Touring The NASA Kennedy Space Center (Florida)

Our family recently had a very rewarding trip to the NASA Kennedy Space Center. This article is an attempt to share why we found it rewarding and to provide tips for others to a successful trip to this Florida educational attraction.

The Kennedy Space Center website now shows the park open from 9 AM to 7 PM. However, when we were there, I recall the park open from 9 AM to 5 PM. Perhaps the hours were different because it was late December. Or, maybe they heard me grumbling because it closes so early.

We arrived at about 9:30 AM with tickets in hand, purchased in advance, for the 12:00 Lunch With An Astronaut and the 1:50 NASA Up-Close Bus Tour, with the latter being a 3 hour tour. We purchased these in advance on the web, which I would recommend to anyone as these apparently frequently sell out.

As we arrived, we had a little time to blow before the beginning of an IMAX film we planned to view, so we strolled around Rocket Garden. This is a collection of rockets and lunar modules arranged in an outdoor area. With our children, ages 4 and 6 respectively, this was a hit, and provided for some good photo opportunities. There are a couple of lunar modules that have been converted for people to sit in while a friend snaps a photo – pretty cool.

Soon thereafter, we strolled over to the IMAX theater to see “Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D”,which is narrated by Tom Hanks. This is awesome. The 3D movie contains rare footage from the Apollo mission and is quite successful at making you feel as if you are on the moon. Do not miss this.

After this movie, we sat in the outdoor seating area for the Astronaut Encounter, a program wherein an astronaut stands up and talks about his experiences as an astronaut. On this day the astronaut was Charlie Walker, who has been up on the Space Shuttle an impressive 3 times. We were going to have lunch with him later via another event, so we were perhaps less interested that we would have been otherwise, but he kept our attention nevertheless. He did a particularly good job of describing, in detail, what it is like in the early moments of take-off.

With a bit of time to burn until our scheduled lunch with an astronaut, we strolled over to the Robot Scouts attraction. This was a hit with our younger children, but it should be noted that it is really for children. The attraction is designed to educate people on how NASA uses robots to do things physically impossible or at least difficult for humans to do.

We then went to our scheduled Lunch With An Astronaut, which we had purchased tickets to in advance. This turned out to be a quite nice buffet meal, certainly the best food at Kennedy Space Center. The aforementioned astronaut Charlie Walker stood in from of the group, spoke again about space travel, then held a brief question and answer session. I have to admit at being disappointed at the brevity of the Q&A, especially given that they did not get to my eagerly raised hand. All at the lunch received an autographed photo and were allowed an opportunity to take their photo with the astronaut afterward. This was well worth the money. Note that the group ranges in size from 40 to 50, or so they tell me. The day we were there I would guess 40 total attendees were in the room.

After lunch, we had a few minutes to burn, so we wandered around an adjoining room with different space exploration displays, which I believe is referred to as the Early Space Exploration exhibit. There were some interesting displays in this exhibit, which is well worth at least a short visit.

After this, we rushed over to the bus depot for our scheduled Up Close Bus Tour, a 3 hour bus tour that allowed us to get to areas we otherwise would have missed.

The first stop on the bus tour was the International Space Station Center, which is where parts are received from subcontractors for final preparation before shipping to the International Space Station by way of the Space Shuttle. We were able to view parts being prepped via a balcony level window.

The next stop, which lasted an hour, and was the highlight of the day, was the Apollo Saturn V Center. This is where you see an actual decommissioned Saturn V rocket, the most powerful rocket yet created, and which was used to take astronauts to the moon, laid on its side and suspended from the ceiling. If you have ever seen the picture from Kennedy Space Center of people standing below the back of 5 rocket engines, with each of the engine exhausts being about 2 human body lengths in width, this is where the picture was taken. The first half hour or so is a simulated Apollo launch, as viewed behind a simulated command center. This is also where one can touch a piece of the moon. An hour flew by here.

The third stop was at a viewing area for 2 rocket launch pads formerly used for Saturn V launches but since converted for Space Shuttle launches. This is an interesting but quick stop.

