Some notes on favorite places among the states that I have visited...
Birmingham - It is a challenge to pick the appropriate noun to describe this one. It is much too large to be just a town, but it is much too laid back to be termed a city. It was somewhat difficult to find a restaurant that was open late. Once I did, the comfort food was as good as any in the deep South and the people are chatty and personable. I enjoyed the ease with which the locals struck up conversation and, I must say, I always find that drawl accent quite charming.
I have not visited the State of Alaska yet. I look forward to traveling here soon. If you have recommendations for places to visit in Alaska, please email me.
Mogollon Rim - Many people think of Arizona as consisting mostly of dust, cactus and tumbleweeds. However, this is far from the truth. It has to be one of the most diverse landscapes in the country, featuring all sorts of terrain from rugged desert to alpine forest and everything in between. The Mogollon Rim, running roughly east to west through the center of the state, shows a dramatic shift between the desert floor and dense forest practically right next to each other. It is beautiful country and, if you are one to enjoy the beauty of nature, this is a good place to get your fill.
Tempe - My original stomping grounds will always hold a treasured place in my heart. One of my favorite places to relax was Kiwanis Park at Mill and Baseline. The lake seems much, much smaller now - mostly because my world has vastly expanded since I was a kid. Even so, feeding the ducks there is always a good daydreaming activity. Just a short hop away from the campus of Arizona State, there was a nostalgic burger joint housed in a barn that looked a bit rough from the outside and, to be honest, was a bit rough on the inside as well. Minder Binder's served up a classic American-style burger that tasted much better than you should expect in such a place. It was also quite a happening spot for after-hours drinking and carousing and hosted beach volleyball when the weather was cooperative. Mill Avenue is the place to be now. Anywhere on Mill between University and First Street will place you among some of the best people-watching that the Valley of the Sun has to offer. Monti's La Casa Vieja is a favorite restaurant of mine there. It may look rustic from the outside, but the atmosphere, and especially the food, are top-notch on the inside.
Texarkana - This was an interesting little city. It is situated right on the Texas - Arkansas border and has a town hall which is smack dab on the border, with half of the building in Arkansas and half in Texas. Inside the building, the state line is marked in the floor with no obstructions so that you could travel between Texas and Arkansas without exiting the building. Each state has its own entrance, too. I have not seen any office buildings quite like this one in all of my travels.
San Diego - Besides the obvious tourist destinations of Sea World and the San Diego Zoo, there are so many things to do in my adopted hometown. Some of my favorites are Balboa Park - featuring dozens of museums and art exhibits, Seaport Village - a touristy collection of shops off of San Diego Bay, and the Oceanside Pier - a beautiful place to enjoy a sunset over the ocean.
San Francisco Bay Area - This is a nice weekend escape from Southern California for me. I enjoyed walking around the redwood parks (there are several in the area), going through the Presidio and strolling along Pier 39.
Cherry Creek Reservoir, Aurora - Nearby my dad's old house, this park has all sorts of neat trails to hike or bike through.
Manitou Springs, near Colorado Springs - This is a touristy, but well-preserved, old-style mining town nestled up against the Rockies, on the way to Pike's Peak. The railroad that goes up to Pike's Peak is a must see, even if the air is pretty thin there for those of us who are used to breathing at sea-level.
Lower Connecticut River - The drive along State Route 154, from Middletown to Essex is just beautiful. Rustic, remote, tree-lined - what I have always imagined New England to be like.
Mystic Seaport - One of the older ports in lower New England, I found Mystic charming for its small-town feel and mariner history.
Wilmington - I did not get to spend much time here, but the surrounding area is beautiful. To me, the city seemed to be draped around the scenery, rather than imposing upon it.
The National Mall - People say that the city of Washington was designed to humble foreign heads of state who visited. Upon taking in the view of the National Mall, especially the Capitol building itself and the view from the Washington Monument towards the Lincoln Memorial, I felt pretty humbled myself.
Orlando - DisneyWorld! I thought that some rides were inferior to their California counterparts, especially Space Mountain. However, Pirates of the Caribbean was wonderfully done and the Twilight Zone and Aerosmith Rock & Roll Coaster rides were quite a thrill. Even in the oppressive Florida summer heat, DisneyWorld is completely overwhelming.
