Author Archives: Andrea

About Andrea

I am work in the Museums, Archives, and Rare Books Department at Kennesaw State University with my master's degree in Heritage Preservation. I taught fourth grade through middle school for several years prior to museum work. I live in Atlanta with my husband, dog and cat. I am a lover of travel, wine, and good food so hopefully my blog will provide you with some of my travel tips (on a budget!) that I learn along the way.

Shanghai, China

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In 2016, I wrote about leading a trip to Beijing, China. This year, I was invited by my dear friend, Queena who led a student-trip to China in 2018. This time Shanghai and Xi’an were also on the itinerary!

Our first stop (after a layover in Toronto) on our journey to China was Shanghai. Before the trip, the only things I really knew about Shanghai were that it is the most populated city in the world and that it is more of an international city than Beijing. I didn’t have many expectations, but after traveling there, I was certainly impressed! I will say, if you are interested in a trip about the history of China, I’d stick to Beijing or Xi’an. Shanghai should definitely be on your radar if you want to visit a bustling, growing, and modern metropolitan.

We arrived in the evening, and our tour guide gave us the option to do a night boat cruise on the Huangpu River with views of the skyline. Most people in the group decided to go to sleep after many hours of travel, but I decided to push  through to do the boat cruise, and I am SO GLAD that I did. It was one of the highlights of my entire trip to China. If you go to Shanghai and the weather is favorable, even if you see the Bund (a waterfront area in Shanghai) during the day, do the boat trip at night.

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The hotel in Shanghai was also the nicest we stayed in while in China. It was newer and modern as most areas in Shanghai are. The Holiday Inn Express Shanghai Jinsha had a full breakfast (American and Chinese food), the rooms were clean and there was air conditioning! Ask about A/C when booking your travel to China, especially in the spring/summer months. The hotel would run you about $45 a night which is a great price!

That first morning we went to the Yu Garden Pedestrian Street. It was really neat to experience the food and shopping, but it was extremely crowded. We got lunch (noodles for days!) and an ice cream cone, and many in our group decided to do some shopping (I was holding out for the markets in Beijing). We later visited a silk factory/shop and the Jade Buddha Temple.

 

Another major highlight for this city was taking the elevators (too tall for just one elevator so there were two!) up the Shanghai Tower and experiencing the view. It was incredible to see what a city of 26 million looks like from over 100 stories up. I was told to go into the last stall of the women’s bathroom and this is what I found – WOW!

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I called it “The Bathroom in the Sky”

We ended our afternoon/evening walking along the Bund in the day and shopping around the Shanghai Times Square. Overall, we did a lot in 1.5 days, but I could have spent much more time. This means, I’ll have to go back to Shanghai someday (hopefully before my $200, 10-year Visa expires!). Xi tien for now!

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Boston: It’s All Here!

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For Spring Break this year, Kevin surprised me with a trip to Boston! He’s never done a surprise trip for me before, so this was especially exciting. I knew a week before that we were going SOMEWHERE, but I didn’t know where until the day before we left.

Since I am a history nerd (especially colonial history), I was thrilled to find out we were traveling to Beantown (AKA Boston) – I had never been to Boston before! It was early spring, so we dressed warmly (sweaters and rain jackets). We were lucky enough to have a couple days of sun!

Kevin arranged for us to use Hilton points to stay right downtown at the Hilton Faneuil Hall. The room was small but clean and comfortable, and it was a great location. Had we not used points, the hotel could have run us $350+ a night. The benefit to selecting a location that was walking distance to public transportation restaurants and tourism was that we didn’t have to rent a car. Aside from a car rental cost (which isn’t cheap in Boston), we would have had to pay $50 per night for parking. A taxi from the airport to the hotel ran us about $30, but we did not arrive during rush hour. Even still, spending a little more on a hotel in a good location near MBTA (Boston’s public transit) would be more economical in the long-run.

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We arrived on a Friday and our first stop after checking into the hotel was to Sam Adams Brewery! We walked to the subway and took the Orange line to Stony Brook. From there, it was a 7-8 minute walk. I have been to several breweries, and this one is definitely in my Top 3. The tour and tastings were completely free, and we met folks from all around the country! Plus, I really like their beer. After the tour and tastings, we stuck around for another hour at the bar and had a couple more drinks before departing for dinner.

That night we ate at Bostonia Public House. They had a really cool atmosphere, and Kevin was excited to have a lobster roll! Since our trip, he has actually been back to Boston a couple of times for work dinners, and he still enjoys it. After dinner, we walked to Quincy Market to grab some ice cream for dessert. Quincy Market is tourist-y but still really great. It was constructed in the 1820s and has lots of quick restaurants and snack shops to choose from.

