Tulsa Time

When people think of vacation destinations, they may not be thinking of Tulsa, Oklahoma. But I’m here to tell you, they should be.

Tulsa has a new park called the Gathering Place (opened Sept 2018) and I’m fairly certain it’s one of the premier parks in the United States, if not the world. It’s been recognized as a top new attraction by USA Today. I’m not going to blather on about how great the Gathering Place is – words don’t do it justice. Please – just plan a visit and see for yourself.

Before our time at the park, we enjoyed coffee and a cinnamon roll at Shades of Brown, one of many adorable and inviting coffee shops in the greater Tulsa area. This one features local art and music and serves their yummy treats and beverages in hand-made clay pottery.

Dinner was at Mother Road Market, ‘Tulsa’s First Food Hall,’ a unique and freestanding food court sort of place with multiple offerings of every cuisine imaginable. It’s a fun atmosphere and there’s a small mini-golf course in the outdoor eating area. You don’t see that every day!

After some shopping and a bit of sightseeing, we ended up at Shuffles Board Game Cafe which was an absolute ton of fun. Pay a small fee and have access to the largest selection of board games you’ve probably ever seen. Sip a beverage and enjoy some (actually very good) food and relax. Stay and play as long as you like. We had a blast.

Worthy of mention, even though we didn’t visit on this trip, the Mayo Hotel is a great place to stay downtown. They have a very cool rooftop bar with lovely views of the city. Oh and the showers are stupendous.

Tulsa was the site of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots and a visit to the Greenwood Cultural Center is a must when you find yourself in the area. The story is not widely known, but it was one of the biggest and most tragic mass casualty attacks on black Americans in US history. This book, The Burning, is an excellent read and well worth the time. It reads like a novel, but sadly every story told actually happened.

Not very far from Tulsa is the home of Oklahoma’s very own Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond. In the little town of Pawhuska, you will find her mercantile, hotel and restaurant. If you’re lucky, you can score a tour of the Lodge at Drummond Ranch.

Tulsa is a gem in the beautiful state of Oklahoma. I hope you will have the opportunity to discover it for yourself!

It’s Up to You, NY, NY!

Our daughter lives in Jersey City, so we never miss an opportunity to spend time with her which, of course, has the added bonus of spending a little time in the city.

We visited for three of the most beautiful days the city sees in a year’s time and we had the absolute time of our lives. This visit we did the Big Bus Tour of Manhattan for the first time. We love the Big Bus! Even though we are very familiar with the city, there’s nothing like riding on top of a bus in the open air. Of course, you get an actual tour, so we did learn a few new fun facts.

We stopped in one of Times Square’s many pubs for some cheese fries and a Guinness and to use the restroom. For heaven’s sake if there are two things true of New York City it’s that a.) there’s nowhere to sit and b.) there are no restrooms. You gotta go inside somewhere and patronize a place. Well, that’s fine with us. We were ready to get off our feet and the pub was terrific.

We had dinner and drinks later that day at The Dead Rabbit in the Financial District. This place was alive with activity and packed full but the staff was friendly and their feathers were unruffled. The drinks here are fascinating and delicious and the food was outstanding. This stop was the highlight of our trip.

Another first for us on this visit was using the ferry to get from Exchange Place in Jersey City across to Brookfield Place/Battery Park. It was around $8 per person and we arrived in NYC in a few short minutes. It was a very pleasant ride. It’s a lot more fun than the Path for sure and quicker. We would definitely do that again!

At the end of our day and back in New Jersey, I grabbed this. Beautiful city.

Live. Love. Local.

When we travel internationally, we mostly stay away from the obvious tourist attractions. Sure, when we went to Paris we visited the Eiffel Tower. We spent some time at Notre Dame Cathedral because my husband is a sketch artist and he was drawing it. We didn’t make our way to Champs-Élysées, we didn’t visit the Louvre. We might have, but it just didn’t work out. It wasn’t a priority.

What we did do was walk the streets of the neighborhood where our quaint boutique hotel was located (Latin Quarter). We sat in cafés, ate croissants and sipped lattes. We visited the little ‘ready food’ kiosks for meals.  You can tell you’re staying local when the people you are talking to generally don’t speak English. And as rough as my French is, there is nothing better than trying to converse with a happy local gracing us with a big smile.

On our recent trip to Porto, Portugal, we stayed in an apartment in a quiet neighborhood far from the city center. There was a huge park across the street, a small café a few doors down, and a small market a couple blocks away. These places are where you experience local life.  Watching the old men and children feed the peacocks in the park, eating at the café and asking, “What do you have?” because there is no menu.

