FLASHBACK FRIDAY— Roadtrip Itinerary- Illinois to Los Angeles

Snow on the ground, Snow on the ground…..

Having seen snow on the ground since November and not an end in sight, we decided to head west for an educational road trip. (the only place we could find without snow) We decided this on a Friday and the following Monday, mom, grandma, the three boys and baby were in the van before the sun was up!

Our first stop was in Missouri at Meramac Caverns. http://www.americascave.com/ It was a much needed break from driving! We were the only people crazy enough to be on a vacation in February, so we got our own personal tour of the caverns even though the tour guide seemed to think there were hundreds and would leave long uncomfortable pauses for those who wanted pictures…since it was only us, it was a bit strange.:) We did learn that the caverns were once used during the Civil War by the Union soldiers as well as a hideout by Jesse James and his gang. The grand finale to the tour was a rendition of God Bless America that had us all laughing for the entire trip. For some reason they felt it was a good idea to flicker the lights to the beat of the song in various positions and the clicking noise overwhelmed the whole song…guess you had to be there. LOL

Our next stop was to see the infamous Buffalo that tried to attack me 16 years ago while singing to him through the fence at a rest area in Oklahoma. http://www.route66university.com/photos/postcard_26/slides/buff_ranch.html  I am not sure if it was indeed the same buffalo, but the boys enjoyed the story anyway. We also took a few pictures with the local art while we were there.

In Texas, we stopped by two of the Oddball Roadside Attractions that these great United States have; the VW Slug Bug Ranch http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/6767 and the Cadillac Ranch. Both of which are broken down cars upended sticking out of the ground with spray paint covering them. We tried to also find a letterbox at one of them, but couldn’t locate it. Apparently they recommend leaving your mark with spraypaint, but we did not have any.

Then we hit Arizona! We were very excited. We stayed in another Roadside Attraction, the Wigwam Inn and Curios. http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/10294 They told us that the Inn and the vintage cars that they have parked at each Wigwam were the inspiration for the movie Cars. The Wigwams weren’t luxurious, but adorable and I would definitely stay in them again!

We finally made it to the Grand Canyon and what a beautiful sight it was! http://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/grand-canyon-national-park I never imagined I would be so impressed by it and can not wait to go back and spend more time there.

One more state until our destination, but then we had car problems…. things were flashing and we were losing power so we pulled into a rest area and called a tow truck. Luckily it was only a bad battery that had been pushed too far, so we were back on the road and headed to Kingman, Arizona to rest and swim at the hotel.

The next morning we were ready to go and finally crossed into California. And then it happened. We were heading up a big mountain and Zachary said something smelled funny. We thought it must be outside. And then the car started smoking and the OverDrive light was flashing again. We pulled over and I was sure the van was on fire. We called another tow truck (Thank God I have an iPhone that can map the closest one) and were towed back to Needles.

The tow truck driver took us to the best, cheapest guy in town, only to be told the they were closed because the owner was in court that day, so they took us to a Mobil. After looking at the van, they informed us it would take $4000 to fix and take at least a week. I don’t know if you have ever been in Needles, but there is nothing there!

I called around for a rental car and with the amount of people we had and because of some Golf Tournament in the area, a car was hard to find! Eventually through the tow truck company receptionist’s, we were able to locate one back in Arizona and while grandma stayed with the kids in the the Mobil parking lot, the receptionist drove me to the rental car place. Now, we had to decided what to do with the van with 150,000 miles on it and had numerous transmission problems. We were offered a couple hundred for the van from the tow truck place for scrap metal and we felt that would be a better solution than to try to drive this van back to Illinois. We cleaned out the van and headed on our way.

It took us the rest of the day to get to where we had our reservation in California and we were exhausted. Especially after shoving all of us and our stuff in a Grand Marquis! I checked us in even though the hotel was in a seedier location than I would have wanted to stay in, but it was a Howard Johnson…of course it was safe….

We unloaded the van and headed into the room. As I do in all motel rooms, I pulled of the bedspreads(because in case you were unaware- they do not get washed, but like once a year, if that) and there on the boxsprings was……… blood. Not a little blood- I am talking soaked in blood as if someone was murdered in the room! We reloaded the car and I headed to the office to let them know we were not staying and hand in the key. I explained that we were not goimg to stay there because the room was kinda scary. She asked “scary?” I responded “There is blood all over the boxsprings, it looks like someone was murdered in between the beds”. She didn’t bat an eye and just said “ok, you’ll have to deal with expedia to get your money back!” WOW !!!!

We got back in the car and headed towards Disneyland where I knew things would be nice due to being a tourist area. We found a Holiday Inn Express on the strip and got a very nice room with a view of the fireworks from the park.

The next morning Eric flew into LAX and Alex, Kenley and I picked him up while the other two stayed with grandma at the hotel. Daddy had done his research and found a few vans for us to go look at, so we headed to CarMax and ended up leaving with a “new” Grand Caravan!

