The City by the Bay that Knows How

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters. Thank you.

None of the named locations, or anyone for that matter other than my Patreon supporters, are paying me for this entry, and in no way have sponsored, endorsed, or have administered me to have written this post.

Family brought me back west for a week, and I only had a single afternoon (more like less than six hours) to explore all of San Francisco. How does one spend such little time in such a grand and historic city? Well, you cannot, but that did not stop me from trying!

Bonus pre-day

While the week was full of work of moving my family into Sonoma Valley, we were able to take an afternoon to enjoy the natural beauty of northern coastal California. We took the stunning state highway (SR – State Route) 116 that travels along the Russian River, a river that runs through the valley, to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean at Goat Rock Beach.

After spending a good afternoon at the beach, we went to nearby town of Jenner to eat dinner at River’s End, a restaurant on a cliff-side that overlooks the mouth of the river.

Panorama of the Russian River flowing into the Pacific Ocean, separated by Goat Rock Beach. View from River’s End restaurant.

Day at the City

My week ended with several hours able to spend exploring San Francisco. We drove south on the SR 101, which means that my first time in the city ever was introduced by driving over the Golden Gate Bridge. True to stereotypical San Franciscan fashion, the fog was so thick that we could not see the towers.

Fog is thicc

The first stop after crossing the bay was the famed Painted Ladies by Alamo Park.

“What ever happened to predictability?”

From there, we drove down the crooked block of Lombard Street.

After that, we decided to stop at Coit Tower. That was a great choice, as we were able to soak in amazing views of the skyline and the bay.

Alcatraz Island, as seen from Coit Tower

We parked a bit at the Financial District and walked around for a few minutes, and then went back to Russian Hill and the Richmond District and stopped at the Russian Holy Virgin Cathedral.

After a prayer service for the sick, we went to dinner at a Moroccan restaurant, El Mansour. Not realising that they also had belly dancers, we were surprised to have a dinner and entertainment.

Thus, my afternoon ended, and I was dropped off at the San Francisco International Airport to go back home.


As I stated above, I really did not have the time to explore for what this place deserves. Since my family now lives in the area, the likelihood of my return is high. And once I return, I will have a lot of the touristy stuff out of the way (minus things like visiting Alcatraz), and can explore more of the local scene. One thing is for sure, I look forward to this future exploration.

Afternoon at Starved Rock

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters. Thank you.

To say that this winter in Illinois has been strange would be a grave understatement. It started mild, but on November 25 (just after Thanksgiving) we had a sudden temperature drop and a blizzard. Then on December 1 we had a tornado outbreak. It has been mild ever since, but threats of snow storms either than never happened or still to come.

Despite the weirdness of the weather, I took advantage of this time of the year’s family gathering tendencies and the mildness and took to hiking at Starved Rock. It is 98 miles from Chicago, 62 miles from Bloomington-Normal, and 64 miles from Peoria, right along the southern bank of the Illinois River. It is a wonderful day trip if you live or are visiting those cities, or a splendid weekend getaway for any family or couple. I have always enjoyed that place, and I am surprised with myself that it took me this long to devote an article to it.

Front door to the Starved Rock Lodge
It is decorated for the holidays

History of the Park

Legend tells that the park got its name from a battle in the 1760’s between two Native American tribes : the Illinois and the Ottawa. A brave from the Illinois tribe stabbed Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa tribe. The Illinois fled and hid behind a rock, but then starved to death.

The area surrounding this rock was purchased from the Federal government by Daniel Hunt in 1895. Over time the ownership passed to the State of Illinois who made it into a recreational state park. Then the current trails, campsites, and Lodge were built.

In 1965, the park was name a National Historic Landmark.

To See and Do

Both guided and self-guided hikes are available, and there is much to see. There are two main inter-looping trails: bluff and riverside, and trails in-between to connect them, for a total of 13 miles of hike-able trail. There, you can see the sandstone as it is ornamented by waterfalls by summer or icefalls by winter. The trails visit a number of canyons where the waterfalls flow into.

There are also a number of historical sights near the park to visit; such as the Hegeler-Carus Mansion, Reddick Mansion, the Spirit of Peoria paddleboat (which visits the park during the summer), and much more. There is also an indoor water park at nearby Grand Bear Resort.