Along the way, we drove by the Vehicle Assembly Plant and the Space Shuttle Landing Runway, both interesting, but viewed from the bus as it goes by, which is adequate for these sites. After all, one is a big building, the other is a runway, and that is about it. Most interesting, all along the way the driver and our assigned guide talked about the history of rocketry, the history of NASA, the experience of space travel, how rockets work, etc. They talked all the time and EVERY minute was interesting. This alone made the bus tour quite worthwhile.

As Kennedy Space Center was closing we rushed into the Space Gift Shop. The store was great and the merchandise was cool and likely unique to Kennedy Space Center. However, the check-out lines were painfully slow, so after choosing several interesting and unique gifts, we abandoned the process after waiting 10 minutes in line out of what looked to be a 45 minute wait.

We then quickly ran over to view the Space Shuttle on display, which is set alongside a ramp that corKennedy Space Centerrews up to the 2 decks of the shuttle, allowing for entry and exploration, within confines. This is certainly worth the short walk. This quick walk also takes one by the Astronaut Memorial, a nicely designed memorial honoring those who have died in the pursuit of space exploration.

Regretfully, we ran out of time, and were not able to experience the Mad Mission To Mars, which appear to be a show highlighting efforts to get to mars. Consequently, I can’t say much about it, other that to say that I suspect it is worthwhile.

While we were there, we stayed in Cocoa Beach, which is known for its great surfing, and which is quite close. We looked for other interesting things to do in the area but frankly nothing grabbed our attention. You might check out the website forCocoa Beach to see if anything interests you. However, for anyone staying in Orlando, note that it is only about a one hour drive to Kennedy Space Center, sufficiently convenient to avoid relocating.

We did not make it to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, which is an associated attraction just a few minutes away. This stays open a couple of hours later that Kennedy Space Center itself, seemingly to allow people to spend the late afternoon and early evening there. It sounded interesting as we read about it, but we were frankly worn out after a quite full day of Kennedy Space Center.

This trip was great for children. It arouses healthy curiosity, develops an interest in science, and reinforces the value of education. I strongly recommend the visit and would encourage those doing the Disney World thing to take a quick one hour drive to this more education oriented attraction.

A Museum Tour of Raleigh, North Carolina

One of the amazing qualities of a city like Raleigh, North Carolina, which is surrounded by three major universities – Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State – is that there are plenty of brainy places to visit. Raleigh itself has more than a dozen museums that you can visit on your trip to the Research Triangle.

You can start downtown with Artspace, an art-accessibility studio. The point of Artspace is to show people who may not understand art how it is made. The theater-style museum shows 30 artists at work. People can stop by and check out the artists and watch for works in the making.

The next stop should be Exploris. This interactive museum is the key that Raleigh is a progressive-minded city. Exploris allows you to “meet” people of other cultures in an effort to expand cultural knowledge. There are an IMAX theater, a closet of items that show the chain of human connection, plays for the entire family, hands-on activities, and news reels from around the world. This museum’s mission makes it one of the nation’s most unique museums.

When Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope built his home in 1901, he had no way to know that it would become a museum center in one of the nation’s technological centers. Pope was an African American doctor, a rarity to say the least for the early twentieth century. His home, called the Pope House, stands today as a monument to the strides people like Dr. Pope made and shows how an affluent African American family in the South lived in the early 1900s.

The Raleigh City Museum also is a must-do on the tour of museums in the Raleigh area. You will find that the city’s museum, opened in 1993, is a wonderful archive for recording more than two centuries of the city’s past. This museum sits on the Fayette Street Mall and is open Tuesday through Saturday.

If the kids will be joining you for your trip to Raleigh, then stop by the Playscape Children’s Museum while you are in town. Intended for babies from six months through elementary school kids at seven years of age, Playscape has a guided session every hour for children. One parent must accompany the kids, but everyone is sure to have fun in this interactive museum.

If history is more your interest and you do not mind traveling a bit outside Raleigh proper, you can try Cary’s Page-Walker Arts and History Center or Apex’s N.C. Railroad Museum for a bit of learning while you are visiting. The Arts and History Center revolves around a mid-1800s hotel that catered to railcar guests. Once the center of activity for the Chatham & Seaboard Railroad, the Page-Walker hotel now serves as a cultural center with the Cary Heritage Museum. The Page-Walker Center has live performances based on history and culture as well as tours and even classes.