Underground, Atlanta - This seems to me to be the happening place in the Atlanta area. Many of the old Civil War era buildings are preserved and, even though they bear modern names now, such as The Gap, Tower Records, etc., it is still cool to see how they have kept the buildings there amidst the middle of a bustling downtown.
I have not visited the State of Hawaii yet. I look forward to traveling here soon. If you have recommendations for places to visit in Hawaii, please email me.
Pioneer Auto Trail, between Lava Hot Springs and Soda Springs - I love a wide open drive through the country and this was certainly a beautiful one. The air was crisp and clean and the land very picturesque. The road held several historical markers along the way, pointing out interesting people and events from the days when the Oregon Trail was the major route for going to the West Coast from St. Louis. The traffic up here was pretty light, so it was easy to pull over every now and then to take in the air, look around at the scenery and safely return to the road.
Wrigley Field, Chicago - This stadium is such a classic - with many unique attributes I have not seen in any other park. From the ivy-coated fence in the outfield to the seats perched across the street on top of surrounding buildings, it felt like I could have been watching a game 100 years ago. I particularly enjoyed how easy it was to get a wonderful seat just 7 rows up from the field along the third baseline.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway - I was able to go to the Indy 500 in May 2008 and what a spectacle that was! I had never been much of a racecar fan - races on television seemed to be little more than a bunch of blurry blotches executing 3 or 4 hours of left-hand turns. However, experiencing the Indy 500 in person gave me a completely different experience. Watching and *hearing* the roar of the engines speeding by turned out to be much more exciting than I could have imagined.
Lawrenceville - When I drove through this town, I could see what John Cougar Mellencamp was singing about when he spoke of his fondness of small-town USA and liking the atmosphere there ("Small Town"). I know that many parts of the US look like this town, with big houses, wide lots of land, and yet still managing to keep the neighbors close to one another. This particular town impressed me for the small size of its town square, consisting of one main street, about 1/4 mile long that was still bustling with activity.
Missouri River, along the border with South Dakota, just north of Sioux City - I imagine that this part of the country, even with a major Interstate running over it, probably bears striking resemblance to the way it looked when Lewis & Clark passed through on their pioneering expedition.
Spring Hill (Kansas City area) - In Spring Hill, in the far southwest outskirts of the KC metro area, there is a little dive of a place that serves KC-style BBQ that is quite tasty and an exceptional value. Check out K&M's BBQ pit!
Burkesville - A tucked away country town that could readily be confused with the Mayberry of Andy Griffith fame ("The Andy Griffith Show"). All the locals gather at a small restaurant called The Pool Hall to hang out and talk about what is going on. I highly recommend having the biscuits with chocolate gravy, a local specialty, for breakfast if you happen to pass through the area. It does not seem very appealing to say (chocolate gravy??), but it is actually quite tasty and, of course, loaded with sugar!
French Quarter, New Orleans - Where else? It seems as though there is always a party here, be it in the middle of the week, on a weekend or on Mardi Gras. I highly recommend the highly-addictive beignets served in the famous Cafe du Monde in the heart of the French Quarter, as well as a visit to one of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants, NOLA.
Garden District, New Orleans - New Orleans is such a vibrant city, it is difficult to pick out just a few places to talk about. The Garden District is high on my list for all of the wrought-iron architecture and manicured homes. All of the homes are impressively built amidst thick trees and omni-present ivy. This style of home building, to me, seems to be unique to New Orleans, although upon taking in the handsome structures, it is a head-scratcher as to why this style is not more prevalent throughout America.