Our Day

We took the trails first to Starved Rock (the obvious namesake of the park), and overlooked Plum Island, a preserved island in the middle of the river where bald eagles will make their roost, and which is closed to public visitors.

View of Plum Island from just next to Starved Rock

Then we trekked over to Lover’s Leap, named for two lovers from rival Native American tribes who leapt to their deaths instead of spending their lives apart. 

Left: view of Starved Rock from Lover’s Leap
Right: view of Lover’s Leap from Starved Rock

Then we hiked along the riverside. There we passed Starved Rock Lock and Dam, which allows for water travel between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes along the Illinois River, and we reached an overlook to have a panoramic view of the Illinois River.

From there, we went to Wildcat Canyon, one of the more popular canyons in the park, and for good reason. It is very pretty.

Left: Inside Wildcat Canyon
Right: Looking into Wildcat Canyon

We ended our day back at the Lodge to have dinner, and then we drove back home.


I love this park. It brings back memories of childhood, of scouting, and family trips. Each season brings a different beauty to the park: spring brings everything back to life and a higher rate of waterfalls, summer brings vibrancy, fall brings fall colours and the eagles, and the winter brings snow and ice falls. I plan on going back during the summer, and again next winter for a couple days in the Lodge.

Hotel Omni Mont-Royal – A Review

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

This post is a review of the Hotel Omni Mont-Royal. They are not paying me for this entry, and in no way have sponsored, endorsed, or have administered me to have written this post.

This is the hotel we chose to stay at in the Montréal portion of our French Canada anniversary trip.

First Impressions

Getting into the hotel was a bit rough, but I give that more to the city than the hotel. We had to turn left in the middle of a block while on a fairly busy street when there was a bit of construction on the sidewalk by the parking entrance. When we finally were able to get to the valet, they were extremely helpful. They loaded everything up on the luggage cart, and brought everything up to my room. However, we forgot somethings that we needed in the car, so they ran down and brought them to my room. It was great. Like in Québec, they knew that we were celebrating our honeymoon/anniversary, so they upgraded our room. Also, they gave us a bottle of champagne and a plate of chocolate covered strawberries. This alone puts Omni on top of my list from now on to look for hotels when I go to a new location.

Room details

We booked a Deluxe Room, and ended up with an Omni Suite. This room opens to a living room with a couch, two armchairs, a desk with a coffee maker, and a TV. This room has its own bathroom. Through a set of French doors, you enter the bedroom with a king sized bed, a TV, and its own bathroom. I got a lot of use out of the sofa in the living room as we kept returning to rest between segments of our day. The available Internet was not wired, but there was of course WiFi, and the TVs were cable. Even though we were on the 10th floor, the windows actually opened to let in fresh air (a safe amount; a person cannot fit through)! That was a nice touch. Shout out to housekeeping for keeping the room spectacular as we explored the city.

View from 10th floor of Montréal. See Mont Royal in the background

Hotel Amenities

The hotel included a bar, the aforementioned valet, a fitness centre, a pool, a spa, a restaurant, a business centre, and more. Out of these amenities, we only took advantage of the valet and the bar. At the bar, I tried out a new drink that even the bartender had not done before. I based it off of the Manhattan, only it is Canadian whisky and Sortilège (a whisky based maple liqueur). It was very tasty.

“Lobby” Credit to OMNI Hotels & Resorts image library

Hotel Location

It was a far walk to Old Montréal, but it was still walkable. Yet, I would not judge anyone who would rather take a cab or public transportation to get there. Mont Royal was only a few blocks away, so we were able to walk there and back in the course of a late morning, early afternoon, and still get to Old Montréal for the rest of the day. It is also in the heart of the financial district, therefore RESO, the underground city, is easily accessible.


This stay was nothing short of amazing. I already know that we have to come back to Montréal to see more. This will not be my last stay at this hotel.

This post is a part of a series. Read more of the series here.

  1. Le Voyage de canada français
  2. Un Jour en Québec
  3. Delta Hotels by Marriott Québec – A Review
  4. Un Jour en Montréal
  5. “Hotel Omni Mont-Royal – A Review”

Un Jour en Montréal

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up . Thank you.

Description and Brief History

Montréal was the second major stop on our French Canadian trip. We quickly learned that Montréal did not attract us as fast as Québec did. I usually do not mind urban driving, but Montréal proved itself to have some of the worst drivers of a city I have visited. Up there with New York, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City. It was a great moment to pull into the hotel and drop the car off, not to need it again until we had to leave.

