandwich had plenty of crab while the Hamburger with the special sauce was so moist and flavorful.  Cheers to a great day of golf and scenic lunch.

Shopping is fantastic in Asheville from its variety of upscale stores, unique art studios, crafts shops, and antique emporiums.  Each year we find unusual treasures from home décor items to fantastic clothing sales.  On our walk through downtown Asheville we visit the numerous shops featuring local artists at the Grove Arcade, then stroll Woolworth Walk – an art gallery and craft emporium.  Later we roam through the Kress Emporium featuring regional artists and crafts people along with a selection of fine antiques and collectibles.  In Biltmore Village we find an array of specialty shops as well as national chains.  We always stroll the New Morning Gallery and the Southern Highland Craft Guild, as we seek unique items for our home.  A must visit is the 77,000 sq. ft. Tobacco Barn with its 75 vendors.  As we walk each aisle we easily see why it was voted the “Best Place to Buy Antiques in Western North Carolina.”  A stroll through the Tobacco Barn is like going back in time.  The Dillard’s Clearance Center at the Asheville Outlets offers fantastic bargains with all merchandise 65% off and many selected items with an additional 30% to 50% off.

Forestry Camp Dining Room - notice the logos on beer and wine glasses

Forestry Camp Dining Room – notice the logos on beer and wine glasses

Asheville is known as “Beer City” so a visit to a local brewery is a must.  In 2013 on a Beer Tour, we visited Burial Beer Company, the week it opened.  Today it is expanding and recently opened a unique venue in South Asheville.  Arriving here we find their new facility called Forestry Camp.  Originally Forestry Camp consisted of six buildings on two acres of land built by the U.S. Government shortly after Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) on April, 5 1933.  Burial repurposed these to house a production brewery, corporate offices and multiple barrel-aging facilities.  With foresight and painstaking efforts the sixth and final building became the new home of Forestry Camp Bar & Restaurant.  The downstairs has the Camp Bar with a communal hall offering a multitude of beverages from coffee, beer, wine and cocktails as well as a varied food menu.  Dining on the second floor, we learn that Chef Brian Canipelli (owner of Cucina 24, James Beard nominee) has created an intriguing “sharing menu” utilizing his skill and creativity to a seasonal, Appalachian-raised menu inspired by the traditions and spirit of the Basque Country.  The setting upstairs is unique.  The original wood of the building has been refurbished while creating a rustic yet upscale dining venue.  Our choices are Grilled Olives, the Radicchio Salad and Trout Kokotxa & Collar.  Each dish is perfectly prepared and delicious.  Additionally, the drink menu is eclectic with more international offerings.  We wish the team the best in their new business venture.

Bananas Foster Station

Bananas Foster Station

A finale for our fall adventure in Asheville is the Friday Night Seafood Buffet at the Omni Grove Park Inn.  While the past two days have had picture perfect fall weather tonight is a rainy night.  Arriving at the Great Hall of the Grove Park Inn, their huge fireplace warms our spirits.  Entering the Blue Ridge Restaurant we are immediately given a tour of the buffet encompassing three rooms.  The Friday Night Seafood Buffet is amazing.  The challenge is how to best describe this variety of farm-to-table artisanal buffet.  One room features desserts including red velvet cupcakes, bourbon pecan pie, lemon pound cake, scrumptious brownies, vanilla cheesecake, key lime tart, chocolate mousse, Crème Brulee, various torts and a Banana Foster Station.  That is only a sampling as there are more dessert items to fill your sweet tooth.