The Railroad Museum is a bit more self-guided than some of the other museums, but that should not stop you from visiting. You can stop by to look at memorabilia from North Carolina’s Railroad Collection anytime, and there are staff members there on certain days. If you have to be in town on the first Sunday of the month from May to November, you will be able to hop a one-hour ride on an old-fashioned train.

Mordecai House, located in the historic section of Raleigh, is another possibility for history-lovers, and it provides a number of attractions in one area. Mordecai House itself is an old plantation, and the preserved house in the big house, or main structure of the plantation. The surrounding buildings include a glimpse of Raleigh in the 1800s, helping along by historic preservation. You also can visit the birthplace of Andrew Jackson in this area.

As you can tell, Raleigh, North Carolina has an enormous capacity for hosting people who want to learn and have fun while they are visiting the city. There are museums for people who are interested in history, art, and for children, making Raleigh a very museum-friendly town. Surrounded by three large universities, this area of the country is great for a vacation for the nerd inside you. There is plenty to fill your mind on a museum-based trip to Raleigh, North Carolina.

By Julia Mercer

Frankfort, Kentucky’s Attractions

The capital of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Frankfort is nestled in a valley between the much larger city of Louisville and the much more progressive town of Lexington. Frankfort itself has only about 25,000 people, with many of the people who work in the small city leaving at night for nearby places.

That does not mean that there is nothing to do in Frankfort, however. There are two major attractions that all visitors to Frankfort should see. The first is the state Capitol building. Nestled in the residential section of old downtown on the east side of Frankfort, where there is little residential development, the Capital is open for tours. You can visit the Capitol for a tour. The Capitol, completed in 1910, has 70 columns that are its distinguishing feature. The first floor is open to tourists and houses the First Lady of Kentucky’s doll collection as well as rotating historical and cultural exhibits. If you travel to Highway 127, you can see a scenic overview of the Capitol, which will give you the best view of the building.

The next place you have to visit is the gravesite of Daniel Boone. Frankfort’s city cemetery is home to a number of well-known gravesites, particularly of former governors, but it is this outdoorsman and senator who has the best view. The people of Kentucky moved the Boone grave to Frankfort after it originally rested elsewhere in Kentucky. There are rumors about the true remains the grave, but Frankfortians have no comparison for Boone’s DNA. Still, the monument that sits atop the gravesite pays homage to the leader and gives a beautiful view of the city and the Kentucky River.

While you are in the area, you should stop by the Berry Hill Mansion. This beautiful house, built in 1900, sits on Louisville Road behind the state Capitol. George Franklin Berry built the Georgian mansion after making a fortune in the distillery business. The home is open to tours for free during the week. It is closed on weekends and holidays.

Another historic home in the Frankfort area is the Orlando Brown House. Used primarily for meetings and social events, the home is sometimes available for guided tours. Located in downtown Frankfort, this Gothic-Revival is was the home to the Brown family until 1954. Gideon Shryock designed the home, and it is the place to find a number of collection of local artistry.

The Frankfort Chamber of Commerce has its own historic building, the Queen Anne Gooch House. There are no tours available although there is plenty to see just by visit the chamber’s offices. While you are there, you will be able to pick up brochures on all of Frankfort’s attractions.

As the commonwealth’s, Frankfort stands as the beacon of history for the area. One of these exhibits is the Kentucky River exhibit, located on Broadway. This exhibit, which is self-guided, is available in the afternoons Monday through Saturday. People who would like to see it are welcomed in for free.

Another popular choice is the Kentucky Military History Museum. This museum is home to firearms and other remnants of battle from a number of national wars. There is a small fee for tickets, and there are guided tours available if you make arrangements in advance. Otherwise you can guide yourself through this wonderful museum, which will introduce you to centuries of military history.

If you want a divine local treat, check out Rebecca Ruth’s Candy Factory. You can get bourbon-flavored candy, a Kentucky trademark, as well as taking a tour of the factory facilities. You will be able to get a video, check out antique stirring methods, and even sample some candy. The factory also sits adjacent to the Rebecca Ruth Store, so you can purchase some candy to take home with you.