Calais (near the Canadian border on State Route 9) - This charming little town is quite peaceful and made me understand why Stephen King chose Maine for the setting for many of his stories and for the place in which he would like to live. Maine is notorious for having hard to reach places. Who has not heard the saying "You cannot get there from here" spoken with a distinct New England twang? A case in point - my trip through Calais was during a business trip to Saint John, New Brunswick. Due to the high cost of flying into Saint John, I flew instead into Bangor, Maine with the intention of driving up to Saint John the next day. The road distance from Bangor to Saint John is a tad over 170 miles. The road to get there is somewhat curvy, but does not go far out of the way in any direction. Even so, the drive from Bangor to Saint John takes approximately 4 hours. It was a lovely drive through the small towns and dense forest canopy of eastern Maine. I would love to do that drive again sometime, especially in the fall with what must be a magnificent display of leaves changing color. This is a great drive, particularly for someone looking to escape contact with fast-paced city living by retreating to the countryside. Be forewarned, though --- the coverage for cellular phone service in most of this part of the country is barely available at all. I encountered very weak signals and, when I did have a signal, there was so much noise on the line as to render the phone useless. Definitely worth the drive through though!
Cape Neddick - The town is not so unique - kind of a blip on the map really. What drew me out to this neck of the woods were rumors of a particularly tasty hot dog stand that simply must be sampled. Flo's Hot Dogs is not, by any measure, a flashy establishment. It is housed in a converted trailer that is just big enough to accommodate 20 or so customers at a time (Standing Room Only) who, when busy, are encouraged to crowd inside and then bark out all of their orders to the proprietor. Once collected, the orders are filled in assembly-line fashion with an occasional sassy comment here and there. One does not normally associate anything but lobsters with Maine, but these hot dogs are worthy of a trip down Route 1. The most popular preparation is white bread + mayonnaise + hot dog + Flo's special relish + celery salt. It does not sound or even look especially appealing but believe me when I say that the taste conjured up by that mixture of flavors will leave you wishing that you had ordered just one more to go - no matter how many you took on your first go-round!
Upper Potomac River, near Williamsport - This country drive is gorgeous year-round, but especially in the fall, when the leaves are changing. I only wish I had had enough time to be able to travel some of the backroads to explore further.
Boston Common - This is a fairly quiet place to relax, despite being in the middle of a large city. I had a great time just watching the crowds walk in and around the central square in the morning. The bar on which the sitcom "Cheers" was based is also just across the street from one of the main entrances to the park. The show set was not an exact replica of this bar, but many of the more memorable features from the TV set are there and will be easily recognizable for even the most casual Cheers fan. Definitely cheeky, but it was a nice little pit stop on the trail of nostalgia.
Fenway Park - There is just something about this ballpark! It is impossibly small and The Green Monster makes left field look downright tiny, but I found the fans to be a great pleasure - few cities can claim to have fans that hang on the hopes of their local team as much as Red Sox devotees do. Catching a game in Fenway was like catching a ride back in time to a simpler place. Even though the Red Sox have lately been spending loads of money in their attempts to win a championship and to compete with their hated nemesis, the Yankees, it is clear from this park that the fans' devotion to their team hails from a simple place - that of a lifelong love and desire to see their team succeed.
Frankenmuth - This town in eastern Michigan has maintained its Bavarian origins in a unique style. Frankenmuth celebrates the holiday of Christmas year-round, decorated with festive lights, decorations and cheery displays. Personally, I enjoyed the fudge and cheese stores the most. The town is about a 90 minute drive from Grand Rapids, or 60 minutes from Detroit. If you have the opportunity to visit, it is worth the time to make the trip. If you go, be sure to visit Bronner's - the world's largest Christmas store, where you are sure to be overwhelmed by all of the Nativity scenes, ornaments, etc., etc. that they have - from the miniature to the gigantic!
Grand Rapids - I enjoyed a White Christmas here during the 2003 holidays and got to visit the Gerald Ford Presidential Library. It was the first Presidential Library I have visited and considering that Ford served a very brief 2 1/2 years in the White House, I was impressed with all of the artifacts there. It was fun to jump back in time to this period and to contemplate what it must have been like for him to inherit the Presidency during the crisis of the Watergate scandal. Faced with an impossible decision, Ford made a choice to pardon Nixon and end the ongoing investigation promptly, rather than endure the possibility of a long and protracted trial that may have damaged the credibility of the government beyond repair. Most people credit that decision with Ford's eventual loss to Carter a few years later, but many historians now believe that he made the best choice that was available for the future of the country.
Bemidji - This idyllic little town is situated in northern central Minnesota on the edge of a lake and is home to the famous larger-than-life statues of Paul Bunyan and his Big Blue Ox. I suppose that I am a sucker for touristy stuff, but it was cool to stumble upon these figures in a fairly remote city while driving through the Minnesota countryside.
