Wednesday, August 26, 2009

London & Paris: Fit For A Queen

My husband and I recently took a trip to London and Paris. It was the first time in London for us both and the first in Paris for me. We're both total history nerds and loved it all! I'd have to say that Paris was my fav and Versaille my favorite site. I love, love that time period and most of all my girl Marie Antoinette.

 Now Marie is notoriously attributed to uttering the phrase "Let them eat cake!" Supposedly saying this after being informed that the people of Paris were starving because there was a widespread shortage of bread.

There is actually no record of these words ever having been spoken. The phrase was first printed in the book The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an autobiography. 

"Finally I recalled the worst-recourse of a great princess to whom one said that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: "Let them eat brioche..."

The book was written in 1769, Marie Antoinette arrived in Versailles in 1770, a fourteen year old princess- long before Rousseau or anyone knew who she was.          

I suppose she was attributed to saying this phrase because of her over the top, lavish lifestyle when France was in financial dire straits. At the time, many attributed everything wrong with France to the Queen and her spending. Ultimately, her spending was the tiniest tip of the iceberg of what was really wrong with France and it's monarchy.

Enough about the history... let's talk about how fab her style was!

Marie had two palaces given to her by her husband King Lous XVI, the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon. Each were used as entertaining palaces. She also built herself a beautiful home called Hamlet. My favorite by far was the Grand Trianon.

The Grand Trianon is made of fab pink marble!

This was her drawing room. Gorgeous fabrics, furniture, candelabras and chandeliers.

Marie was a fun gal. She loved to play pool and gamble with the boys! 
She was notorious for gambling for days on end!

The wedding bed where their marriage was famously NOT consummated.

Portrait of Marie Antoinette

Don't worry.....I loved the decor of every room but I don't have pink walls and gold furniture in my house. I just love that she was bold and brazen and did not let the prescribed gender roles of her time constrain her. She decorated her homes with her style and not what was typically in style during that time period. I think that even today it all still works. Obviously over the top but she was a Queen for God's sake.

The gorgeous open air breezeway/corridor connecting the two wings.

 The main palace, Versailles was also amazing, breathtaking and beyond words or comprehension. If you're ever in Paris it is definitely worth the train ride and 2 hour wait in line for tickets! Yep, we (or shall I say my husband) waited in line for that long but it was definitely worth it!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Niagara: A Hop, Skip and a Falls Away!

If you’ve got a free weekend and you know someone who likes to drive then gather them up and hit the road to Niagara Falls. Yes, Niagara Falls! This natural wonder is only a four hour drive from Cleveland!

I came across this fun day trip while looking for other things to do in Cleveland. The weekend weather outlook called for sunshine, something we hadn't had in a long time, so I set about finding something fun to do outside. After amassing a long list of things to do in the city, I stumbled upon a site that listed Niagara Falls as a day trip from Cleveland. Excited at the prospect of seeing a natural wonder, a national monument and getting to cross it off my "Things to See In My Lifetime" list I called my fiance and told him I had the best plans ever!

Arriving before noon at the U.S./Canada border we presented our I.D.'s and eagerly looked toward the Falls. But with just our I.D.'s to prove our U.S. citizenship we were disappointed as we were re-directed to the Canadian customs office.

The official Niagara Falls website indicates that state I.D.'s are all you need to get into and back from Canada. Unfortunately this information is not up to date. When looking for travel information be sure to always reference the guidelines listed on the Official U.S. Customs website only. As of June 2009 the U.S. will require all citizens traveling into and back from Canada to have a passport. Until then a state I.D. card along with your birth certificate will suffice. Social security cards are not a valid form of identification.

After answering several inane questions about our intentions and what we did for a living we were given the green light for the Falls!

The view from up above.

Looking up and down the sky terrace walk above the Falls.

View of American Falls from walking bridge over street,
making our way down to Niagara.

Gorgeous Niagara Falls!

Know collectively as Niagara Falls. The Falls are made up of three individual falls: The American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. The Horseshoe Falls are the most impressive and most recognizable of the three.

The water is very shallow around the Falls.

The Canadian Horseshoe Falls is 2600 feet long and it's falls are 167 feet high. Water flows at 600,000 U.S. gallons per second over the falls. Straddling the Canadian and U.S. border it is in the Province of Ontario and the State of New York.