These options are only a few of the offerings Frankfort has in store for its visitors. If you are looking for something to do while you are passing through Kentucky or if you live nearby and have never explored your capital, then you should consider visiting some of these great locations. There are museums, walking tours, and many other attractions awaiting your visit to Frankfort. You never know what you might learn!

By Julia Mercer

Traveling to the Emerald Isle?

If a trip to Ireland is anywhere in your future, planning to spend some of your time in Dublin will most likely be something that you will be deciding. While you are researching this destination, one of the things that you will discover is that Dublin is quite well known for its night life. The city has more than a thousand pubs and each one has a unique ambiance and some of the best food you will find as a tourist.

Another thing that is great to do while in Dublin is to catch some concerts and maybe find a venue to listen to Celtic music. It is popular here in its country of origin. You will not run out of things to do in Ireland.

One of the first things that many visitors plan to see is the Dublin Castle. This area offers many great opportunities for taking pictures and videos of your trip if you happen to have a video camera with you. This land once held a Viking fortress in the 900s A.D. and then in the very early 13th century, King John of England had a stronger building put up here which became the castle. It has been standing here since its completion in the year 1230.

Plan to stop by the area called Temple Bar if you want to find one of those pubs or do some shopping. This is also a place where you can learn a lot about the culture of the area as well as some of its history. You can also catch a movie or show here at the cinema center.

If you need to or want to plan some quiet time during your visit, there are dozens of museums in and around Dublin. The biggest and best is found in four different buildings and one of them isn’t even located in Dublin proper. It is the National Museum of Ireland and you can spend hours learning about natural history, archaeology, history, Irish life, and decorative arts.

If you are traveling with children or enjoy animals yourself, plan to stop by the Dublin Zoo to see some of the animals that roam on these 70 acres of land. You will be able to see some endangered species here. The zoo is divided into different areas that include the arctic, Africa, and areas for primates and all kinds of cats large and small.

Plan a tour of the Christ Church while you are in Dublin if things like that interest you. It has been here since the early 1000s and tours are offered. If you find tours of cathedrals something that you want to do more often, St. Patrick’s Cathedral also in the city is another option.

Do you wish to experience what this area was like before it was named Dublin? There is a living history museum village that will let you experience the time period when “Dyflin” was the name. There are buildings to explore and you can board a Viking ship. As in many other living history sites around the world, you will find costumed guides here to show you around and answer any questions that you may have. It is called Dublin’s Viking Adventure.

If you want to spend some quiet down time, look for one of the numerous lovely parks around the city. You will be able to find free concerts at some of them and many of the area parks cover acre after acre of trees, flowers, fountains, lakes, and monuments. These parks are excellent for getting some exercise in also if you hike the trails around them.

A few other things to do while spending some time here include a stop by the National Gallery of Ireland to see some of the best artwork in all of Europe or the National Wax museum where you will see a wax offering of the Last Supper as well as much more. Highlighted here are figures that represent fairy tale characters, so if you are traveling with children, be sure to research this further to see if it is a stop the whole family would enjoy. If you are traveling sans young children, you may enjoy the Chamber of Horrors or the wax figurines of stars.

No matter what it is that you desire to do from sports to fine dining to making the theater and show circuit, you will find plenty of things to fill your time in Dublin.

Timeshares, Free Prizes, and Coupons

By Christina VanGinkel

The phone rang and the caller asked for my oldest daughter. She and her husband travel a lot for work, and she has gotten into the habit of putting our home phone number down whenever she fills out forms for a few select items of interest that they have been looking into. I replied to the caller that she was not home at the moment and that I would gladly take a message. The caller quickly went into a spiel that she had signed up recently for a trip give-away, and that they had drawn her name out of thousands of entries.

I listened along, taking a few notes as the man went on. He then asked if there was a number where she could be reached at, that day. When I once again replied that there was not, but that I was more than willing to take down any information that he wished to leave, he informed me that what she had really been chosen for was to be a visitor to a timeshare community.

Let me stop here and tell you that I believe that there are many timeshare communities that are well worth their cost. If someone wants to take a vacation in the same spot, or at the same time each year, or at the least, can arrange their vacation months in advance, a timeshare can be a great way to vacation in comfort and save money doing so. Some even have the option of vacationing at different locations throughout the world, as long as you are a member of their timeshare community. In plain words, I like timeshares. And as a matter of fact, I knew that my daughter had sent out for information on a couple of different timeshare organizations, as her and her husband were somewhat intrigued by the idea of buying into one, and they planned on looking further into several that had garnered their attention. When I later asked my daughter if she had signed up for any contests or a give-away and used my number, she quickly replied that she had not.