The next morning, we woke up bright and early to take a guided walking tour of the Freedom Trail. We didn’t have to make reservations because of the time of the year, but I definitely would go ahead and make reservations during peak season. For being pretty chilly that day, it was still super crowded. Our stops included the Massachusetts State House, the Old State House and the Old South Meeting House. Our guide was dressed up in colonial-wear and he had a lot of information, but it was sometimes difficult to hear among the hub-bub of the city.

After the walking tour, Kevin and I decided to go north to Paul Revere’s house. Admission was $5 which we were happy to pay since the money goes to preservation efforts. Be warned that admission is CASH ONLY. We were only there for about 30 minutes since the house is small, but it was still really interesting and the docents were informative and friendly.

We didn’t make a lunch reservation, but we should have. Everything that was recommended to us in the north end was a 1-2 hour wait. We were lucky and stumbled upon a Mexican restaurant called Tenoch Mexican. No frills, just good food. Eventually we made our way to Mike’s Pastry for cannolis. Mike’s Pastry was founded in the 1940s and they have a couple of locations – we went to the original on Hanover Street. It was Easter weekend, so it was PACKED but the cannolis were 100% worth the wait. So delicious.

After eating our cannolis in the park, we made our way to Boston Harbor to see where the famous Boston Tea Party took place in 1773. It was fun to see all the historic sights that day, but it was a LOT of walking. If you are planning on seeing Boston in a long weekend, good walking shoes are essential.

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We DID make dinner reservations that night. Again, on a weekend, reservations are necessary. Italian food in the North End is authentic and YUMMY. We ate Trattoria di Monica where homemade pasta is the specialty.

On our last day, we had a late flight so we ventured out to the JFK Presidential Library. To get there we had to take a bus and a train, but the experience was worth it. Since it was Easter Sunday it was an extremely light crowd, but the museum was huge. Admission was $14 per person. Every presidential library has a (to-scale) replica of the Oval Office, so we enjoyed seeing how JFK’s was set up. Overall, we had an awesome time nerding out by looking at all of the First Lady’s outfits and the Kennedy family’s personal effects.

Our last stop of the day was Bunker Hill. This monument commemorates a major battle that happened nearby in 1775. You could climb all the way up the obelisk, but Kevin and I decided that after all the walking we did, we could enjoy the view without climbing all the way up!

Our weekend trip to Boston was just the tip of the iceburg – I’d love to go back to explore some more! We ate like royalty, saw 15/16 sites on the Freedom Trail, and enjoyed springtime in the northeast. Until next time…

Atlantis (Bahamas)

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Now that Kevin has healed from surgery and is feeling better, the doctors ok-ed travel again! (see previous post for details) This trip to Atlantis was Kevin’s annual customer conference. Previous trips for this conference were Orlando, Cabo San Lucas, and Dove Mountain. We enjoyed this getaway in the sun, but at the same time we are glad we were able to experience it without having to pay for the resort. Since the hotel and Kevin’s flight were totally covered for this conference, the only expenses we had were my flight (about $450 to Nassau) and lunches.

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Kevin and I at the Junkaroo, a Bahamian tradition

The water slides and rapid river were a blast, but since it was the very beginning of Spring Break time, there were some lines/crowds. I can imagine that chairs would be scarce and lines would be pretty long (and annoying) during peak season when cruisers also take advantage of spending the day at Atlantis when they dock in Nassau. The rooms and resort were a little tired for the price-tag overall. The food was also pretty basic (chicken nuggets, fries, pizza, burgers, etc.). I’ll say this: Kevin and I would have been disappointed had we paid $400+ a night for the experience especially since flight prices to Nassau weren’t cheap. It would be very easy for a couple or family to spend THOUSANDS of dollars to vacation at this resort, and Kevin and I prefer to spend our travel dollars more frugally, so we can see more of the world! That being said, if Atlantis is on your list, there are several different hotel options at the resort. The highest-end hotel is called The Cove which can be up to $1100 a night in peak season. This option has 2 private beaches. We stayed at the second-highest hotel called The Royal which ran about $400 a night. The cheapest hotel at Atlantis is called The Beach and it is about $200 a night. If you are planning on going to Atlantis for the water slides and sitting pool-side, don’t spend money on the more expensive hotel rooms because they aren’t worth it! Everyone that stays at an Atlantis hotel gets access to all of the slides, so you aren’t necessarily getting “extra” staying at a more expensive option.