Fergus Falls - The area around this small town is literally littered with lakes and ponds. I had always heard that Minnesota was the land of 10,000 lakes, but I thought that this was merely a gross exaggeration. After going through Fergus Falls, I now think that 10,000 lakes may be selling Minnesota a little short!
Gulfport - Driving along East Beach Boulevard, shortly before dusk, there is a surprisingly beautiful view of the "Redneck Riviera" to take in. I never quite knew what to think of Mississippi, given all of the negative depictions from film and news headlines. Mississippi is often portrayed as a dusty, rusty and musty backwater populated by hillbillies and toothless hermits. Those stereotypes are thoroughly blown out of the water within the stretch of beach between Gulfport and Biloxi though. It is some of the most scenic coastline that I have been fortunate enough to walk along. I saw it for the first time in the spring of 2010 - long after Hurricane Katrina had hit but, sadly, still showing awesome and blatant scars from the storm. One does not have to look for long to find bare foundations of homes resembling a kind of row of tombstones marking the plots where, only a handful of years ago, people would lay around and savor the vistas. It is striking how bare those foundations are. In many cases, even the above ground plumbing has been completely wiped away, torn from the cement itself. Yet the beach, with plenty of fine white sand and cool breezes, maintains a natural beauty that seems to whisper that it will be only a matter of time before the people - tourists and homesteaders - will return. My visit was just before the BP Deepwater Horizons oil rig disaster, so I do not know first-hand how that has affected this specific area. As it was with Katrina, this area is probably facing a high risk that it will be somewhat overlooked in the cleanup efforts as much of the attention focuses upon New Orleans and the lower Louisiana coast. As also with Katrina, though, it is hard to imagine a single catastrophe that would be capable of completely depriving the Mississippi coast of its beauty. I hope to visit again in a few years to explore the Redneck Riviera some more!
Westport, Kansas City - This is the liveliest section of Missouri's largest city. I enjoy stopping off at the Westport Flea Market Bar & Grill for a juicy burger. Their burgers are always excellent and they open up the condiment bar, letting you dress it up just as you like. I personally like to slather on a nice helping of thousand island sauce, a few pickles and a side of mayo (for dipping the fries), but there is a good choice of additions and the folks at Westport won't watch over your shoulder to shame you into skimping on the toppings! Generous helpings are the order of the day and the prices are a bargain. Just make sure that you bring cash, because they won't take credit cards and they won't let you run a tab. Kelly's is a nice little bar with a tinge of Irish charm just up the street, in the heart of the Westport district. After relaxing there for a while, I like to stroll 39th and, if I can get away with staying up late, check out the clubs just to the south of the main drag. I have always found the fellow patrons in Westport to be friendly and pleasant, even to outsiders like myself.
I have not visited the State of Montana yet. I look forward to traveling here soon. If you have recommendations for places to visit in Montana, please email me.
South Sioux City - More of a village than a town, this city is just across the Missouri River from Sioux City, Iowa. Much smaller than the Iowa city across the river, it certainly seems to romanticize the simple way of life for which Nebraska is known.
Boulder Dam, Lake Mead - It is cliche to say that this dam is an engineering marvel, but that is only because it is a true statement. Standing at the top of the dam and looking over the edge, I believe that anyone would succumb to a feeling of vertigo. It is stunning to think that the dam was built long before computers, highways and electric air-conditioning might have made the process seem only slightly impossible. I hear that it is no longer possible to go inside the dam, due to security concerns, and this is a shame. Nevertheless, the wonder of it is easy to take in while walking across this mammoth structure.
The Strip, Las Vegas - Yes, it is all glitz and quite fake, but where else could you visit ancient Egypt, New York, Rome, Paris and many other exotic destinations in a single day? I am not one to get carried away with gambling, but Las Vegas offers wonderful food choices and shows to cater to just about any taste. It is truly an escape from the every day.