The owner beams as he describes his carefully prepared national dishes – maybe five choices. The woman working at the market trying to describe to us which type of meat was sliced and packaged because, well, we didn’t know enough Portuguese to figure it out. Is this a jar of mayonnaise? Try asking that question with a language barrier. Lots of laughing is involved.

Of course, Praça da Ribeira is amazing, the Duoro River is beautiful, Praça da Liberdade is worth the time spent. But going to a big busy public area doesn’t give you a genuine feel of the people. We love the people.

To me there are three ‘steps’ to discovering a new city, a new culture. First, we love to do a tour bus and get the macro perspective.  Learn the lay of the land. Figure out what we really want to see. Second, we will make it a point to visit one or two landmarks (Paris, Eiffel Tower… Porto, Dom Luis I Bridge) but after that we are all about local food, picking up a bit of the language, learning about the history and culture. These are the memories that last. These are the memories that make me smile.

Branson, Missouri

We took a little road trip to Branson, Missouri, “Live Music Capital of the World,” earlier this week.  Most of our friends found it surprising that we had never been before because it’s a short five hour drive away and most of them had been multiple times. Our time had finally come. My husband traded some of his artwork for a stay in a resort in Branson, so off we went.

On our first evening out we enjoyed dinner overlooking the Branson Landing Fountain at the edge of Lake Taneycomo. The Branson Landing is  a lovely outdoor mall with many shops and restaurants. We chose to have dinner at Cantina Laredo, a chain restaurant we hadn’t ever been to before, and we enjoyed it. It was a lovely evening to sit outside and we had a front row view of the fountain show which is set to music and accompanied by lights and fire. Very nicely done.

The second night we attended the Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Show which is quite possibly the biggest thing going on in Branson today and very well done. It was a lot of fun and the food was delicious and more than any human can eat. They serve a cup of creamy soup, bread, a whole roasted game hen, plus a thick slice of pork loin, half a roasted potato, half a corn on the cob, and dessert. Thankfully, they bring around to-go bags after the show so you don’t have to feel guilty for leaving so much behind!

On the third day we visited the Talking Rocks Cavern about thirty minutes outside of town. The cavern was relatively small as caverns go, but I very much enjoyed the adventure. I grew up in west Texas near the well known Carlsbad Caverns, so it’s pretty hard to impress me with caverns. But this was steep steps and tight corners and narrow walkways and wet paths. This ‘not so perfect’ tour created a sense of thrill and accomplishment for having completed it. Between fear and health issues, some people back out. In fact, when you buy your tickets they let you know if you can’t handle it you can turn around and they will give you your money back.

Well, this old lady Conquered the Cavern! No money back for me!

There’s a ton more to do in Branson. We really barely scratched the surface. We enjoyed a meal at Branson’s Center Stage Grill which was very good, we had ice cream and pie at Cakes ‘n Cream Diner which had a fun atmosphere. We stayed in a condo with a full kitchen and we were able to buy groceries at Rhodes Family Price Chopper which was a very nice store with a great selection and fair prices. Also, I missed this, but Hurts Donut is supposed to be very cool and the donut photos are very intriguing! I’m super sorry I missed it! And of course, we ate one meal at a fast food – Chick-fil-A. The busiest place in town.

Flying in is a bit of an issue because the Springfield-Branson Airport is almost an hour away. Shuttles and other forms of available transportation will run you about $100 each way, which is not cheap. If you decide to fly to Branson, plan ahead to rent a car. You might as well, you’ll spend the same amount for a shuttle and have no wheels. But if you live within about six or seven hours from there, take a road trip. I imagine the drive in is beautiful from all directions, and it will only cost you a couple tanks of gas.

Perfect Porto

So, our six days in Portugal are nearly over. A day on a bus. A day in our room. A day on foot. A day of going separate ways and a dead phone which makes for great drama. A day at the airport. (We tried to fly standby home today, but the flight was full.) Poor us. Another day in paradise.

Fortunately, we left the airport by 1:00 pm and the Urban Sketcher Symposium is still going strong so Skip was able to rejoin his friends and is now blissfully sketching City Hall at the very top of Praça da Liberdade.

I am sitting under cover at a nearby McDonald’s sipping a quite nice, albeit tiny, cafe latte. And writing this post.

Porto is probably the most beautiful city I have ever seen. I believe I can say this without hyperbole. It’s clean. It’s historic. It sits on a mountain near the ocean AND a river. It’s beautifully manicured and life is in order here. The climate allows for the abundant growth of pretty much every plant I can imagine.

