Travel

Best Bike Trail in Kansas City?

by Cathy on June 3, 2012 · 3 comments

in Travel

So our last child is going to college. You would think this is mid-life crisis time but neither one of us wants to buy the red convertible. We bought a different kind of ride — bikes! We are now on a quest to explore the Midwest (U.S.?) on two wheels. We live in the southern part of the city that has countless wooded, paved trails. I love being outdoors but I’ve got to admit that an urban ride is a lot more interesting. Here is where we went.

1. We rode on the Trolley Track Trail, the site of the last streetcar line in Kansas City. We parked in a lot outside The Well in the Waldo area — we were one of several cars with bike racks — and picked up the trail there. The next time we do this trail, we will probably start in Brookside because we had to contend with a few busy streets to cross from Waldo into Brookside.

2. The trail drops off and picks up just past the shops in Brookside. This is where the trail is particularly lovely. We drove past lovely stone churches, through old city parks and past bungalow, cottage-type homes in Brookside. (Did I mention that I would love to live in Brookside?)

3. From Brookside, we drove past the edge of the UMKC Campus and on down to the Plaza. The Plaza section of the trail runs along Brush Creek. The view is lovely but the cleanliness of the water? Not so much. (That’s my bike companion, also known as husband, in the photo.)

4. We traveled along Brush Creek, then turned around and went up the hill to the Plaza Library, where we locked up the bikes. Then we ate lunch outdoors at The Mixx, a great restaurant across the parking lot. I had the Garden of Eden salad with chicken, cranberries, (hold the Gorgonzola cheese) with a champagne vinaigrette and a whole-grain roll. Amazing! Wish we could have taken the leftovers home on the bike.

5. Then we spent time in the Plaza Library cooling off. In addition to an amazing view of the Plaza, the library has some fascinating exhibits. One was a photo exhibit of the architectural firm, Hare and Hare, that designed much of Kansas City … the Country Club Plaza, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s original building, much of the Sunset Hill Neighborhood … and on and on.

6. From there we headed back to Brookside and stopped for iced coffee at the Roasterie. From there, we headed back.

For a list of other great bike trails in the KC area, visit Trails/KCBike.Info or just keep following our blog. We plan to cover them all so stay tuned — and I promise to take more photos.

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Make It Count: A Cool Video

by Cathy on April 12, 2012 · 0 comments

in Ideas,Travel

Actor and director Casey Neistat was hired by Nike to make a video with the theme “Make It Count.” Instead, he used the money to travel the world with his friend Max until the money ran out. (Smart man!) The resulting video he created is pretty amazing but then, hey, I love to travel. I also love the inspiring quotes that appear in the video.

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We took the same Carnival Cruise twice, three years apart, and booked two wildly different shore excursions in Progresso, Mexico. The first excursion was tourism at its worst — local merchants constantly pestering us to buy cheap souvenirs as we attempted to sunbathe on the beach. This most recent excursion was a grand adventure, rich with local culture, beauty and physical activities. (Though the scuba nightmare and the human sacrifices lent a chilling air to the experience!)

Our excursion began with an hour van ride to a small Mayan village. (Yes, the Mayan people still exist!) A primitive dirt road wound its way past simple, side-by-side shacks and led to our first stop, a bicycle shop, We hopped on mountain bikes and trekked along bumpy paths through the jungle to a cenote — a natural sinkhole filled with crystal clear water. The cenote resembles a water-filled cave with stalagtites and stalagmites.

The Yucatán Peninsula is the site of the largest series of cenotes in the world. Two creepy facts: First, the ancient Mayans performed ritual (as in human!) sacrifices at the cenotes and just a few days before our visit, a scuba diver got lost in the vast array of underwater caves, never to be seen again. Thankfully, our snorkeling in the cenote was not nearly that dramatic. Before we jumped in the water, a Mayan shaman “blessed” our adventure with a Mayan prayer. Then he told us just a bit about the local plants and herbs he used to cure a host of physical maladies among the local villagers. An interesting guy!

After a bit of snorkeling, we pedaled to a larger cenote and snorkeled there. Then, we hopped back on our bikes and pedaled through the jungle to an open-air cottage with a thatch roof. Here the local Mayans fixed us a tasty, authentic Mexican lunch. (And no, we did not get sick eating it because they washed all the produce with bottled water.)

The van ride back to the cruise port found many of us dozing. We were exhausted but man, it was a good adventure! If you take the Carnival Cruise to the Yucatán Peninsula, be sure to book the Biking and Cenote Snorkeling Expedition.

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STA Travel Australia sent filmmaker Rick Mereki, actor Andrew Lees and traveler Tim White on an amazing trip around the world: 44 days, in 11 countries, 18 flights, totaling 38,000 miles. Three one-minute videos feature their journey of a lifetime. The videos each focus on a different subject: eating, learning and (see the previous post) traveling. Where do I sign up for this job?

Eat:

Learn:

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Be Inspired! This Video Will Do It

by Cathy on September 29, 2011 · 1 comment

in Ideas,Travel

This video reminds me of why I love to travel. Life is an adventure — embrace it!