We didn’t have much of a day left after all of that, so we picked up the others and headed down the road to Bubba Gumps for dinner! http://www.bubbagump.com/locations/anaheim/The next day, we took everyone around to show them our old apartments and stomping grounds and down into Hollywood to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Sign and the stars on the sidewalks. http://www.hollywoodchamber.net/ We tried to go to City Walk, which was free 14 years ago, but is no longer, so took a photo and left to head to Santa Monica and daddy’s college and back to the hotel.  

The next day we had decided to go to Knott’s Berry Farm, http://www.knotts.com/ but decided at the last minute that we couldn’t possibly be in Anaheim and not go to Disneyland, so surprised everyone by going there instead! It was a great day! http://disneyland.disney.go.com/

The next morning Eric got back on the plane and we got back in the van. We took a different route this time and headed straight to Tombstone. We were excited to see this infamous town and disappointed when we got there. The acting was cheesy and the sets were, too. The only cool thing was the original building- “Bird Cage Theatre”. http://tombstonebirdcage.com/ It is now a museum and still has the original wallpaper and curtains. It is incredible to see things that old.

Our last stop was Rock Hound Park in New Mexico. http://www.americansouthwest.net/new_mexico/rock_hound/state_park.html

It is a Jasper and Geode mining spot and we did find a few small geodes and rocks of Jasper. We had planned this to be one of three mining stops along the way home after stopping at the Alamo, but Eric called to let us know his radiator was broken and he had no transportation. We decided it was time to go home instead of our other stops and spent the whole next day and night driving back to Crystal Lake,

It took us the rest of the weekend to recover, but I am already ready for another roadtrip!!!!


The "Tour to Die For"

Finding the “tour to die for” when you are planning an international trip can feel like a coin toss.  This is especially true if you are not traveling with a large group under the guide of a large company.  While there are certainly advantages to the “just show up we’ve got everything planned” types of trips, there’s something really rewarding about planning your own tour.  Here are some ideas for helping you get out there are really SEE your destination.

1. Be honest with yourself.  If you are a high energy person, you aren’t going to want a tour that moves slowly and is lower activity.  On the flip side, you are more introverted you want to choose something more suited for your ideal pace.  Sometimes when we travel, we imagine ourselves different than we really are and capable of things that normally overly tire us or drive us nuts.  Stay true to you and there’s no way to go wrong.

2.  Search all types of places for tour options.  Online, trip apps, blogs, traditional tour sites and hotels suggestions (and then steal them), Facebook, etc.  This process shouldn’t be rushed or you’re likely to regret it.  You never know what you’ll find if you spend a little extra time doing your research.

3. Once you decide on your tour or day trip, call them in person.  Don’t let all your communication be digital, even if you live in a drastically different time zone.  Make time to call the tour and ask to speak to a guide/driver.  You learn a great deal about how your day will go from speaking to someone whose boots are on the ground.  You might even discover that the language barrier might be too great to ensure a nice experience.

4.  Read the reviews, and not just the top three.  Scroll down in trip adviser, or on the website to get a well-rounded sense of what went right and wrong for other people.  Knowing that can help you fine-tune the tour by asking to skip or amend parts, know you need to bring your own water or snacks, and other little details that might ruin an otherwise great sightseeing day.

5. You are in control.  If things go poorly, you feel unwell, your tour guide seems untrustworthy, you can end the tour at anytime and return to your hotel.  Don’t be afraid to assert yourself in any situation that leaves you feeling unsettled.

Jodi and I immensely enjoyed the tour of the Bishnoi Village we took with our guide Chhotaram.  We were both interested in meeting local people and learning about the culture of the Bishnoi.  They offered both full and half day tours which gave us the ability to go at a pace that suited our energy level.  Chhotaram was a knowledgeable guide about both the local wildlife and culture.  In fact he and his family are still members of the community and are weavers by trade.  He was willing to answer every question, stop by any roadside, and explain any custom we didn’t understand in perfect English.  THis was one of the many great tours we took in India. 

Roadtripping At It’s Finest

When I plan a road trip, I like to make it as silly as possible to keep it entertaining for the other passengers in the vehicle. I’ll plan stops at supposed vampire or witch grave sites, silly vintage statues or art works, or landmarks that you’ve always heard about, but have never seen.  To me, these are what make a road trip worth taking and makes lasting memories to talk and laugh about for decades.

 A few years ago, while my mother was battling lung cancer, my sisters and I decided we needed a Mother/ Daughter Road Trip to make some lasting memories. We hadn’t done anything like this for decades, since we all are married, have children and moved all over the country.  Of course, I took on the task of planning the trip! I used two great websites and apps called https://roadtrippers.com/ as well as http://www.roadsideamerica.com/ . Our plan was to go to Cape Cod to take my mother on a real clambake, but we decided to see a lot more while on the road.

On Sept.2, 2013, we began our trip to New England by trying for a photo op at The Sloppy Giant with Ill Clad Clothing in Phoenxiville, Pa. We couldn’t find it. However, we did find Jode Rd and a random globe for the first pictures of the week.