Montréal is the largest city in the Provence of Québec, and is an important economic hub for Canada. It is also the second largest Canadian city, right behind Toronto. Percentage-wise, the Anglophone community of Montréal is larger than Québec. It lies on an island where the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers meet, roughly a little more than 150 miles from Québec.

What We Did

After we arrived, we turned our car over the valet, and headed for dinner at Peel Pub, caught a movie, and turned in.

Waking up this day proved to be a bit more difficult. After days of moving on and on, exhaustion finally caught up to us. So we ended up sleeping in a bit.

When we finally got up for our day, we headed towards the mountain in the heart of the city that gave the city its name: Mont Royal (in English, Mount Royal). We spent all morning hiking this mountain. We did not take the direct pathway towards the summit, but taking the switchback pathways. While we were there, I thought that it had a Central Park “feel,” only to find out that the designer of the Mount Royal park was the same designer of Central Park. We stopped for lunch at a café. After lunch, we continued our hike, and ended at the famous Chalet du Mont-Royal. I was excited to find a piano found in the lookout, only to find that through use, it was well loved, but not as playable as I would have hoped. The views of Montréal from this lookout were stunning.

We then made our descent and went back to our hotel, rested a moment, and headed towards Old Montréal to visit Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal. Unfortunately, they had closed only 30 minutes before we got there, so we could not go inside. Oh well.

Then Jordan read about a cool place to visit for the evening after dinner: Bootlegger l’authentique, a jazz bar that serves whiskey and classic cocktails. We love jazz, and love swing dancing, and I am a fan of whiskey, so we walked there. Again unfortunately, they are not open on Mondays, so we could not get in. So we took a quick rest at Mckibbins Irish Pub, then walked back to our hotel to decide on dinner.

We chose 3 Brasseurs (3 Brewers in English) for dinner. We split a wonderful flammekueche, or tarte flambée, a flat bread topped with cheese and other toppings, similar to a flat pizza, and paired it with an amber ale. We were seated at a corner table, and it was a busy intersection, so it was a great time to people watch.


While not as enjoyable to us as Québec was, we still enjoyed Montréal and want to come back. One day is simply not enough time to explore what Montréal has to offer. So when we come back, it would be more than 1 or 2 full days.

Things I did not get to see or visit this time around, but will in the future:

  • Old Montréal and the Ports
  • Notre Dame Bascilica
  • Bootlegger l’authentique
  • Biosphère de Montréal
  • Biodôme de Montréal
  • Orchestre symphonique de Montréal
  • RESO, the underground city

This post is a part of a series. Read more of the series here.

  1. Le Voyage de canada français
  2. Un Jour en Québec
  3. Delta Hotels by Marriott Québec – A Review
  4. “Un Jour en Montréal”
  5. Hotel Omni Mont-Royal – A Review

Delta Hotels by Marriott Québec – A Review

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

This post is a review of the Delta Hotels by Marriott Québec. They are not paying me for this entry, and in no way have sponsored, endorsed, or have administered me to have written this post.

This is the hotel we chose to stay at in the Québec portion of our French Canada anniversary trip.

First Impressions

After a 23 hour drive (what should have been 18), we arrived exhausted and ready for bed. The valet greeted us, and took our car to park. We entered the front door, and took the escalators to the third floor to the front desk. Unfortunately, we hit a snag with our banks, delaying our check in. The young lady at the front desk gave us vouchers for a round of drinks at the bar. She did not need to do that. The fault with our banks was entirely on us (not even with our banks). Again, I thank her for her generosity.

Room details

Also, we found out that we got a free upgrade from a Guest Room (standard room with 1 King bed) to a Delux Room (a corner room, slightly bigger, with a view and 1 King bed). Room amenities included room service, a coffee maker, a sofa, a desk and working station, both wired and wireless Internet, and cable TV. The bed was so comfy! It provided the comfort I greatly needed after such a long drive, and also after a day of walking around the city. The shower was a walk-in shower, and it steamed up well. I always appreciate when a hotel room provides a resting surface that is not an office chair nor a bed. As in, something like a sofa. I loved that it was there, and greatly enjoyed it. When I was not sleeping, it was a great place to rest as we changed for evening events like dinner and drinks. Housekeeping also performed their jobs as expected. I support measures done by hotels to be more green, and try to follow instructions set by the hotel to ensure green practices. Why do I need my towels or bed sheets changed on the daily? Answer: I do not. Again, Delta Hotels, thank you for being green in this measure.