Dixville Notch - This is a quirky little tourist spot that most people outside of New England would probably never stumble upon unless they specifically set out for it. I stumbled upon it myself while taking a day to tour the back-country of New Hampshire. An interesting fact about this town that I overheard on one of my favorite TV shows, "The West Wing", and confirmed while reading several markers in and around Dixville Notch --- this town is traditionally the very first area of the United States to cast votes in each Presidential election. Dixville Notch has opened their polls on Election Day at midnight in each election cycle since 1960. All of the town's eligible voters gather in the town to cast their votes, the polls are officially closed one minute later, and they count the ballots immediately upon casting in order to be the first precinct to report their results, which are often broadcasted nationwide, right afterwards. The rumored claim from the TV show back in 2000 was that the candidate winning the vote tally in Dixville Notch has gone on to win the election in each of the past 80 years (or something along those lines). Although that claim is completely fictional (the Dixville Notch winner has gone on to win 7 of the 13 presidential elections that were held from 1960-2008), it is a funny little distinction to find among a town that is pretty remote from any large settlements.
Portsmouth - This old colonial town certainly sports a kitschy tourist vibe, but there is also something very genuine about the locals' appreciation for a visit. I especially enjoyed the flower gardens out by the Liberty Pole, where there is a dazzling variety of color and types of flowers to walk amongst.
Morristown - Upon visiting this fairly rural part of New Jersey, I have come to the conclusion that the Garden State sure gets an undeserved bad rap most of the time. Most Americans poke a lot of fun at New Jersey for being the industrial wasteland and toxic waste dump of the country. In fact, most of New Jersey is quite picturesque and, although there is very little of Northern New Jersey that is not developed in some way, it still looks like the buildings and roads are tucked into the country out there.
Santa Fe - This is a stunning city for the architecture, which could easily be hundreds of years old from the looks of it. Understand that you might think it to be hundreds of years old based upon the style, rather than the condition, of the buildings. Buildings in the city are almost entirely built in native-style adobe, yet they carry modern touches that keep the city vibrant, rather than looking worn down and old.
Central Park, Manhattan - Walking through this immense park, it is incredible to think that it is placed right in the middle of one of the most heavily populated cities in the world. Around the Conservatory Pond, it is easy to forget that you are in the middle of such a huge city. In fact, from many vantage points, you cannot see any tall buildings or hear the noises of the city. My favorite part of Central Park, though, was getting an ice-cream sandwich from one of the cart vendors, walking through the Strawberry Fields and stretching out on the Bowling Greens. If I ever were to live amidst all the bustle that is New York City, I would definitely find myself retreating to this area often to rejuvenate my senses.
Mid-town, Manhattan - I do not believe that there is any place in the world that can match it for excitement. I especially loved touring the various sights, including the Empire State Building, Times Square (with the immense variety of live shows available) and the excitement of the throngs of people all walking with a purpose to go somewhere. I have fallen in love with the theater and I believe most people in the know would agree that NYC is the pinnacle. I could never live there for it is much too harried, but I love to visit it every chance I get.
Niagara Falls - I am not sure whether this is officially one of the Wonders of Nature or not, but it is certainly highly impressive among all of the places I have been. Watching the water pour over the edge of the Falls and witnessing the fury and violence of the rapids leading up to it, I cannot imagine what would possess someone to think that going over the Falls in a barrel would be fun. I took the Maid of the Mist (from the Canadian side of the Falls) to the base of the Falls and it was a moving experience. When the boat reaches the Falls, if you stand at the front of the boat and look up, you will be able to see nothing but cascading water and mist. It completely blocks out the sky, land and any other points of reference (except, of course, for the boat itself). It sure is a good thing that they give you a temporary rain coat to wear on that trip. Even if they did not supply a raincoat, the view from there would be well worth getting thoroughly drenched!