Unfortunately, we never got to go to the beach because it was closed when we were there. The surf was too high and dangerous, but walking to the beach from the resort is an option if the weather is agreeable!

A highlight of the trip was our opportunity to swim with a dolphin! We were given the choice between a deep-water experience and shallow-water experience. We chose shallow-water, and we were really glad we did. According to many of Kevin’s co-workers and their spouses who did the deep-water, they had less interaction with the dolphin than we did in the shallow-water. Our dolphin’s name was Palmer, and we were able to hug her and pet her as she swam around us!

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All in all, this was a fun trip, but again, do your research before visiting. On to the next adventure!

A Medical Update

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Some time has passed since we last traveled. Last September, my husband suddenly became very ill with an unknown heart condition, and he was in the hospital for two weeks. Without exaggeration, there was a time I didn’t think we would ever be able to travel ever again. The only travel we did between our trip to Virginia last July (see previous blog post) and the Atlantis in March (see next blog post) was to see family/friends in Chicago and to go the Cleveland Clinic to see a heart specialist. I am so happy to say that Kevin is healthy and traveling again.

With Kevin’s medical condition, he is required to have a (subcutaneous) implanted cardiac defibrillator (S-ICD) which has changed the security process slightly in the airport. He can not go through a metal detector or get “wanded.” He has to receive a pat-down or go through the body scanner. Sometimes this slows down the check-in process, but overall it isn’t a hassle at all; the TSA agents are very familiar with people who have medical devices. It does present a problem occasionally when we are at tourist attractions with metal detectors because security staff does not know how to handle someone who cannot get the wand OR go through a medal detector.

I mention all of this because I never thought, especially in our 30s, that we would ever have to deal with anything like this. Sometime life throws you curve-balls, and you have to work through fear and other struggles. I am grateful that Kevin is able to travel, and we are going to spend this next year taking advantage of his second chance by seeing as much of the world as we can!

A & K

Washington D.C. and Virginia

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In July, I had an education conference at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington D.C. – Kevin decided to fly up for the weekend immediately after the conference, so we could visit my uncle in Leesburg, Virginia and do some sightseeing in Virginia.

Before this trip I last visited Washington D.C. in 2015 with a group of middle school students. We did many of the monuments, museums, Mt. Vernon (Washington’s home), and Arlington National Cemetery on the class trip, so these were locations I decided not to visit in my free time this go-around but are all absolutely worth your time.

I stayed at the Mandarin Oriental because of its proximity to USHMM and the low government rate (which I qualified for because I work at a public university). This hotel was swanky! Usually the Mandarin Oriental D.C. would run someone about $400 a night; the service and room were sensational (not to mention the amazing view I had of the Washington Monument), but the location for a couple or family wanting to sight see isn’t ideal. USHMM was only a couple of blocks away, but it was a hike to the Smithsonian and Washington Monument, not to mention other tourist attractions. Even though the monument looked close from my window – it wasn’t! There was also heavy construction in the area, and the restaurants surrounding the hotel were great for lunch options but closed for dinner.

Since I arrived in D.C. the day before the conference I really wanted to visit the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. Even though I went online the day-of at 6 AM to try to get a timed-entry pass to get in, I had no luck. The line once I got there was wrapped around the building (twice). You can try to visit or reserve passes, but the museum is still so popular, getting in is very difficult. I hope to visit this museum eventually!

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a must-see for museum-lovers. Tickets are free, but you may want to pay the $1 transaction fee to reserve tickets online – especially if you are going during peak season (May-September). Same-day tickets are available but not a guarantee. This museum would probably take a half-day of your time. This is probably one of the best museums in the country, and I highly recommend it.

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Hall of Remembrance – USHMM

After my conference in D.C., Kevin flew in early Friday afternoon to meet me for the weekend. We rented a car, and drove to Virginia. We were very lucky we missed rush-hour because I hear getting out of DC on Friday afternoons can take hours. Leesburg is a historic town in Loudoun County, Virginia about 33 miles northwest of D.C. My uncle has lived there with his wife for many years, and we stayed with them. It amazes me that there is so much farmland only 30 miles outside of the city! There are a lot of wineries and antique shops in the area, and finding a bed and breakfast in the area could make for a romantic little getaway!