This person was not trying to sell my daughter and her husband a timeshare though. The more I listened to him ramble on; I realized that what it really amounted to was a set of coupons good for a variety of useless, unassociated travel items. Fifty percent off a night at such and such a hotel, providing it be used between certain dates, on certain nights of the week, with many dates blacked out, and excluding weekends. Other coupons were for equally useless discounts to shows and restaurants. While some of them were at least in a location where someone might be able to use a few of them at the same time, they were mostly so random that you would have to be able to be in ten places at once in order to even take a vacation with a bit of a discount. They were not free either. There was a quite hefty price tag, called a filing fee, attached to the so-called coupons and discounts.

This got me to wondering how they had gotten a hold of my daughter’s name though and in conjunction with our phone number. It did not take me long to find out, as the next day, this same person called again, asking if my daughter were home yet, or if I had at least passed along the information and his phone number that he had left with me. I told him I had passed along the information and his number, and if my daughter were interested, she would be contacting him. I also quickly asked him if he could tell me where he had gotten my daughter’s name and my number, as she had informed me that she kept track of those places that she had asked for information and their company was not on her short list. His reply, honest at least, was that it had came from a mailing list.

If there is a lesson to be learned in any of this, it is to keep track of any offers or places that you do send away for information from. Otherwise, my daughter might have thought that she really had won something from one of the places she had asked for info on. The biggest tip off though was that if they want money upfront for something they originally said was a prize, run, and run fast. Spend your money on a real vacation instead!

Travel Safety Tips

By Christina VanGinkel

Whether traveling within your home country or abroad, traveling safety is an issue you should be concerned about. This is not to say that you should be so caught up in worries about traveling, which can quickly build around cautionary travel issues, that you have no fun. It means that taking a few measures upfront of your travel plans and during your travels, can assure you that you have done, and are doing, everything that you could to keep yourself and family safe.

Being aware of your surroundings is the best way I can think of to stay on top of safety. Too often, we become lax with our possessions, such as our purse or wallet, and feel that if we are in a happy go lucky place, say a theme park, no one is there to be stealing, that they are there for the same reasons we are. That is the wrong attitude to have and the quickest way to become the subject of a robbery or theft. Sadly, there are people out there for just that purpose, looking for an easy mark to steal from, pickpocket, even get their keys so they can go back to their hotel room, and commit a robbery. Simple things like keeping your purse in front of you, and not hanging it carelessly on the back of a restaurant chair, putting your wallet in a waist strap that is secured under your shirt, and not setting packages down and then turning our backs to them for even a minute, can all have a huge, positive impact against these scenarios playing out for real. One additional note about not watching your personal belongings; Not only could you become the target of a thief, but with something like your luggage, if you are not in control of it every step of the way, it is easy for someone to add something to your baggage. Items such as drugs or weapons could be slipped into unwatched, unlocked luggage, so be extra vigilant that you are always in total control of these items until they are in the safety of the airline, train, or bus company that you are traveling with.

Avoid dressing above the crowd. By this, I mean, that it is not wise to wear flashy jewelry, expensive shoes, or boots, even clothing that clearly says look at me, because I am rich. Even if you are an average person, wearing something expensive can draw the eye of a less than honest person. Save the flash for home, for when you are among friends and family. Even if you were wealthy, and staying in what you consider a hotel that has scruples, and a secure safe for those valuable you feel the need to bring, I would still recommend not dressing to high style. Save it for when you are not vacationing. During the actual travel part, such as flying, dress comfortably, but not flashy, so as not to alert an unscrupulous person to your luggage also.

Do not wander away from the crowds. Stay in populated, well-lit areas. Thieves look for the solo traveler that drifts away from the crowd. Common sense goes a long way with issues such as these. Avoid heading to your hotel room alone, and be sure to use the locks provided. They are there for a reason, and not locking your room door, even for a minute, say for a quick run to the vending machines, is foolish at best and could potentially be extremely dangerous.