3-eyed Balloon Octopus

3-eyed Balloon Octopus

The next room has a wide variety of salads including kale salad, bean salad, grilled veggies, multiple cheeses, smoked trout, peppered mackerel, a huge Shrimp Station of fresh shrimp and BBQ shrimp, a Taco Station, oysters Rockefeller, mussels, soups and more.  Beware – it would easy to fill up on salads.  The Seafood buffet includes a nice range of seafood dishes from fried catfish, fried shrimp, salmon, a flaky wahoo dish as well as other meats for those opting for non-seafood choices.  A huge hit was the Crab Leg Station with fresh poached crab legs.  Our waiter Stan quickly provides all the essentials for having crab legs (fork, crab leg cracker and drawn butter).  Some of the side dishes included dirty rice, green beans, collard greens, hominy casserole, broccoli, and Mac n cheese.  Plus there was a Stir Fry Station.  The buffet definitely has something for everyone.  This is a unique dining venue with its views of the Blue Ridge Mountains even on a rainy night and a wide variety of foods to enjoy.  Our strategy is to take small portions and pace ourselves to make the most of this delightful buffet.  The waiters are excellent.  In our area they quickly recognize birthday and anniversary celebrations.  One table had a special seat for the “3-eyed Octopus balloon” made in the Great Hall for the little girl.  Our finale for this wonderful buffet dinner was the Bananas Foster – it was fun watching them be made and they were delicious!

A rainy night, Richard off to get the car.

A rainy night, Richard off to get the car.

As we finish are short visit for our Autumn in Asheville, it is a nice evening in the Great Hall Bar, watching the mesmerizing huge fireplace, listening to the combo band and enjoying an after dinner drink.  A wonderful finale to our respite to Asheville in the fall.  With the rainy evening, Richard, my Prince Charming tonight, with umbrella in hand retrieves our car from the parking lot.  Note: The Inn offers is complimentary 3 hour for outside guests.

If you go:
Asheville Visitor Center
www.visitasheville.com
Blue Ridge Parkway
http://www.blueridgeparkway.org
Craggy Gardens Pinnacle Trail
https://Ashevilletrails.com/blue-ridge-parkway/craggy-gardens-pinnacle-trail
Forestry Camp, 10 Shady Oak Drive, Asheville, NC 28803
828.505.4452
www.forestrycamp.com
Omni Grove Park Inn, 290 Macon Avenue, Asheville, NC 28804
800.438.5800
http://www.omnihotels.com/hotels/Asheville-grove-park

 

 

 

 

The TradeWinds Resort: Go To a Tropical Paradise

Just Let Go to Sensational Sun, Surf, Sand, and Spectacular Leisure Going-ons!

By Charlene & Richard Mixa

Welcome to the Tradewinds!

Welcome to the Tradewinds!

Go to a tropical paradise on St. Pete Beach. Slip on your flip flops, leave all your inhibitions, worries and cares behind – “Just Let Go!” Go for a walk on the beach, go down a huge slide, go nap in a hammock, go swim with the fish, go for a dip in the pool, go for a swim in the Gulf of Mexico, go to dinner or go find a hidden sanctuary. A 20-acre beachfront playground, the TradeWinds Resort is a place to escape, totally relax and have fun. The Resort lives up to its latest logo or mantra: “Just Let Go!” Continue reading

The Captivating Château Élan Winery & Resort

An Elegant Blend of a French Countryside & Southern Hospitality

By Charlene & Richard Mixa

Chateau Elan Winery & Resort

Chateau Elan Winery & Resort

Lush vineyards, rolling foothills, a magnificent Chateau and an elegant Inn create an inviting and gracious southern welcome with a French flair. With a sweeping panorama of the Northern Georgia foothills, Château Élan creates a “touch of France” as a premier Atlanta destination. A unique and magnificent resort, it combines luxury and conviviality, providing leisure opportunities of championship golf, full-production award winning winery, European health spa, culinary studio, huge swimming pool, and more world-class amenities. Continue reading

Airport Hotels: Are They Worth Your Money?

Airport hotelsBecause of the volatility of global economies, many people are noticing a shift in hotel rates, with downtown accommodation becoming more expensive than people can afford, giving rise to the airport hotel market, according to US.JLL.com.