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Another Hip St. Louis Neighborhood

by Cathy on July 17, 2011 · 3 comments

in Food,Travel

If you think St. Louis is just an arch and a pass-through town, you need to revisit! Some unique neighborhoods there make it worth the stop. My husband and I both started new jobs, our daughters have summer internships, so a long family vacation was out of the question. St. Louis rose to the top of the list because it’s only a four-hour drive from Kansas City. So, without further ado, here is hip STL neighborhood number two …

Soulard! This historically rich community dates back to 1840 when Julia Soulard, a wealthy French landowner (I love strong women!), donated part of her land to establish the town. European immigrants poured into the area about that time and many settled in Soulard. You can see their influence in the neighborhood’s narrow European-style lots. For you fellow architectural buffs, the buildings were all constructed from red brick in Federal, Italianite and Second Empire styles. Okay, enough history lesson, let’s go exploring!

First, we stopped for brunch at the Soulard Coffee Garden and Cafe — amazing omelletes, waffles, coffee … We found it using Yelp, our iPad to check out the web site and then the GPS on our iPhones to get us there How’s that for using technology to find breakfast! Using Yelp to find good restaurants seems to be a pretty full proof strategy …

 

The Soulard Farmer’s Market

 

Soulard, a cousin of New Orleans, has some similar architecture and its own Mardi Gras celebration.

A few cute shops …

And oh, the gardens …

 

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No One Told Me Omaha was Cool!

by Cathy on May 4, 2011 · 3 comments

in Ideas,Travel

Being from Kansas City, it probably isn’t fair for me to think that Omaha is not cool. Kansas City has long had a reputation as being a cow town but the fact is, there are some hip, trendy places to see in Kansas City. The same holds true for Omaha. We headed there last week to check out Creighton University for my college-bound daughter. (Loved the university but the price? Cough!) Here’s what we saw in Omaha.

We only had a couple of hours so we headed to the charming Old Market district, a colony of brick warehouses saved from the wrecking ball. We began with our top priority  — finding the best ice cream shop and that would be Ted and Wally’s Premium Homemade. My mocha on a cone was rich, creamy chocolate laced with ground coffee beans. It was yum and a coffee buzz all in one!

Next we walked the rows of cute restaurants and unique shops. My favorite was Nouvelle Eve, a shop full of one-of-a-kind women’s clothes that were big on style and with big prices!

The Old Market Passageway contained a treasure trove of ethnic shops and gift boutiques.

We wrapped up our visit at the Wheatfield’s Bakery where we bought loaves of pumpkin bread and lemon pound cake. Next door to the bakery was a cute cafe and coffee shop.

So if my daughter does end up at Creighton (think loads of scholarship money!) then we have a fun place to stay when we visit her. I’m sure she is praying that those visits don’t happen every weekend!

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I had forgotten that Washington DC is truly an international city until I took that first bite of dinner our first night there. We weren’t in a quaint Georgetown eatery. We were transported to Spain in a crimson and black restaurant pulsating with the music of flamenco dancers as food was served on small plates. Dinner was a parade of rich seafood and tasty vegetable dishes washed down with goblets brimming with sangria and fruit. La Bodega marked our first night. (See the details below for what we ordered for all three meals.)

The second night took us to India, where pungent curries and spicy stews greeted us at the doors of Rasika. The waiter assured me that the Chicken Tikka Masaala really wasn’t spicy. I begged to differ as I dove for a glass of ice water, though it was good.

 

Alas, I saved the best for last. Zaytinya, a Greek/Turkish restaurant, was simply amazing. The steady parade of dishes were mouth watering. From the piping hot, fresh pita delivered with a tray of three savory spreads, to the platters of lamb, vegetarian dishes and don’t even get me started on the dessert: fresh apricots marinated in liquor topped with creamy yogurt, a dollop of rich ice cream and crusted with pistachios. You would really have to taste it to believe it.

Zaytinya was created and is directed by celebrity chef Jose Andres, host of the PBS cooking show “Made in Spain,” author of numerous cookbooks, creator of many of DC’s most innovative restaurants and czar of a food empire. Yet, he was both humble and friendly as he stopped to chat with all the dinner guests and shake our hands. I was a bit starstruck!

The details — If you are in Washington DC and want to visit these restaurants, here is what we ordered and would recommend.
La Bodega: Sopa de Pescado con Fideos (Traditional Seafood Broth with Clams, Mussels and Fideo Noodles), Sopa de Lentejas  (Lentil Soup With Chorizo Sausage), Ensalada de Peras y Nueces (Field Green Salad With Pears, Walnuts & Goat Cheese In A Light Honey Vinaigrette), Tortilla Espanola, Spanish Tortilla (Potato, Onion & Egg Omelet), Gambas al Ajillo (Shrimp Saute?ed in Garlic, Piri-Piri Pepper & Crismona Olive Oil)

Rasika: Naan (traditional Indian bread), Chicken Tikka Masaala (a flavorful chicken stew served with rice), Lamb Roganjosh (a lamb stew with curry and chilies served with rice), with a side dish of Eggplant Kozambu (eggplant, tomatoes and curry)

Zaytinya: Pita with three spreads (htipiti — marinated roasted red pepper, feta and thyme; hummus and Tzatziki — Greek yogurt with cucumbers and dill), Crispy Brussel Afelia (crispy brussel sprouts with spices and garlic yogurt), Hunkar Begendi (Turkish braised lamb shank with spices) and for dessert, marinated apricots with yogurt, ice cream and a pistachio crust.