Make duplicates of your travel documents and keep them in separate parts of your luggage. Also, break up your traveler’s checks and other forms of money so that in the event you are robbed, you maintain the chance of not being totally without any funds. Be sure to keep a list of important phone numbers for any companies you may have to contact, on your person, or left with a person back home that you can call in an emergency, so that items such as stolen credit cards can be instantly cancelled. When using a credit card, also make a mental note at each transaction that you retain your receipt and that you get back your own card, and not someone else’s. This happens more than one would ever believe and it can be hassle getting it straightened out.

Visit Royal Gorge Bridge and Park in Colorado

By Christina VanGinkel

The first time I visited the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, located outside of Canon City Colorado, I walked across the bridge with my two youngest children. Cars and trucks were going over it at the same time we were, and we could feel the bridge swaying beneath our feet, in part from the motion of the vehicles I am sure, and because at 1, 053 feet, it is the world’s highest suspension bridge. I recall reading the information on the plaque affixed to the bridge on how it was made, and that alone was almost too intimidating to get me out onto it, but my kids prevailed and before I knew it, we were out on it looking down into one of the most awe-inspiring views I have yet to encounter.

The park has undergone many changes since our first visit and is now home to attractions that include a petting zoo and the Wapiti Western Wildlife Park. The Wapiti Western Wildlife Park is home to rare American White Bison, elk, big horn sheep, and a variety of other species. Native to the park though, and one of my favorites, is the tiny hummingbird. On that first visit, after braving the walk across the bridge, I was greeted on the other side by literally hundreds of these colorful little creatures buzzing in and about the hanging flowers at the cafe on the opposite end of the bridge from the parking lot and entry.

For first time visitors, or those who have been there a dozen times, a ride across the gorge in the Aerial Tram is necessary. If I had just been privy to the views from the bridge, I would have been satisfied, that was until I was aloft in the Aerial Tram. The views over the gorge from inside of the tram are heart stopping at their best. No view has since compared to the view from the tram ever! If you want more heart stopping excitement after you ride the Aerial Tram, be sure to check out their Royal Rush Skycoaster. The height of the ride itself is a mere 100 feet, but you will be rushing over the Arkansas River below you at a whopping 1,200 feet! This is definitely not a coaster for the fainthearted.

For those looking for some less heart pounding rides, the park is home to a beautiful antique carousel, perfectly sized for both children and adults. The carousel itself is an amazing menagerie of animals that is more like a fairy tale than any ride at any park I have ever encountered. On our first and subsequent visits, we have always taken the time to ride the Silver Rock Railway. Scaled after a vintage train, it may be pint sized in comparison to the real thing; it is fun nonetheless. At one mile long, the ride is a entertaining, carefree way for you and the kids to enjoy a bit of history of the region, with the conductor and others spinning tales all around. Parents can kick up their feet and relax if they so wish, while the kids may think it is the best part of the whole park.

There are multiple gift ships and restaurants within the park so carry ins are not needed, but camping, biking, and hiking are favorite pastimes of many of the park’s past and present visitors, so if that is more your thing, then go for it. Do be sensitive to the parks natural habitat and stay on marked trails, follow all rules, and be sure to carry out anything you carry in so the next person who comes behind you can enjoy the scenery and wild vistas as much as you did. If you would like to forego the walk across the bridge, driving it is still an option, and thousands choose to do it each year. Royal Gorge Bridge and Park are truly a place that offers something for everyone who visits. They have a variety of events from spring throughout the summer available, (Mother’s get in free on Mother’s Day this year!) so be sure to check their calendar of events if you want to go for a special occasion. If you are looking for that one special place to head off to this year, make it Royal Gorge.

Quick Getaways, Visit a Bed and Breakfast

By Christina VanGinkel

Not every vacation needs to be across the country or so far away that you need to take a plane or train to get to your destination. If you are in need of a getaway and cannot afford the money or the time for a long distance vacation, and cannot afford to put it off any longer as your mind is in as desperate need of a break as the rest of you, then look close to home. Consider going for a weekend to a Bed and Breakfast nearby to where you live, or to a ski resort or lodge that offers all-inclusive packages. This way, all you have to pack is a change of clothes, maybe your sports gear if this is something that is relaxing to you, and your toothbrush. An all-inclusive Bead and Breakfast or lodge package should include all of your meals, or at least breakfast and dinner. Ski resorts might offer similar packages, or other package style deals, such as a room, breakfast, and lift ticket. Your final choice should also be within driving distance, as you want to avoid any form of travel that will be costly or a hassle.