Our second roadside photo op was at the Giant Steel Hockey Player in Newark, NJ. Mom and Jami were too afraid of the “ghetto” to get out of the car, but that wasn’t going to stop Jen and I. I mean we had driven all this way just to take a picture with it….  http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/23432

After a few attempts at seeing Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse, otherwise known as The Little Red Lighthouse, http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/fortwashingtonpark/monuments/810

taking a bathroom break for Jami(again in the ghetto) we decided to leave NYC and find something to eat.

We chose the old road trip standard, Cracker Barrel, where we were joined by the Mileys and the Short Bus Mileys. (Note- this was right after her tongue exposed VMA award performance)

Midnight Mary in New Haven, Ct, was our next stop. Mary Hart was a woman who was buried alive and thought to haunt the cemetery at midnight. We left her a penny, took some pictures and went on our way. http://www.damnedct.com/midnight-mary/

While in New Haven, Ct, we decided to crash a wedding at Lighthouse Park. We took some silly photos and searched for seashells. (photo to the right- Get it? I’m the little mermaid?!)

New Haven was also the home of the rather scary, gross Econo Lodge Motel where we spent our first night, I would not recommend it. The next morning, we got up early and headed out to visit Gillette Castle http://www.friendsofgillettecastle.org/which is gorgeous. The castle was the home of the original Sherlock Holmes and was quite eccentric which makes the tour very entertaining. We arrived too early, so stopped for some chai and coffee at Two Wrasslin Cats https://www.facebook.com/TwoWrasslinCats and toured Jami’s new favorite town, East Haddam, Ct

Once we arrived at Gillette Castle, Jami was a gracious host at her estate, inviting us in, doing some gardening and taking photos of forbidden closets.

After a brief stop at a Life Size T- Rex in Oakdale, Ct, we stopped at the Mohegan Sun Casino to spend some money.

Mystic, Ct was the next stop on our trip. We, first, stopped by Ford’s Lobsters, a Mystic Pizza Filming location, for some lobster rolls and a lobster stuffed avocado in the pouring rain.

After a drive by photo of the Stonington Lighthouse in Stonington, RI, we stopped by a Vampires Gravesite. Mercy Brown was thought to be a vampire, so was exhumed and her heart was made into a drink for her brother to drink to keep him from dying of the TB plague that was happening in Exeter, Ri in 1888. http://strangene.com/cemeteries/vampire.htm

The Fighting Seabee Statue in North Kingston was next on the photo agenda, as was the Warwick Neck Lighthouse and an attempt at seeing the Conimicut Lighthouse.

The Comfort Inn in Warwick, RI, was the best hotel on the trip. It was clean and had a bar downstairs, where Jami and Jen, in their infinite wisdom kept the drinks coming. Not only did mother not appreciate it, apparently neither did Jodi’s histamines.
The next morning we drove by TAPS(ghosthunters) for a photo.

The next morning, we intended to take a tour of the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, but only did a quick drive by of the front. We, then, headed to Battleship
Cove to look at the water “and wait for our long lost loves to come home”

Finally to the “tip of the Cape”!
We found some stones lying on the beach and enjoyed a meal before going to bed for the evening in rooms that smelled of cat pee and had splattered blood on the curtains. Ahhh the memories! Just a tip- You get what you pay for!

 The next day was a rather gloomy day in February, but we were heading to Plimoth Plantation anyway! http://www.plimoth.org/  Luckily, we had the whole place to ourselves, so we could act as goofy and obnoxious as we wanted. We had some great conversations with some natives and also got to meet our  11th great grandfathers. Ok, well, actors who portrayed them! As a huge genealogy buff, I’ve traced us to 7 of the original settlers in Plimoth. We had a fun time talking family with the actors who never broke character, even when we brought up things that would happen to them in the future.

 Next we went to see  Plimoth Rock which at one time had been quite larger, but people kept chipping parts away for souvenirs, so now it is enclosed as well as take a picture of Governor Bradford’s statue, which has a crazy resemblance to our father.

Last on the agenda, was touring the Mayflower, where again as the only people on, we were able to take some funny pictures and annoy the actor.

Finally to our Clambake, the reason we chose New England! It was a rather cool, gloomy evening and mom was not feeling too well, but it still was an awesome experience.  And if you ever decide to go, I would not recommend trying to save money by choosing the vegetarian option.! http://bostonsbestcruises.com/clambake-at-sunset

We visited a few more places before heading back to Pennsylvania; The Salem Witch Museum  http://www.salemwitchmuseum.com/   and the House of the Seven Gables http://www.7gables.org/. Both were interesting tours.

Overall, our trip to Cape Cod, Boston and Salem was an awesome Mother/Daughter Road Trip with lots of laughter until tears streamed down our faces and we were doubled over in pain.  We will always have lots of memories of our awful hotels, sneaky facebook pictures of each other and of trying to push the darn wheelchair.

Remember your road trip is only as fun as you make it!

Until the next one….