Despite the convenience of the location and cost reduction from traveling back and forth from the airport in a cab, airport hotels are still considerably pricey, which begs the question whether they give travelers bang for their buck. To businessmen and women that are sticking around for a few days, airport hotels are definitely a smarter, more practical choice, but to the travelers that have got lengthy layovers, it’s a different story all together. Continue reading

A Night in Savannah

Even for One Night Savannah is Enchanting By Charlene & Richard Mixa

Savannah's Ellis Square

Savannah’s Ellis Square

Living in Florida, when heading north out of state, we basically have two choices I-75 through Atlanta or I-95 by Savannah. For us traveling I-95, is especially enjoyable with the numerous cities or islands to stop in along the way from Fernandina to St. Simons Island to Savannah. A favorite stop is Savannah with all its intriguing charm, restaurants, history and activities. Plus it’s just far enough north for a comfortable day of driving. A visit to Savannah can be several nights or just an overnight before heading back on the interstate. Sure, we could stay at a hotel on I-95, but the Southern charm of Savannah beckons us into this enchanting city. Even for just one night, Savannah provides a delightful respite from road travel and Savannah always promises something new in this ever changing southern town. Continue reading

Toronto is a Splendid Example of Many Cultures

By Mary Jo Plouf

Toronto is the largest city in Canada with over 2.6 million residents. Approximately 49% of the population was born outside of Canada, and as a result, much of Toronto consists of relatively small ethnic neighborhoods which have retained much of their original culture, language and foods. I find that one of the best and most fun ways to get to know a city is to become acquainted with the people where they live. Visit their shops and botiques, their bakeries, their churches and their restaurants.

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New Orleans, A City for All Seasons

By Mary Jo Plouf

New Orleans is like no other city in the world. It is a seamless and exquisite mixture of French, Spanish, Irish, Italian, African, Caribbean and even a touch of Native American. It is an old city which has incorporated the best of the European traditions and melded them with the time- honored  Southern hospitality of the plantation and sugar cane eras. But without a doubt, what defines the City of New Orleans best is the food and music that permeate the very foundations of the city.  Continue reading

Gainesville, Florida: A Family Destination

By Mary Jo Plouf

Gainsville is the county seat and largest city in Aluchua County, Florida. Many residents and visitors to Florida, myself included, have never considered Gainsville as a “vacation” destination. We were wrong. Gainsville can best be described as the perfect setting where nature and culture meet.  It is conveniently located in North Central Florida and has great year-round weather. For those searching for culture and history and the arts, they will find them in abundance at the University of Florida’s Cultural Plaza.  All in one location you will find the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History, the 1700 seat Phillips Center for the performing arts, National Ballet, and the Harn Museum of Art. The Butterfly Rainforest is especially fascinating to children of all ages.

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La Cocotera Resort and Eco Lodge-El Salvadore

La Cocotera Resort and Eco Lodge

By Mary Jo Plouf

La Cocotera Resort and Edo Lodge in San Salvadore is one of Central America’s premier eco lodges.  They offer luxurious accommodations in a relaxing setting between the Pacific Ocean and a peaceful estatuary bordered by tropical mangrove forests on the other side.

The lodge, small and exclusive is located in the beautiful Salvadorian village of Barra de Santiago.  It is located only about two hours from San Salvadore, but it is a world away from the bustling city. Without a little inside information and a short trip on roads you might never discover, it is well worth the trip.  Once there, you are in for a unique vacation experience.

If you are looking for an eco- lodge far from the crowded beaches, but still directly on the ocean, this is the perfect escape.  You can take a swim in the sparkling ocean, rest in a hammock in the shade of countless coconut palms, swim in the pool, or gaze at the spectacular volcanic  peaks in the background.

Methods of Public Transportation in Southeast Asia

By Mary Jo Plouf

photo credit: Mary Jo Plouf

photo credit: Mary Jo Plouf

There are several ways to get around with public transportation in South East Asia. Vietnam has a large number of taxis, both with and without meters. It is much preferred to use a taxi with a meter and visitors should always agree on a fare before they enter the taxi. Taxis are not particularly expensive, but the fare can vary widely.  We had to learn the hard way when we were charged the equivalent of twenty dollars for a ride that should have been three dollars. Fortunately, we had booked the taxi through our hotel and they had the time and the name of the taxi company on their records. We got a refund within an hour. So actually, we learned two lessons which are invaluable throughout the world.  Always know the fare ahead of time and whenever possible book through your hotel when you need a taxi. The hotel can also give you a good estimate of what the fare should be in order to reach many popular destinations.

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