 

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Thad and Mary with their grown children. Just an interesting aside: Margo (bottom right) was on American Idol last season and made it to Hollywood. But I digress ...

What does it look like when a guy in his 50’s has a mid-life crisis, quits his job, finds a beautiful blond and runs off to some exotic place? Well, in our friend Thad’s case … all of the above is true. Only…that beautiful blond also happens to be the love of his life for 35 years, his wife Mary. And the exotic location? Zambia! But the long and winding road that caused them to move there actually began when Mary was still in high school.

Mary lived there in the summer of 1972 with her parents while her father, a renowned physician, was on a teaching sabbatical. Then in 1991-1992, Thad and Mary lived there for 14 months on Thad’s engineering assignment, along with their kids. More recently, they have led three short-term teams of college students to Zambia, working with local missions that serve school children, widows and AIDS orphans. They have traveled throughout much of southern Africa, but Zambia has always held a special place in their hearts. It feels like home.

Mary explains,” After working 15 years as a hospital nurse, giving some of the best years of my career, I wondered, ‘Is this what I still want to be doing in five or 10 years?’ No, actually. I want to teach village health care to the poorest of the poor. My heart wants to be in Africa.”

Mary lived in Africa for a year in high school with her physician dad and mom, perhaps sealing her fate to go into medicine and one day move to Zambia.

Thad added, “And as a civil engineer for the last 30 years, I realized I’m still waiting to do what I really want to do with my professional skills – help develop clean water and sanitation projects in places where this fundamental health requirement is desperately needed. We want to finish our productive career years serving in Africa.” (For more on their story, check out their always entertaining blog Life on the Wild Side.

So Thad and Mary are living within walking distance of the spectacular Victoria Falls as part of a relief and development team. Though many of their teammates live in a small town, they chose to live in a tent with the local villagers for the first year to quickly learn the language. Thad admits that they may decide that living in a tent really stinks but they are going to give it a shot.

Thad and Mary plan to live in the village in a tent for the first year to immerse themselves in the language.

What about you? If you are an empty nester or starting the second-half of your life, will the mid-point be marked by crisis or adventure? And how can you leverage your skills and experiences to serve others in the midst of pursuing adventure? I’m pondering these thoughts for myself.

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Rolf Potts (left), travel writer extraordinaire, shared stories that made a Tuesday night memorable.

Monday was a turning point for us. Our youngest turned 16 and can now drive herself everywhere! Mr. Blog and I have not experienced this type of freedom for 19 years! So on Tuesday night, we did what any self-respecting, middle-aged couple would do. We grabbed the car keys and headed to the nearest college town. Rolf Potts, travel writer extraordinaire and author of Vagabonding and Marco Polo Didn’t Go There, was speaking at the University of Kansas.

We entered the room at the student union brimming with hip and cool students. Every head turned in our direction as we sat. “Were we Rolf’s parents?” they must have wondered. We did not care, we were free!

The moderator introduced Rolf by saying “Rolf Potts has a more interesting life than you do.” And he was right. Rolf travels the globe as a writer for National Geographic Adventure. His travel essays have also appeared in Salon, Conde Nast Traveler, and on National Public Radio.

I had never attended an author’s reading and you would think it would be a big yawn, but it was fun. He read from a few of his hilarious, insightful essays about

  • attending a Star Trek convention on a cruise ship (yes, it was as weird as  you would imagine)
  • teaching English in Korea and then being taken to a transvestite musical review by his students
  • being drugged and then robbed in Afghanistan and living to tell about it
  • crashing the movie set of a Leonardo DiCaprio movie in Thailand …

You get the picture. It was not your typical night on the couch channel surfing. He also shared some insights that anyone could apply, such as:

  • Embrace the unexpected in both your travels and your daily life. For example, he went to Cuba to learn salsa dancing but instead learned how to play the bagpipes. (Evidently, playing the bagpipes is big in Cuba because of the lingering influence of early European settlers.) He went to Thailand expecting to be immersed in Asian culture and instead found himself visiting a town that recreated the life of American cowboys and Indians. (Who knew?)
  • Nearly every culture he has visited cherishes the extended family. Strong family ties are central to the happiness of most people in the world. For that reason, Rolf chose to make his home base in rural Kansas to be near his extended family.
  • Time, rather than money, is the truest form of wealth. Therefore, you have to make time for the things you value in life.

Our next weekend getaway: The Oread Hotel in Lawrence, Kans.

After the presentation, we walked down the street to tour The Oread, an amazing new hotel built at the end of Jayhawk Boulevard in Lawrence. Very cool place. That’s definitely on the list for a weekend getaway.

So what about you? What’s on your list for mid-week breaks or weekend getaways? How are you making time for a little adventure in your life?

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