I found several Beds and Breakfasts in our immediate area by looking online for Bed and Breakfasts in the state I reside in at the start of my search. I then narrowed it down from there, keeping the search as simple as possible too, as my goal was to get away for a break, not add to my already large stress level. One Bed and Breakfast kept being repeatedly mentioned by friends and family. This was in the small town of Florence Wisconsin, the Lakeside Bed & Breakfast. It is less than an hour from my home, just one county over, and sits on the small, but lovely Fisher Lake. They have every amenity one might want, such as fireplaces and a decor of antiques, plus modern touches including DVD players in room, and high-speed Internet access. While they only offer breakfast, everything else fit what I was looking for perfectly, and a quick call to them assured me that there are several restaurants in the immediate area, so dining would not be a problem

Find a Bed and Breakfast, lodge, or ski resort close to your home through either word of mouth, asking around the office, or quizzing friends and family on any places they know about, or do a search online for any Bed and Breakfasts, lodges, or ski resorts that are nearby your home. Better yet, find your ideal getaway through a combination of these, much the same way that I found the Lakeside. Set a limit as to the distance that you will travel before you begin your search; say within a one or two hour driving distance. Then stick to those limitations. If you end up extending it even a bit further then you wanted to go, it will quickly turn into a chore getting there and not be the quick getaway it is suppose to be.

If you feel that you normally must accomplish something when you travel, such as shopping, sightseeing, or going to a show, but what you really need is peace and quiet, then remind yourself that is what your goal is for this trip, peace and quiet. There is nothing wrong with going away for the weekend and staying in your room the whole time, especially if you choose a room at a quaint little place such as the Lakeside Bed & Breakfast in Florence Wisconsin.

Take a book with that you have wanted to read, and then kick back and read it. On the other hand, take with a sketchbook if art is something you love to do, but can never seem to find the time to attempt. Think of quiet activities that you just never seem to find the time to do, even when you take a larger vacation. Because so often then, you always have something planned, so that the quiet activities that you might have liked to do, just never seem to make it into the schedule. If you are a crafter at heart, bring along your current project or start one, a scrapbook and a few pictures, yarn and hook, or even a simple bead project. No procrastinating, just do it.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

By Christina VanGinkel

Central to a wide range of attractions, a visit to Colorado Springs, Colorado will keep you occupied for the length of your visit no matter how long you plan to stay. While not all the attractions are inside the city limits, they are all within easy driving distance and varied enough that everyone in your travel party will be able to find something to keep them occupied.

While I have several favorite attractions that I have been to over the years, there is a couple that I consider must visit stops for first time visitors. My overall favorites, those that I find myself going back to repeatedly include the following natural wonders:

Garden of the Gods

The Garden of the Gods, a 1,300 plus acre site of natural red sandstone formations that once you visit, you will immediately understand how they came by the name Garden of the Gods, as surely only some higher force could have created something so beautiful out of something as mundane as sandstone. A maze of trails has been created that winds it way through the registered National Natural Landmark, allowing visitors to walk, hike, bike, or even horseback ride through the park. There is no entry fee to this natural wonder, though there is a Visitor Center that offers items for sale. The visitor center is also free, and even if you do not plan to buy any trip souvenirs, it is still worth a visit, as it should be classified a museum almost as much as a visitor center. While I am not a big fan of visitor centers in general, this one is well worth a visit, as it is chock full of local history information for anyone wanting to relish in the full glory of this amazing place. Rock climbing is permitted in some areas of the park, though not all and they do request for safety purposed that all climbers register. To climb, you must be in groups of two or more and have proper climbing equipment. Random climbing is not only frowned upon, it is prohibited.

When visiting the park, be alert to posted signs telling you to stay on the trails, as there are reasons behind these postings, such as fragile growth that if trampled, could cause the overall park to change in such a manner that people may someday be banned. Follow the rules to keep the park open to many future generations, as this is a natural wonder that everyone should be able to enjoy!

Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway

Pukes Peak was the first tourist attraction that I ever visited in the state of Colorado. I arrived via the famous cog railway that is still transporting people to the top of this 14,110-foot tall infamous mountain. The railway runs from late spring through fall, though the actual dates are very dependant on the weather. While you can get to the top of this mountain by vehicle, bike, even hiking, (There is a charge for using the highway up too, so keep this in mind if you are a budget traveler, and are comparing costs!) I would suggest you travel it at least once by rail. On my trip up, I was able to view the mountainside in all its wonderful glory, taking in how the growth changes as you reach the summit. There is a visitor’s center at the top, and it is well worth a visit, if for nothing more than refreshment after the trip. While most tickets sold are for round trip, some travelers take the railway to the top then hike down on one of the marked trails. One-way tickets can occasionally be purchased, but I have been told that this is rare.

However you decide to reach the summit, be sure to come with both camera in hand, and maybe a journal, as the view is so inspiring that it will motivate you to make permanent note of its affect in some manner. At the least, you will be witness to a view that was once only attained by hard work and stamina of climbing such a momentous height. Be sure to visit the top of Pikes Peak on your next visit to Colorado, and you will soon be planning a return visit before your first is even over.

Visit the Ghost Town of Historic Fayette Michigan

By Christina VanGinkel

Located in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula on the Big Bay de Noc, lies the remains of what was once a town founded by the Jackson Iron Company. The location of the town was chosen for numerous reasons, including the many natural resources, the hardwoods that were thick and abundant; the perfect harbor that could not have been designed as well as nature did on her own, and the plentiful limestone, all items that would prove to be useful to a company wanting to smelt iron. The town survived from 1867 until the very early 1890’s when the hustle of the town came to a close.

Jump into the future, and the town is now a bustling state park. With many of the building restored, it offers up a rare glimpse into a time not that long past, but one that seems a millennium away from the computer and electronic age we live in today. Living just a few hours away, across the state line into Wisconsin, but growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I had heard stories of this ghost town throughout my childhood and into my adulthood. One day, when my youngest son was about ten, he heard about this town from a project that he did in school on the harbors and cities of northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. When he came home with some pamphlets that a teacher had passed out to his class, I took it as a sign that together, we would visit this town. I pinned the pamphlet up on our bulletin board, and a few weeks later when summer was in full swing, we decided to play hooky.

We packed a lunch after talking to my sister who had been to the town on several occasions, and planned to have dinner later in the day in Escanaba Michigan, about an hour away from our hometown. We started out early in the day, and arrived, not sure, if we were in the right place. It is important to note, and they have even posted a warning about this on the official website that represents this park, that there are no gas stations on the peninsula leading down to the park itself, so be sure to gas up before you turn off the main highway. The entry from that point on in is a bit bland looking, similar to the many other rural roads in any one of a hundred towns across the US, but soon you will be driving through a stand of large trees, and into a parking lot, which adjoins the gift shop and visitor center. There is a fee to pay to enter the park, but it is minimal and well worth it. A note of interest, there is a large, well-maintained campground within the park, but set away from the actual town, for those wanting to camp and explore the park over a couple of days. The campground is operated by the state, so call ahead for information about fees, regulations, and reservations. The port is also open for visits by boats. The day we visited there were several mid and larger sized boats moored up at the docks. Swimming is also allowed, depending on the weather.

After parking and taking a walk through the visitor center, we headed into town. You can walk through the old Fayette Hotel, also known as the Shelton House, visit a schoolroom where you can see some of the very items used to teach children who lived in this once bustling town. The remains of the old general store still stand, as do the giant ovens used for the smelting of the iron. Walking further into the town, we wound our way around the bay and soon found ourselves approaching what we learned were several private residences and the doctors place. The opera house that towns folk went to for entertainment still stands, as do several other buildings of interest. We were taken by the fact that this town has been left scattered as it was, that the buildings have not been raised and moved closer together to make it an easy walk around. You walk the same paths that the townspeople who lived here did.

If you want to visit a town that is truly a page out of history, be sure to put Fayette Michigan on your itinerary, as you will not be disappointed.