Hotel Amenities

Amenities with the hotel included a restaurant with a bar, valet service, a fitness centre, a business centre for printing and faxing, and a heated pool that is open all year around. We did not partake of amenities, except the bar. The bar was fantastic. Being an Anglophone by birth, there are simply some phrases in French that I do know know yet. The bartender graciously taught my wife and I some useful phrases for ordering at a bar in French. My most useful phrase I learned was “sur glace,” literally “on ice” for “on the rocks.” I was introduced to a new brewery, Trou du diable. Their selection of Irish whiskeys was a bit scant. They only had Jameson and Bushmill’s. Not too surprised there. Most places to not venture more than those two staples, but I do suggest looking in on expanding the Irish whiskey selection.

Our view from the room

Hotel Location

It was wonderfully located. It was only a few blocks from the Old City and walking distance from less touristy spots to explore and dine. Not once did we have to ask for our car before check out nor had to get a cab. Which is good, because parking anywhere near the Old City is a mess. As it is located close to the Québec Parliament buildings, it was quiet and restful.


I recommend this hotel. The service went above and beyond, the room was what I wanted, and the location in the city is perfect. While I do suggest a fuller bar, that of course is a non essential and will not affect any decision to come back.

This post is a part of a series. Read more of the series here.

  1. Le Voyage de canada français
  2. Un Jour en Québec
  3. “Delta Hotels by Marriott Québec – A Review”
  4. Un Jour en Montréal
  5. Hotel Omni Mont-Royal – A Review

Un Jour en Québec

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

Description and Brief History

Just as the New York trip last year was a part of the bucket list for my mom and sisters, Québec was a part of my own bucket list. As this trip served as my anniversary trip with my wife, I was very much looking forward to it.

Québec is the only walled city north of Mexico, and Old Québec is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It lies on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, across from Lévis. The Provintial Capital of Québec in the heart of Francophone Canada, only 1.5% speak English reportedly as of 2007. Which was a great opportunity for both my wife and I to practice our French with other people. Something we seriously miss out on in Central Illinois.

What We Did

We woke up, and immediately went to Old Québec. Our hotel (Delta Marriott Québec) was only a few blocks away, so it was a quick walk. Once we got into the old city, we found a cute little café called Nili Alimentation. It is one of those small places that does not have an Internet presence. We ordered our coffees and breakfasts. The food hit the spot, but the espresso was under-extracted. When I come back to Québec, this will not be high up on my places to re-visit.

After coffee, we started our exploration.

Our first main stop was the Anglican cathedral of the Holy Trinity. This has the honour of being the first Anglican cathedral built outside of the British Isles. It was exactly what I love about High Church Anglicans.

Right as you enter the nave, the beautiful stained glass icon of the Ascension imposes your view behind the alter. The architecture draws your eyes upwards towards the heavens, and there is the unutterable name of God written above. Commissioned by King George III (the same king the US rebelled against and gained our independence from), and thus has his coat of arms on the Royal Pew, there is an exhibit showing the gifts given to the cathedral from the king, and other members of the Royal Family, such as a Bible, a Book of Common Prayer, communion chalices, and more.

As Québec is French, there are bound to be more Catholics than Anglicans. Therefore, our next stop was the Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady (Notre Dame) of Québec.

Immediately, your eyes catch the golden cherubs arching upwards towards the Resurrected Christ. Along the sides of the nave are smaller chapels dedicated to various saints. Also, there is the grave of St. François de Laval, the first bishop of Québec.

No trip to Québec is complete without the customary visit to the Château Frontenac. This hotel dominates the Québec skyline, and is its most iconic building.

Now owned and operated by the Fairmont Hotels and Resorts chain, it has its history as a “grand railway hotel,” a 5-star hotel for rail passengers. It is named after Louis de Buade, Count of Frontenac, a governor of New France and leader against the English and Iroquois armies during the Nine Years’ War. The boardwalk running in front of the hotel is a popular place to take pictures. Not only can you get photogenic shots of the hotel, but you can also get lovely shots of the river. After taking more than a few pictures, we went inside to the hotel bar and ordered a round of drinks. While I got to fulfil a dream of ordering a drink there, I still need to stay there as a guest.