Raleigh - Although somewhat hot and humid at the time of year when I visited (early August), I was pleasantly surprised at how nice the weather was in Raleigh. The area around the city is steeped in greenery and the people were exceedingly friendly. In fact, I believe that just about everyone I bumped into there was all too happy to engage in conversation - from commenting about the weather to talking about the classic BBQ style for which North Carolina is well known. Actually, as far as BBQ goes, this was a topic of great debate as I discovered that North Carolina carries two distinct styles of BBQ which surprised me yet again. I am familiar with Kansas City style BBQ and Texas style, but it amazes me, given the relative land masses of Texas and North Carolina, that Texas should have one predominant style of cookin' while North Carolina has two. I seemed to have developed a fondness for the Eastern North Carolina style (referred to in those parts simply as "Eastern style") which is radically different from Texas or Kansas City. Eastern style BBQ eschews brisket, chicken, turkey and just about every other kind of typical BBQ meat for pork exclusively. The "sauce", if it can even be called that, has a strong vinegar kick to it, but unlike most other BBQ, the meat is only lightly braised with the sauce rather than covered and drowning in it. It did not look very appealing on the plate but, rest assured, it tasted very good! Alongside the meat, North Carolina (Eastern) seems to place a high culinary value upon hushpuppies - deep fried balls of cornbread that I found surprisingly tasty - almost like a dessert, but not quite sweet enough to be called that. Crowning off the meal, a nice tall glass of "sweet tea". I have come to realize that sweet tea is a drink that pervades the entire South but, in all of my previous travels, I had not encountered the term. It is basically iced tea where the sugar is infused into the tea before it is brewed in the sun. By contrast, most of us Westerners would brew the tea by itself and then add sugar to it only when it is served. The infusion of the sugar did make quite a difference and, I must admit, the sweet tea was especially refreshing during the hot and humid summer afternoon.
Blanchard - This town is a little off the beaten path and there is not a great deal special about it. I wound up there because I was intrigued by a note on my road atlas that this town has the tallest man-made structure in North America. There is a TV tower just outside of town that is 2,063 feet tall. By comparison, the Empire State Building is 1,453 feet from the foundation to the top of the lightning rod. As of 2010, that North Dakota TV tower is the second tallest man-made structure in the world, next to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which is 2,717 feet tall. I had fun with a trivia question when I came back from my trip - "Where is the tallest man-made structure in North America located?" One would probably think New York (Empire State or the under-construction Freedom Tower), Chicago (John Hancock Building) or Toronto (CN Tower), but, apparently, the correct answer is tiny Blanchard, North Dakota!
Cincinnati - The Queen of the West. The thing that struck me most about Cincinnati was its odd devotion to chili. Specifically, the way that it is normally served in those parts. The standard dish of chili is served over spaghetti noodles and topped with onions and cheese. Let me add my voice to the multitudes singing the praises of Skyline Chili, a gastronomic institution there.
The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City - This was a fun museum to visit. It includes a life-size mock up of an Old West town, complete with saloon, chapel, blacksmith and all the fixin's. It also holds the famous sculpture, "End of the Trail", which is a tribute to the Native American warrior's way of life.
Coos Bay - Along Oregon's southern coast, this peaceful beach town is filled with beautiful scenery and all sorts of ma and pa shops to browse. My favorite was the Cranberry Sweets Company, where they have all sorts of candies that you can browse, try, and buy. I could easily have dropped a few hundred dollars in there, considering how many good tastes I found. In the end, my sensibility won out, but I did end up buying a couple of boxes of treats to take home.
Independence National Historical Park, central Philadelphia - I mention elsewhere on this site that I am an avid history-buff and Philadelphia is chock full of historical sites that are pretty special to Americans. Many would consider this city the birthplace of the American Republic. Independence Park contains many preserved buildings from the colonial area and many markers describing important persons, businesses and events that took place there which helped to shape the opinions and philosophies of several of our Founding Fathers. One of the figures I most admire, Benjamin Franklin, both for his reasoned philosophies for approaching every day life and for his impassioned arguments regarding liberty and freedom, frequented this part of town back in the day. I enjoyed walking through there and thinking how this area filled him with such optimism for a young nation.
Cheesesteak Crossroads, Philadelphia - At the X-shaped intersection of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue in south Philly, one of the most storied food rivalries anywhere can be savored. The original home of the steak sandwich, Pat's King of Steaks, and the original home of the steak PLUS cheese sandwich, Geno's Steaks, are set diagonally across from one another. Their proximity is a luring invitation to sample both in an effort to discern the true Master of the Philly Cheesesteak. I felt oddly guilty about going directly from one to the other since they have a semi-friendly, semi-dismissive rivalry going on, so I stretched out my personal taste test across two days in order to give both Pat's and Geno's a respective lunch all to themselves. Each steak was very enjoyable for me, although I would have to give a slight nod to Geno's, the more glitzy of the two establishments, for serving a piping hot, cheese-oozing, hunger-stomping "One Whiz Wit" (a steak sandwich with Cheez Whiz and grilled onions) that left me craving more!