A few months ago I read America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, so I insisted upon visiting Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, VA. Monticello is about 2.5 hours from Washington D.C., and no shuttle goes directly there, so a rental car would probably be necessary, and it was a full-day excursion. It was a very warm July day when we visited, so be sure to bring water. The house itself is smaller than you might imagine, so much of the Monticello experience is touring the grounds outdoors. Parking at Monticello was free, but our tickets cost $26 online. The only thing I might have done differently was pay extra to do a “behind the scenes” tour, but that is the history nerd in me coming out. The $26 day pass included plenty to do including the shuttle to Monticello from the parking/visitor center, a guided tour of the house/gardens/slave quarters, access to the grounds, and the Jefferson family cemetery. Monticello is now (finally) starting to interpret Sally Hemmings’ story, but it is clear many of the seasoned docents are still getting comfortable with this material. As a resident of the American South and museum professional, I have worked at institutions that have found the topic of slavery to be “taboo,” but it is an important part of American history that should not be glossed over. I appreciate that Monticello is making an effort to interpret the lives of all who lived there.

The next day, we spent the morning walking around downtown Leesburg. There were so many cute restaurants and shops in their historic downtown. Our last stop for the weekend was The Marshall House on Edwards Ferry Road in Leesburg. General George Marshall was the Army chief of staff during World War II and Secretary of State under President Truman. His most famous accomplishment was the 1947 Marshall Plan, a plan for European recovery after World War II. The house on Edwards Ferry Road was his residence from 1941 until his death in 1959. I enjoyed the video and guided tour ($10 a person), and the “time warp” that many of the rooms provided. This excursion took about 2.5 hours and is recommended for history buffs and house museum lovers alike. Also, if you go to The Marshall House be sure to stop at Mom’s Apple Pie across the street for a piece of delicious pie!

Aside from a great conference at USHMM, I enjoyed the Virginia countryside on this trip, and I look forward to going back to our nation’s capital again someday, soon!

 

Dove Mountain (Tucson) Arizona

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For those of you who follow my blog, you know that my husband has a conference every year that I get to tag along with (for free!) and enjoy.  You can go back and read about these conference trips to Orlando in 2015 and Cabo San Lucas in 2016.

This year, our annual conference trip was at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain in Arizona. I have never stayed at a Ritz Carlton (honestly, I can’t justify spending the money, especially when, most of the time, we are hardly in our room on these trips). Well, I thoroughly enjoyed my 5-star hotel experience! Not only were the rooms PHENOMENAL, but the food, service and ambiance were top-notch. Honestly, Kevin left some loose change on the night stand, and room service put a doily underneath it when they were during turn-down service! Fancy stuff. A standard room at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain would run you about $400 a night.

The hotel was about a 50 minute drive from the airport and really in the middle of nowhere. This is not a resort you would want to go to if you are looking for a lot to do. There are several restaurants on property, a Jack Nicklaus golf-course, spa, and a pool, but overall I got a major relaxation vibe. In other words, it isn’t somewhere I’d take a family with kids; it is more of a romantic anniversary weekend getaway. The mountains and cacti provided a unique and beautiful backdrop, and even though we were in the desert, it was pretty chilly! The week we were there in February, the temperature never got over 63 degrees, and when the sun went down it was downright cold! No one at the conference was expecting the cooler temperatures, so a lot of folks (including myself!) didn’t pack properly. I would definitely check the weather before-hand, even though it’s the desert! The hotel had many fireplaces and bonfires around property that certainly helped and made us feel cozy.

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As I mentioned, there wasn’t much to do at this particular hotel, and it was too cold for the pool, so many folks took advantage of the hiking opportunities the hotel offered in the Sonoran Desert. Hiking isn’t really my cup of tea, so I took advantage of my relaxation and food time.  Every restaurant at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain was excellent. It wasn’t cheap, but I was not disappointed in any meal (I did have to pay for my own food at restaurants).

Each day, just before sundown, we went to the Ignite Lounge patio or our room balcony for the Spirit of Adventure Celebration. A ranger shared stories of the region’s Native American ancestors, and a flute player performed in the distance from the mountains. This experience was definitely a highlight and was so calming and peaceful.

The activities we participated in while in Tucson were organized by my husband’s company. These day trips were the only times we went off property. If I travel to this hotel again, I would definitely rent a car to be able to get downtown Tucson to do some shopping and activities, but without a car, I was at the mercy of the event staff. Hey, it was free, so I’m not complaining! I especially enjoyed the cooking demonstration at The Carriage House and our day at a ranch. I would absolutely recommend taking a cooking class at The Carriage House with Chef Janos!

At the ranch, we rode horses, watched a rodeo, and listened to live music. We were able to truly admire the beauty of the desert at the ranch. Even though it can be pricey, finding somewhere to horseback ride in Tuscon would be worth the money, in my opinion.