We bought a quick lunch from a small grocery store called Epicerie Richard (no website), and walked towards the Citadel. It is the oldest military building in Canada, and it is still operational. Admission to the Citadelle and museum is $16 for an adult, and if you arrive before 10 AM (in the summertime) you can witness the changing of the guard. As the fort is still an operational military base, all admissions to the fort are guided.

After going to the Citadelle, we visited two bookstores: Librairie Pantoute, and Librairie St-Jean-Baptiste, where we bought French versions of The Hobbit (Le Hobbit, note: not L’Hobbit) and The Lord of the Rings (Le Seigneur des anneaux). Then we went back to our hotel room to freshen up before dinner.

For dinner we chose Pub Galway, a wonderful little Irish Pub. She wanted poutine, but I wanted sausage. How we ended up getting 0 Irish food in an Irish pub is besides me, but, whatever. It happened. And it was tasty. Highly recommend.

The next day, we woke up, went to Orthodox Liturgy (in a basement of a Catholic church), and then left to Montréal.


I absolutely fell in love with Québec. I will absolutely come back to spend more time. Not only explore more of the Old City, but also a lot of the new. I am not a fan of snow, but I will have to come see the charm of the Old City during winter that I keep hearing about.

Things I did not get to see or visit this time around, but will in the future:

  • The Port, including using the Breakneck Steps (L’Escalier Casse-Cou)
  • Eating at Le Cochon Dingue
  • Using the ferry to visit Lévis

This post is a part of a series. Read more of the series here.

  1. Le Voyage de canada français
  2. “Un Jour en Québec”
  3. Delta Hotels by Marriott Québec – A Review
  4. Un Jour en Montréal
  5. Hotel Omni Mont-Royal – A Review

Le Voyage de canada français

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

Since we were graciously given time at a resort for our honeymoon in Cabo san Lucas, we could not go on the honeymoon of our original choice: Québec. Last year for our anniversary, we also could not go, so we went to Chicago. This year, thankfully, we were finally able to go. It was a 5 day Québécois vacation; half in Québec, half in Montréal.

Day 1

Thursday, May 24

I picked up the car from Enterprise, dropped off our rabbit, and we took off to drive through the night (something I usually try to avoid). The drive took 18 hours to get to Québec.

Day 2

Friday, May 25

Driving day. This sucked. It was supposed to take 18 hours, and ended up taking closer to 23. From car sickness, to construction, to car crashes stopping traffic, to even the GPS crashing and losing signal, it seemed like the Canadian highways themselves were determined to keep us from ever reaching Québec. However, I was even more determined to finally get there.

Eventually, we did get there.

After a 23 hour drive, and me being awake for almost 25 hours straight, we finally were able to check in at the hotel. That was not so easy either. Of course, we had bank troubles, as the credit card we originally planned on using apparently was not allowed to be used internationally (despite the fact of me checking if it could before the trip). We checked in, I changed into a polo and blazer, and my wife and I toasted to arriving at the hotel bar before going to bed.

We stayed at the Delta Hotels by Marriott Quebec. A review of that hotel is available.

Day 3

Saturday, May 26

We woke up, and immediately headed towards Old Québec. We also immediately fell in love. We spent the entire afternoon walking around the Old City: visiting the cathedrals, the Château Frontenac, and exploring the small shops and boutiques. Plus, it was great to be able to speak in French, something we do not get a lot of opportunity to back home in Central Illinois. Turns out that it was unusually warm that weekend, and it was nice and sunny this day. That made for easy walking. For dinner, we walked away from the touristy area, and found an inviting Irish Pub. Then we turned in for the night. Full details of our day can be found here.

Day 4

Sunday, May 27

This was another travel day. This being our last day in Québec, we departed for Montréal. About half way there, we stopped at Trois-Rivières. We were recommended to go by my voice teacher who grew up there. Unfortunately for me, I was getting frustrated with the GPS, and simply pulled over to the nearest bakery (“boulangerie“) for lunch, and then got back on the highway to get to Montréal. Sadly, this bakery was not in the best neighbourhood, and the stop made me frustrated further and not want to visit anymore of the city. It turns out that I simply needed to get two blocks more west to get to the main road and get downtown. The negative fruits of frustration.