Narragansett - The drive around Narragansett up and down the coast holds a gorgeous procession of coastal estates, relatively pristine natural beauty and the common tourist stops that are very subtly done so that they do not overwhelm with a sense of being touristy. I spent a bit of time up around The Towers, which are a sort of watchpost through which the main road winds. There is a walking area and park nearby, along with a windswept beach. If I lived in this part of the country, I am certain I would find myself returning occasionally to this area to unwind whenever I could find opportunity.
Warwick - The coastal views are beautiful to take in but I must confess that it was a little seafood stand that had my heart and stomach singing here. Iggy's Doughboys & Chowder House sells the perfect cure for a blustery day out near the shoreline. Their clam chowder is perfectly creamy and they are very generous with the chunks of clam meat. To couple that with their gooey doughboys (deep-fried morsels of dough rolled in cinnamon sugar) was a stroke of genius!
Westerly - This town, in the southwestern tip of Rhode Island, was like a blast from the past of Main Street America. Even though I was not around in the 50's, Westerly is a lot like how I imagined it to be. Just going through town made me feel nostalgic. The drive to get there, along US Route 1, is a lovely drive as well.
Sumter National Forest (centered around Whitmire) - Driving through this densely wooded forest area, and passing alongside numerous historical markers, expansive streams and hilly trails, I was reminded of the history books I had read of the US Civil War. Specifically, how so many of the battles took place in rugged terrain and heavy foliage that, in many cases, led to battles either in close quarters or among infantry who could barely see each other. I hopped out of my car at a few points along the route and wandered just a tad into the forest although, being pressed for time and not having a compass or detailed map along with me, I was reluctant to venture too far into the woods. I was impressed by how easy it would be to get completely lost among the trees in this place. Only a few minutes away from the main road, you could stand and turn in a complete circle, beholding nothing but trees and brush as far as could be seen. I hope that on a return trip someday, I could have more time to explore the back country here and take in all of the natural beauty it has to offer.
Vermillion - This area is close to the Missouri River as it forms the eastern South Dakota - Nebraska border. This is Lewis & Clark country and the immediate area around the river has been left fairly unspoiled. It must have been exciting for them as they crossed this country and could view the large expanses of plains that were only settled by the occasional native tribe here and there.
Lynchburg - A proud and quaint little town that is most famous as the home of the Jack Daniel Distillery. The tour of the distillery is only slightly disappointing in that there are no samples to be had at the end of it. Aside from that rather minor disappointment, the visit to JD's world headquarters is well worth the trip into rural Tennessee, which is at least a couple hours' drive from any major city. Ironically, the epicenter of American whiskey production happens to be within the borders of a county that has not yet attained a large enough population to hold a vote on whether to legalize the sale of alcohol. Therefore, the default law of the state holds that the consumption and sale of alcohol is prohibited within that county. Fortunately, JD was able to wrangle a special concession that allows them to sell "souvenir" bottles at the end of the tour and, by the way, those bottles happen to be filled with the product. The souvenir bottles were a bit too pricey for my blood, but the tour was fascinating and they do provide some very sweet lemonade and cookies as a reward for completing the walk through. I found the Jack Daniel tour much more educational about the distillation process and the culture of the company than any other brewery/distillery tours that I have taken. Better still, the tour actually takes you through a few nice and scenic areas. The grounds are more than just a series of buildings and roadways for production and transportation. There are a few nice brooks and streams and, come to think of it, even the buildings themselves are charming in a rustic way. Even though there are no product samples given, there are a couple of stops on the tour where I swore I could feel a bit of a buzz coming on merely from breathing the air (taking a whiff from the final filtering chamber and, especially, in the warehouse, where the filled oak barrels are aged prior to final bottling - the ambient vapors there will certainly have you tasting whiskey even though you cannot have a drop!). For the rest of that day, I was craving a real taste of the distinctive JD rich oak-tinted whiskey which, I am happy to say, I satisfied that evening!