Niagara Falls attracts some 12 Million tourists every year and is 12,000 years old! The mighty Niagara river plunges over a cliff of dolostone and shale. It is the second largest falls on earth next to Victoria Falls in southern Africa. At the bottom of the falls, the water travels 15 miles over many gorges until it reaches Lake Ontario.

Some random facts about Niagara Falls:

According to the U.S.G.S. (United States Geological Survey) of Niagara Falls, it appears that almost 1/3 of the Canadian Falls actually lies within US Territory!

One fifth of all the fresh water in the world lies in the four Upper Great Lakes-Michigan, Huron, Superior and Erie. All the outflow empties into the Niagara river and eventually cascades over the falls.

The American Falls

The American Falls is 1060 feet long and its falls are 176 feet high. Water flows at 150,000 U.S. Gallons per second over the falls. There are two hydroelectric plants which draw water into their reservoirs prior to the Falls. Their intake greatly affects the volume of water flowing over the falls. Flow is greatest in the daytime during peak tourist season (June, July, and August). In the event of an emergency the flow can be somewhat reduced by the hydroelectric companies increasing their intake.

A beautiful rainbow framing the Rainbow Bridge and the American Falls.
The Rainbow Bridge connects the U.S. and Canada.

The American Falls viewing bridge.

View of the casino and hotels from the Falls.

Icy cold!

There is plenty to do in Niagara other than just seeing the Falls itself. Of course there are your usually tourist trap shops hawking everything you could ever want (and lot's that you don't!) with Niagara Falls printed on the front of it. There's also a full shopping mall and even a gorgeous casino if you feel like testing your luck! We had packed an over night bag just in case we wanted to stay the night but decided against it. We're not big on the typical tourist trap kinda stuff. We lived in Reno, NV for years and have had our fill of that! It was still such a gorgeous day by the time we were through at the Falls so we hit the road back home!

Cross Country in a Camry with a Cat.



Poor Little Boo Kitty!

The Trusty Camry

In March 2008 we decided to relocate from Reno, Nevada to Hudson, Ohio. For Dave it meant moving back home to work with his dad at his company. For me it meant a huge change and new adventure....something I am always up for! In July we packed up and made the drive, stopping along the way to enjoy a few tourist attractions.

I thought I'd chronicle the ride for those of you who've never done the cross country haul before. I am NOT someone who enjoys long drives and don't think I'd ever do the whole RV across America thing (you know with the map on the back of the RV, filling it in with the state stickers)....but I do recommend that everyone does it at least once in their life. Middle America offers us a different side of the U.S. With their local and often quirky attractions and their small town, local friendliness a cross country drive offers a peak into what life is like in the rest of America.

Closing the Door and Opening a New One.

Wednesday, July 2, 2009

I am not a very sentimental person but I must admit it was a little bittersweet to leave our house in Reno, Nevada behind. We had just spent three years renovating it ourselves, with our own two hands, from top to bottom and had just put the final touches on it a few months earlier by painting the outside of it. We both worked so hard and created some wonderful memories together that resulted in a beautifully renovated house. We gave it one last look and closed the door, ready to move on and start a new part of our lives.

After stuffing our cat Boo Kitty into his carrier (not his favorite thing in the world to do) we secured him in the back seat and pointed the car toward the freeway, 80 East. We were on our way to Ohio!

Interstate 80 will take you directly from Reno, NV to Hudson, OH pretty much a straight line through the states Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and into Ohio. We decided to take the longer, more scenic route on the Interstate 90 East
freeway which detours you through South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and down through Chicago, Illinois instead of through Nebraska and Iowa.

Even though we had decided on taking the scenic route, Dave was determined to get to Ohio in record time. Not sure why, other than that's just his normal M.O. when he gets in a car and is on a road trip. So off we went, determined to see as much as we could but also make good time.

Salt Lake City, UT

We drove through Nevada and into Utah within a few hours times. Our first planned stop was Temple Square in Salt Lake City. On our way into the city we drove by the salt flats and the Tree of Life.

Bonneville Salt Flats

Located along the I80 near the Utah/Nevada border are the Bonneville Salt Flats. One of the most unique natural features in Utah, the flats stretch over 30,000 acres. Commercial photographers, film makers and television shows flock there to use the Flats as their background. It is also a play ground for high speed auto racers who use the wide open plains for racing.