Two hours later, we made it to Montréal. The people driving there are worse than drivers in even New York. Back to being frustrated. We pulled into the hotel, turned in our car, and checked in. We stayed at the Hotel Omni Mont-Royal. It was wonderful. Here is that review. For dinner, we went to a Canadian bar, and then watched Deadpool 2. Watching Deadpool in Canada (a Canadian character played by a Canadian actor) was a completely different experience, especially with all the Canadian jokes. After a tiring day, we turned in.

Day 5

Monday, May 28

This day was the first day we slept in this entire trip. It was great, and very much was needed. We spent the morning hiking Mont Royal, the mountain on the island where the city gets its name. We were able to get lunch and pictures of the skyline from the top. We then descended and walked over to Old Montréal to visit Notre Dame Bascilica. Sadly, they closed just 30 minutes before we arrived. So we turned around and went to dinner at a French style tavern and people watched while eating. We ended the day by visiting the hotel bar before going to bed.

Day 6

Tuesday, May 29

Thus ends our trip. We woke up, checked out, and hopped back in the car for the 15 hour drive home.

This post is a part of a series. Read more of the series here.

  1. “Le Voyage de canada français”
  2. Un Jour en Québec
  3. Delta Hotels by Marriott Quebec
  4. Un Jour en Montréal
  5. Hotel Omni Mont-Royal

Ideal Caribbean Cruise

This post is an entry to a contest put on by Celebrity Cruises. They are not paying me for this entry, and in no way have sponsored, endorsed, or have administered me to have written this post.

Celebrity Cruises has issued a contest for bloggers to describe our perfect Caribbean vacation based on their Caribbean cruise ports. As one who loves the Caribbean, I took them up on this challenge.

The itinerary I am building is a 12 night cruise, and is loosely based on their Lesser Antilles cruises and their Dutch Antilles Caribbean cruises. Why? Well, because most of the following ports of call are on my bucket list to explore.

Day 1

San Juan, Puerto Rico

We would come a couple days early, check into a hotel, and spend some time exploring the city. Honestly, the entire island of Puerto Rico fascinates me. I seem to be drawn to water based urban locations, and one that has a unique blend of American, Spanish, and Latin American influences is more than enough to entice me to come see.

Things we would have to see and do:

Celebrity Cruise excursions I would wish to experience here:
The Fortresses Of San Juan

Day 2

St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands

I would want to visit St. Croix because I have been interested in the US Virgin Islands since I learned of US overseas territories. In my youth, I knew Puerto Rico was “something like a state, but not?” but had no idea of places like the Virgin Islands or Guam, etc. Learning of the Virgin Islands was an eye opener to a whole new concept that I wish to explore.

When we are not drinking local rum, we would be walking the streets of Christiansted. I would explore the historic centre of the town and learn more about their Dutch influence. Honestly, I am not as well versed in Dutch culture as I am with English and French, so I would be out of my wheel house on this. We would try the local cuisine, and see if we could find a live band that plays some calypso or soca if we do not have to embark too soon.

Celebrity Cruise excursions I would wish to experience here:
The Rum Tour – Cruzan Rum & Captain Morgan Visitor CenterFort Christiansvern & Historical Christiansted Walking TourCaptain Morgan Rum Adventure

Day 3

Philipsburg, St. Maarten

The next disembarking would be truly a culture shock to me: Philipsburg, St. Maarten. This would be my first location where we would need our passports being American citizens, and as I said before, I am not as familiar with Dutch culture and its descendants. To be perfectly honest, we would probably gravitate towards the French side of the island.

Since we would prefer the French side of the island, we would naturally visit Marigot. There, as most destinations of ours, we would explore the streets and see what we would find.

Celebrity Cruise excursions I would wish to experience here:
Purely my own exploration.

Day 4

Basseterre, Saint Kitts and Nevis

Again, showing our Anglophilia, we love visiting British Caribbean locations, and Saint Kitts and Nevis is a Commonwealth realm alongside The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, etc.

We would mainly stick to Basseterre. We would explore its streets, and see what we could find. We would probably end up at the National Museum of Saint Kitts and the Catholic cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. We would try to find local calypso and soca bands, and enjoy servings of seafood and goat. Of course, all with rum.