Overall, our experience at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain in Tucson was so relaxing and enjoyable. I loved the hotel and would love to go back and visit again someday. I think this trip gave me the “American Southwest bug,” and I’d like to spend some time exploring the region in the future!

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen!

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Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen!

Ever since I saw the musical Hans Christian Andersen with Danny Kaye when I was six years old and read Number the Stars when I was ten, I’ve always dreamed of visiting Copenhagen. It is a city rooted in history, culture, and fairy tales (Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, and Thumbelina, among others). We enjoyed our visit to this city very much!

Kevin and I visited Copenhagen at the end of November, and the city was alive with the holiday spirit and Christmas Markets (not to mention all the bicycles!). If you are ever interested in visiting Copenhagen go during the Christmas season! It was magical. Around the city, Glogg (hot mulled wine) and booths with crafts abound. It was truly a delightful time of year to go, and I think we wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much without the holiday twist.

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That being said, the temperature was pretty chilly. I was wearing a winter coat, hat and gloves, but after traveling quite a bit, I always prefer walking around when it’s cold vs. when it’s really warm. The chill kind of contributed to the holiday charm, but definitely prepare to bundle up.

We spent 3 full days in the city and it was definitely enough. Had we had another full day, we might have gone outside of the city to see more of Denmark, but we had plenty of time to see what we needed to see. We stayed at the Andersen Boutique Hotel not too far from the train station (we took the train in from the airport – it was very simple and clean). We were able to walk to hotel with our bags. I prefer boutique hotels (with breakfast) whenever we travel. This was an affordable option (about $190 a night) in an up-and-coming area of the city compared to many other hotels I looked at; hotels in Copenhagen are extremely expensive. Not only was there a full breakfast, but there was a complimentary wine hour from 5-6 PM! The rooms were bright and clean, but fairly small. We hardly spent any time at the hotel, so the room size didn’t bother me.

We spent our first day (late afternoon and evening) walking around Nyhavn. The restaurants along the waterfront are overpriced, but there was a Christmas Market and the scenery along the cobbled streets was to die for! No. 9, Nyhavn, is the oldest house in Copenhagen dating to the 1680s!

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The next morning we ventured to Carlsburg Brewery. This brewery, dating to 1847 was a trip highlight! We did a self-guided tour and seeing the difference modern vs. historic brewing materials was really interesting, plus we enjoy Carlsburg Beer! The brewery allowed guests the option to pay for a horse carriage ride in the Carlsburg District, but Kevin and I opted to just visit the horses in the stables. It was fun to walk around the brewery/district for the morning (hey, it’s 5:00 somewhere!).

In the afternoon we ventured onto the bus (which was clean, but not a lot was written in English, so have a person with good directional skills or a plan!) to go find the statue of the Little Mermaid. While the statue herself is underwhelming, she is a popular tourist attraction, and it was fun to go find her at the Langelinie promenade and take a picture (see above).

The meals weren’t great in Copenhagen – pickled herring isn’t really my thing, but we found a tasty Italian restaurant there called Bueno! And of course we stopped to buy a Danish (pastry) whenever we could!

On our third day, we went to Christiansborg Palace, one of the residences of the royal family. The royal family still hosts events at the palace, so it was interesting to see! I enjoyed the ruins underneath the palace, the artwork in the Royal Reception Rooms, and the Royal Kitchen. I also loved the library which reminded me of Beauty and the Beast! The cost was about 25 USD (or 150 Danish Kroner). We also had the opportunity to take an elevator to The Tower where we saw breathtaking views of the city (if only it hadn’t been cloudy and cold!).

The evening on our third day was the experience we had come all the way to Copenhagen to experience – Tivoli! Tivoli was truly one of the most magical places I have ever been, and the entire night, I couldn’t stop smiling. Tivoli Gardens is a charming amusement park and pleasure garden in the heart of the Copenhagen. It opened in 1843 and (barely!) survived Nazi occupation during World War II. The reason Tivoli was especially magical was because of the Christmas season. The lights and rides and music and ambiance and Glogg just made me feel warm inside (even though I was definitely cold on the outside!). Without a doubt, Tivoli made a good trip, a great one. If you are visiting Copenhagen you do not want to miss this on your trip, but be careful. They aren’t open year-round. They close for several weeks in the late fall to prepare for the holidays. Tickets don’t come cheap – especially if you want to go on rides. Entrance for us (no rides included) was about $40. Some may consider that a lot of money just to “walk around,” but to me the experience was worth the money.

Copenhagen was a delight, and I am glad we paired it with our trip to London. If you are looking for a European city to visit for a few days during the holiday season, Copenhagen is a fantastic opinion! Skål (Cheers)!