There are no words to describe this place.

We toured a port wine cellar on Thursday. It was a very nice presentation of the history and process of wine making, the differences in types of wine, white, red, rose, and tawny (which I had never heard of) followed by a tasting. But I particularly enjoyed the cool cavelike rooms they store the casks of wine in.

This one is older than me.

We walked down a hill that was SO STEEP I was clinging to the walls. I am not kidding!

I don’t know if you can tell from this picture but that’s pretty much straight down. We prevailed. It was the only thing that was between us and Starbucks and we were not backing down.

So. Come to Porto. Try the food with an open mind. Bring your walking shoes. And sign up for Uber. Uber has saved me. Thank you, Uber. I love you.

Porto. A Preliminary Report.

PORTO, Portugal. A place I have known little about until now. It wasn’t necessarily even on our list. But my husband is an Urban Sketcher and they’re holding an Urban Sketcher Symposium in town this week so here we are. And it’s slightly out of our comfort zone.

Between the language and the food, we have been a little lost. Lol. Do you know that the Portuguese language is extremely similar to Spanish? Yet ask any Portuguese person you meet and they will tell you they’re nothing alike.

Yes. Sí. Sím.
Why. Porque. Porque.
House. Casa. Casa.
Dead. Muerto. Morto.
How. Como. Como.
You get the idea.

Anyways, Spanish, which I have been vigorously studying, is no help.

The food, which literally everyone has told me is the best in the world, has been unusual. Of course! It’s Portuguese! It’s completely foreign to us. I enjoyed my Francesinha (hubs did not) and he ordered the cod (bacalhau) last night which was almost like tuna tetrazzini and I thought it was great, him not so much.

Francesinha- sandwich with cheese & sauce
Bacalhau (cod). Possibly served other ways too.

We ate lunch at a lovely seaside café yesterday and I ordered shrimp and quinoa paella which was delicious, but he ordered a hamburger and was unimpressed. I think maybe he’s getting old and cranky.

Shrimp and Quinoa Paella. Very good.

Also, we are both getting old and CREAKY. Things crackle and pop. This place is built on a mountainside. I look out our (third floor with no elevator) giant 18th century apartment windows and the young people are practically running effortlessly up this hill outside that I will have trouble going down. Porto is not for the old, weak and faint of heart.

Having said all that, THIS PLACE IS LOVELY BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS. It’s amazing and we love it. Haha. Had you going, didn’t I?!

The Pointe de Don Luis I Bridge

Yesterday we did the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour and it was fabulous. The weather here is as close to perfect as weather can be. I’m a little sunburned, but I don’t care. I enjoyed the cool breeze in the bright sun for about three hours (we circled the city twice) and I have no regrets.

Don Pedro IV, Praça de Liberdade, Porto, Portugal

Today the conference began so my husband has been gone since about noon and I’ve chosen to stay close and rest. BUT TOMORROW I’m taking the train tour, the river tour, and two wine cellar tours. So expect to hear all about it on Friday… when I will probably need another day of rest!

Asbury Park Boardwalk

The beach. Fresh ocean breezes, the sound of the waves tumbling to shore, toes dug deep into the cool sand. Nothing compares. I was raised in the southwest, so any time I had the pleasure of visiting the beach, it was a treat. As a child, the saltier, stickier and more sunburned I was, the better.

As an adult, the sticky, gritty, beach is a bit less appealing. Sipping a cold beverage in the shade whilst sitting in a comfortable chair- much more appealing. Imagine my delight to discover the concept of a boardwalk.  I mean, California has its piers and Florida has, well, mostly sand. It wasn’t until I first came to the greater New Jersey/New York area that I discovered the sublime addition of a boardwalk to the beach.

In my perfect world, all beaches are Asbury Park.

With its long, smooth, wooden walkway, its variety of eateries and shops, and its lovely beach, Asbury Park is the best of all worlds.  Stroll along with your family, grab a Korean Fusion Taco or a Coney Waffle cone. Linger with your lover and enjoy a martini at Stella Marina in the cool breeze. Stay into the evening at The Anchor’s Bend. Dig your toes into the sand, enjoy the fresh air, sip a beverage – you might even get to experience some terrific live music.

the anchors bend
Enjoying an Evening at The Anchor’s Bend

I can regale you with tales of relaxation and tranquility, describe to you the riches to be found in the various shops, tempt you with lunch, dinner and treats, but don’t take my word for it. Check out the awesome and informative Asbury Park Boardwalk website.

There’s plenty more to know than what I can tell you!