Celebrity Cruise excursions I would wish to experience here:
St. Kitts Chocolate ExperienceA Sky Safari ZiplineSt. Kitts Catamaran Sail & SnorkelA Sky Safari ZiplineSt. Kitts Catamaran Sail & Snorkel

Day 5

Roseau, Dominica

Dominica would be an interesting place to visit, as it is a former British colony, taken from the French after the Seven Year’s War.

We would most want to visit the still active volcanoes inside the Morne Trois Pitons National Park outside Roseau, a cricket match at Windsor Park, and the Catholic cathedral of Our Lady of Fair Haven of Roseau.

Celebrity Cruise excursions I would wish to experience here:Whale and Dolphin Safari in RoseauEmerald Pool and Volcanic Sand BeachA Taste of the Past: Bois Cotlette Family Estate Tour & Tasting

Day 6

Fort-de-France, Martinique

While our original honeymoon plan was Québec, as we were planning, one of the places we mentioned wanting to go was Martinique. Since planning, it has remained on my bucket list places to visit. Martinique is an overseas region of France, meaning that it shares equal power and privileges of regions in mainland France, and thus, uses the Euro as its currency. Being France, we will again get to use our, albeit limited, French skills. Of all days, this will be the day I would be most looking forward to.

We would keep to Fort-de-France, the capital of the region, and visit the streets of its downtown to shop the boutiques and visit the Catholic cathedral of St. Louis. We would enjoy the local cuisine (fish and a spicy tomato sauce) and of course the local rums.

Celebrity Cruise excursions I would wish to experience here:
Botanical Garden with its Suspension Bridge
Traditional Dances & Rum Distillery

Day 7

Bridgetown, Barbados

After leaving French inspired culture, it is time to go back to something British. Barbados is another Commonwealth realm. It is also the island where Rihanna was born and raised.

As in the destinations before, we would explore the city of Bridgetown to find local hotspots, drink rum and look for local musicians. We would try to visit the Catholic cathedral of St. Patrick and the Anglican cathedral of St. Michael and All Angels.

Celebrity Cruise excursions I would wish to experience here:
Barbados Evening Extravaganza Show (no provided link)
Tiami Five Star Catamaran & Turtles (no provided link)

Day 8

St. George’s, Grenada

This would be our last British culture destination. The port is in St. George’s. Like most cuisines in the Caribbean, it is seafood based and spicy. We would have to try the Oil Down dish (a dish that reminds me of New Orleans Cajun food, as it is with okra, bread fruit, and chicken) while listening to a local soca or calypso band. We would also try to visit the Catholic cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Celebrity Cruise excursions I would wish to experience here:
Around the Isle of Spice
Glass Bottom Boat – Underwater Highlights

Day 9

Kralendijk, Bonaire

While it is certainly not the first Dutch land we would have stepped foot on in this trip, Bonaire does not have a French side like St. Maarten does, so it would be the first Dutch land we get to properly explore. Whereas St. Maarten is an equal partner in the Kingdom of the Netherlands with the Netherlands, Bonaire is a “public body,” or something similar to an overseas territory to the Dutch kingdom.

The disembarking happens in Kralendijk, the capital of Bonaire. As we would walk up and down the downtown area, we would try to visit Wilhelmina Park and Fort Oranje.

Celebrity Cruise excursions I would wish to experience here:
Bonaire National Marine Park Catamaran Sail

Day 10

Willemstad, Curaçao

Curaçao, like St. Maarten, is an equal partner with the Netherlands in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. As the city centre is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we would have to visit it, first among which I would visit would be Fort Amsterdam. I am quite fond of the drink that carries this country as a namesake, so visiting distilleries that make it such as Senior & Co. would be a highlight.

Celebrity Cruise excursions I would wish to experience here:
Taste of Curacao
UNESCO World Heritage City Walk

Day 11

Oranjestad, Aruba

Of course Aruba takes up the last destination before coming back, and not just because it makes sense geographically. It has a spot on my bucket list to visit.
The port is in the capital, Oranjestad, a city whose beauty is a major attraction, and I am chomping at the bit to see it for myself. The architecture alone of the downtown is picturesque and stunningly gorgeous. I would visit Fort Zoutman, and try to get some pineapple seafood.

Celebrity Cruise excursions I would wish to experience here:
Kukoo Kunuku Dinner & Nightlife Tour

Day 12


Since this day is a day spent at sea to head back to Puerto Rico, we would spend the day trying out the features of the cruise ship. Since we would have spent the last 11 days eating Caribbean food, I myself would probably be burned out on that cuisine, and would try to find myself a pizza. I have to be honest, right? After a week and half of rum, I would also head towards the gastropub (though that usually only found on Bahaman trips, not southern Caribbean. Ideal cruise, remember) for some beer.