Thousands of tourist visit every year to take in the beauty and many leave behind signs, words or sculptures in the salt using rock. (If you've ever been to Hawaii (the Big Island) people do the same thing in the lava fields.)

The Tree of Life is located on the north side of I80 about 95 miles before you get to Salt Lake City. It's proper name is Metaphor: Tree of Utah. Swedish artist Karl Momen created the 87-foot high tree between 1982-1986. He financed the project himself to bring bold color and beauty to the stark, flat, salty landscape. The sculpture is made of 225 tons of cement, almost 2,000 ceramic tiles and five tons of welding rod, and tons of minerals and rocks native to Utah. After completing his work Momen returned to Sweden, donating the sculpture to the state of Utah

As we pulled into Salt Lake you could see, rising high above the rest of the city, the Mormon Temple. Gleaming white and piercing the bright blue sky, it stands dominant over the city and it's faithful. We parked, pumped the meter and began exploring the square.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is world renowned as is the building that is their home. The Tabernacle, located in Temple Square, has pews and pillars that are made out of pine from the Wasatch Mountains. Because oak is a much more expensive and rich looking wood the pine was faux painted to look like it. The dome shape of the ceiling is said to have been designed by Brigham Young himself after being inspired by the shape of an egg shell. Steam was used to bend the massive beams into it's shape, alleviating the need for support beams and leaving the tabernacle with an unobstructed view. The building and dome are so masterfully designed that a microphone is not needed when speaking from the pulpit.

It was getting late and we still had some ground to cover before the day was through so we hit the road.

We made it all the way to the Utah/Wyoming border before we called it a day, spending the night in Casper, Wyoming.

Thursday, July 3, 2009

This picture pretty much sums up Wyoming. At least what we saw of it from the freeway.

From the freeway we passed by the famous Devil's Tower. Standing alone, high above the flat Wyoming plains it is a natural wonder and was declared in 1906 American's first national monument. On a clear day it can be seen from 100 miles away. It is 865 feet high, with a flat top, fluted sides and is said to be over 50 million years old. There are several trails leading to the top so make sure to bring your hiking boots if you decide to check it out! Aside from it being a natural wonder and national monument most people would recognize the rock formation from it's famous role in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Photo taken from:

Unfortunately we decided not to stop here although in hind sight I wish we would have. I would have loved to hike to the top...what a view that would have been!

South Dakota

After a full day of driving and site seeing we pulled into Rapid City, a small town located near the Mt. Rushmore, Deadwood tourist areas. It was late so we found a hotel to crash at, ready to hit the tourist attractions in the morning.

Friday, July 4, 2009

Before we headed for the major attractions....we had to hit up the Mitchell Corn Palace! I first visited the Corn Palace when I was five. My family was relocating from Michigan to Alaska (my dad was in the Coast Guard). We made a fun road trip out of it, stopping at places like the Corn Palace, Bedrock City (Fred Flintstone Park!), the Badlands and Yellowstone! All I remembered about the Corn Palace was that I thought it was the coolest thing ever. A huge palace made entirely from corn! The walls, the ceiling, the floor....everything!

As we rounded the corner and parked I have to admit that I was disappointed. From the parking lot the "palace" looked much smaller than I remembered, was a little run down and....shocker!....was not made entirely out of corn! I guess it's just one of those things you remember differently as a child than an adult. Just like the big, giant, awesome swing set that you played on in elementary school that now, when you look at it, looks puny and rickety.

Unimpressive as it was the second time around I still was thrilled to be there. It wasn't what I remembered but I was excited that I had somehow managed to cross paths with it again and thrilled to take pictures at this awesome, quirky and corny (ha!) road trip must see stop!

Mitchell Corn Palace

Love these things! Dave.....not so much!


Our second destination was Deadwood, South Dakota. The HBO show Deadwood was based on this town and has enjoyed increased tourism because of it.

Looking up and down the main street.

The town is quaint featuring cute and cozy hotels lining the streets along with restaurants, boutiques, tourist shops and even gambling!

Established in 1876 during the Black Hills gold rush, a miner named John B. Pearson found gold in a narrow canyon in the Northern Black Hills. This canyon became known as "Deadwood Gulch" because of the many dead trees that lined the canyon walls at the time. Soon the town was engulfed by prospectors looking for Black Hills gold. The town eventually became known as a wild, lawless place where murder took place often. It is also notoriously known for two of it's famous residents: Wild Bill Hickok and Clamity Jane.