San Angelo - I spent several summers here while I was growing up. My dad lived in San Angelo, working for the local cable operator for several years. I have fond memories of walking through the park in the center of town, along the banks of the Concho River. I also recall that this small west Texas town could throw quite a party around the Fourth of July and the Concho River festival, with all sorts of fine BBQ and Texas-sized portions of grilled steak.
San Antonio - This is one of my favorite cities to visit of all the places I have been. The Alamo, the Riverwalk and so much Tex-Mex culture. This city also has the best fajitas in the world that I have yet tasted - at La Margarita restaurant, in El Mercado, just off of the Riverwalk. Be sure to order the fajita dinner, which is brought out to you on a steaming skillet - that dish is far better than the regular fajita plates and lunches that they offer. To accompany the fajitas, I recommend one of La Margarita's signature "fish-bowl" margaritas. With one of these Texas-sized drinks in your hand, it will be more than sufficient to quench any thirst you may have had upon coming in.
Salt Lake City - This turned out to be a fun city, even though a little quirky. The city is mapped to a grid which has as its central point, the Mormon Temple. All addresses in the city are numbered from the Temple, extending outward in all four directions. Even though I do not subscribe to their belief system, I must say that the Temple is quite an impressive piece of architecture. Utah is infamous for its archaic liquor laws, which allow only certain places to serve alcohol and have fairly strict limits on the times and places it can be purchased. I managed to find a nice place called Port O' Call in the southwest section [ 78 W 400 South - (801) 521-0589 ] that served good food, good brew and had a rocking band, too. Sadly, it appears that the Port O' Call has since closed.
Stowe - I really enjoy New England. There is just something about the small towns dotted all along the roads that meander through countryside and along rivers. As beautiful as Vermont is, I picked Stowe to list here because, in addition to all the natural beauty of Northern Vermont, Stowe is the world headquarters for Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Company. I had to restrain myself from spending too much time there, as their ice-cream is oh-so-good, with the natural Vermont cream they use and the exotic flavors they mix. They also pick pretty corny names for all their flavors which seems to add to the flavor somehow (my favorite is Cherry Garcia - a wordplay on the Grateful Dead's late lead singer, Jerry Garcia). The drive along State Route 100, north of I-89, is a sensory overload with all its trees, covered bridges and country streams.
Shenandoah River Valley - This part of Virginia is certainly out of the way, but worth the trip. The drive to this part of Virginia runs along some of the more important sites in the Civil War, including not too far from Manassas. The river itself is enormous, at least by southern California standards, and it is lined with towering trees and thick greenery.
Seattle - It struck me as a funny city - crouched right up along Puget Sound and seeming to barely hang on to terra firma. The view from the Space Needle towards the snow-capped mountains is worth the elevator ride to the top. I am not a coffee drinker, so I probably have missed out on Seattle's most talked about attraction. Nonetheless, the people of Seattle have managed to build themselves a sizable city that fits in nicely with its natural surroundings. I believe they may be a bit politically liberal there, for my tastes, but I must give them credit --- their fervent love of the environment is evident in the way the city blends in to the nature.
Opequon River, in the extreme eastern part of West Virginia - This river, a tributary to the Potomac, is backwoods hillbilly country at its best. I suppose this is representative of what West Virginia is known for, backwater country livin'. I found it peaceful and serene, even though it is difficult to access.
Milwaukee - The town famous for its devotion to beer, Milwaukee has a working-class air to it and the folks are friendly and quick to strike you up in a conversation.
Fossil Butte National Monument (near Kemmerer) - A nice out of the way place to hike through, this Monument holds all types of fossils from dinosaurs and birds to insects and reptiles. The scenery is beautiful there, as well. Being somewhat remote from any settlements, the land is virtually unspoiled, except for the roads to get there.
The animated flags for the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong,
the Principality of Liechtenstein and Vatican City are provided courtesy of Jim Chou of
Virtual Land Media (http://www.virtuallandmedia.com/)
All other animated flag graphics on this page are provided courtesy of Free Graphics & Animations (http://www.fg-a.com/)
� Earl Langenberg - 2003, 2010, 2014