Day 12

San Juan, Puerto Rico

After returning to San Juan, we would stay another day in the city. We would be too exhausted to do any more exploring, so we would find a nice ocean-view restaurant, and enjoy a romantic meal overlooking the seas before going to bed.

For those trying to keep track of our activities, what I included in the itinerary for a single day would be way too much. This just means that I would need to come back to these locations after this trip is over, and explore further.

Photo Attributions:

Experience at the Archway

This post is made possible in part by Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

Driving home from the previous Utah road trip proved to be quite an adventure. First plug, my wife and I stayed at the same hotel as the trip out west. The recommendation still stands. When we woke up, we awoke to a winter weather warning, so we quickly hit the road again after breakfast as to try and get ahead of the storm.

We failed at that.

The drive from North Platte all the way to the Mississippi River (roughly 580 miles) was terrible. Ice and wind prevented me from driving faster than 60 MPH the entire way. The speed limit on I-80 in most of rural Nebraska is 80 MPH, and when we were pushed to drive slower than 40, I knew it was time to get off the highway.

We got off the highway just east of Kearney, NE, and stopped at the Archway. Boy, are we glad we did. With all the times I have driven west and back and passing under the Archway that goes over the highway, I have always wanted to stop and give it a look, and the poor weather provided us that time. I am extremely grateful for their hospitality.

The Archway is a museum that tells the story of the westward expansion of the American people, and also the growth of technology that connected the East to the West. It is a self-guided audio tour showcasing 1830’s through 1950’s.

When you first walk in, you are greeted with an escalator that led up through a mural of the western landscape. The escalator was flanked on both sides by faux rocks and ground, and mannequins of people also “climbing” towards the top of the stairs.

Note on the mannequins found throughout the museum: the faces are recreated off of photographs from the era they portray, so they are actual people. They were built by the Disney animatronics builders, and throughout the stay, I half expected them to move like the Disney animatronics. This was confirmed by one of the volunteers after I had gone through the archway.

Past the mural was a recreation of Fort Kearny, an important stop on the voyage west, and the conjunction of the Oregon, Mormon, and California Trails. Here, the emigrants rested and restocked before taking off towards the western wilderness.>

Next room consists of three stories, one story for each of the three trails as they converge, heading towards their respective destinations.

Left: Prospective prospectors (49ers) on the California trail
Right: Mormons on the Mormon trail
Oregon trail emigrants were on a mural.

After that, you pass into a room portraying the building of the trans-continental railroad, the Pony Express, and the telegraph. Also, you hear of the telegraph that told the West of the Civil War.

Up the stairs, and you are greeted with the passing of technology to automobiles, and an introduction to the Lincoln Highway. Here, you see tourist camp grounds, drive-ins, and a diner.

After this exhibit, you take the escalator back down to the lobby, where you can buy from the gift shop or pick up information on even more Nebraska tourist information.

This is a gem hidden in plain sight. I am quite happy that the weather forced us in. It has given me inspiration for future trips that I wish to report. Give yourself the much needed rest from driving, take an hour or more (we were there for almost 2 hours), and enjoy this treasure.

Chillin’ at the Holiday Inn

This post is made possible in part by Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

My wife and I had to take a last minute trip back to Salt Lake City, and since that is a 22+ hour drive from our home, we had to stay in a hotel overnight half way between. We chose to stay at a Holiday Inn Express in Ogallala, Nebraska.

It was a new hotel, and built in a modern ascetic. Outside, it looked like a regular Holiday Inn Express, but the lobby definitely did not. The desk, and most the lobby, had minimalist lines and designs.

View of the lobby from the front door. Above: to the left, and the front desk. Below: to the right, and the public seating area

The room was sleek and modern. I especially enjoyed that there was a lounge in the room.

Standard 1 king size bedroom. Lounge in the background. View from the room door.

The staff was friendly, the breakfast was much needed, the rest provided was amazing. This stay was exactly the quality I expect from a Holiday Inn, and the convenience I expect from a Holiday Inn Express.

I look forward to staying again next week heading back home, and I recommend it to any I-80 traveller.