Wild Bill Hicock fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, and gained publicity after the war as a scout, marksman, and professional gambler. He was infamously killed on August 2, 1876, while playing poker at a saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota. The story goes that Hickok could not find an empty seat in the corner of the room, where he always sat in order to protect himself against a possible attack from behind, and instead sat with his back to one door while facing another. He was shot in the back of the head with a .45-caliber revolver by Jack McCall. Legend has it that Hickok was playing poker when he was shot, holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights. The fifth card is debated, or, as some say, had not yet been dealt. "Aces and eights" thus is known as the "Dead Man's Hand". The motive for the killing is still debated. McCall may have been paid for the deed, or it may have been the result of a recent dispute between the two. In 1979 Hickok was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.

Calamity Jane was a frontierswoman and professional scout best known for her claim of being a close friend of Wild Bill Hickok, but also for having gained fame fighting Native Americans.In 1893, Calamity Jane started to appear in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show as a horse rider and a trick shooter. On August 1, 1903, she developed pneumonia and died at the age of 51. She was buried at Mount Moriah Cemetery (South Dakota), next to Wild Bill Hickock.

After having lunch in Deadwood we turned our sights to Mt. Rushmore!

Mt. Rushmore

We knew that it was the Fourth of July but thought that the holiday would work to our advantage. We actually thought that we'd be the only ones there!

Naively we headed up the mountain and immediately found ourselves engulfed in traffic that was backed up for miles. Cars were parked along side the road for miles out and people were walking with coolers, chairs, umbrellas and children slung over their shoulders! So much for our theory. It was the 4th of July at a national monument! Of course there'd be fireworks and of course there'd be thousands of people! What were we thinking!? Already embedded in the traffic there was nothing we could do but just try and drive through the mess and move on.

We didn't know where the road was going to take us but traffic was so bad we couldn't turn around. As we ascended the mountain we were pleasantly surprised to see that the monument was getting closer and closer to us. The road eventually took us right by the front of the monument! Traffic even stopped moving for a few minutes and I was able to get out of the car to take these pictures.

It was getting late in the evening and we wanted to find a hotel for the night so as soon as we got out of the Mt. Rushmore mess we hit the freeway....

Wall Drug

All along the way in South Dakota there are signs lining I90 advertising Wall Drugs. They have over 500 miles of billboards along I90, stretching from Minnesota to Billings, Montana. They spend an estimated $400,000 on billboard signs every year.

Wall Drugs is located in Wall, South Dakota. It is a MUST see on the cheesy, quirky tourist attraction circuit. Right up there with the Corn Palace! It's basically a small tourist town attraction erected along the highway that peddles fabulously cheesy tourist trinket junk! Love it!

It is also known for it's giant dinosaur that overlooks the freeway. An 80 foot Brontosaurus! (Random fact: the Brontosaurus has been renamed the Apatosaurus!) Unfortunately it was almost dark when we got there so my photo of the dinosaur wasn't very clear....although the effect is quite nice!

I love this picture! I can see the headline in the National Enquirer already "Dinosaurs Live!", "Brontosaurus Terrorizes Small Mid-West Town!"


We didn't have any planned stops in Minnesota. I would have loved to take a detour to the Twin Cities but that certainly would have taken us way off the 90 and with our 4 day deadline looming and an increasingly irritated caged cat we resisted the urge and drove right through the bottom of the state.

Minnesota is a very pretty state with gorgeous, green rolling hills and stunning farms! What we saw of it from the road was really pretty!


With no planned stops in Wisconsin either, we drove right through to Chicago, Illinois just as the sun was setting. We had planned on spending the night in the city but decided against it at the last minute, figuring we'd find a hotel after we left the city. As we drove through we were treated to Chicago's 4th of July fireworks display! From one end of the city to the other, we were able to see all of the area's fireworks. It was nice that we were able to have a tiny bit of a celebration for the 4th!

Unable to find a hotel that met our needs (pet friendly), we ended up driving through the rest of Illinois into Indiana before we stopped in Gary, Indiana.

Saturday, July 5, 2009

Our last day on the road! With just about an 8 hour drive ahead of us we were excited to hit the road and get to our new home- Hudson, Ohio!