The Gonzalez-Alvarez House – St. Augustine’s Oldest?

In St. Augustine, Florida, you will find a quaint gem on quiet St. Francis Street. This big house has a big history, one that few people have probably ever heard. It’s known as the Gonzalez-Alvarez House, or the “Oldest House.” Some people say it’s the oldest house in the country, but that is highly doubted. Even some homes and buildings in St. Augustine are said to go back in time as far as this one, if not longer, but whether or not it’s the “oldest” house isn’t the issue. It still has a lot of history under its roof, and everyone is certain of this.

Land records show that a dwelling of one form or another could be found on this site way back into the 1600s. You might say that the houses in a Florida city couldn’t possibly go back that far, but considering the city was founded in 1565, it is most probably true. In the beginning the houses were probably made of wood or some other perishable material on which time soon took a toll. In the early 1700s, however, a more permanent one-story building was constructed; this was the base for the current Gonzalez-Alvarez House. This little house was very Spanish in design, attesting to the origins of the people of the city. Tomas Gonzalez and his family occupied the house until the 1760s, when British troops took over the city and English and other foreign immigrants began pouring in.

In the 1700s, the time period of Eugenia Price’s book “Maria” which concerns one of the British owners of the home, a lavish second floor was added. Changes throughout the years turned the Gonzalez-Alvarez House into a bright and somewhat pompous structure, complete with awnings and a huge backyard tower room. Luckily, it has been returned to its previous appearance for all to appreciate.

First of all, for those wondering exactly where the “Oldest House” is, it can be found at 14 St. Francis Street. Across the street is a huge yellow structure that is now the St. Francis Barracks and home to the National Guard, but was once a monastery rebuilt over time. Visitors to the Gonzalez-Alvarez House usually enter by the garden gate, taking time to enjoy the exquisite decorating tastes of another one of the house’s 18th century owners, Geronimo Alvarez. After paying the admission (which ranges from $4.00 to $8.00 depending on your age) you are free to explore the gardens. Very young children (under the age of six) will not have to pay admission. The house and grounds can be toured from 9:00 to 5:00 and will be open every day except major holidays.

Once inside the damp stone walls of the original part of the house (the downstairs) a tour guide weaves the tales of the house’s beginnings and the family that lived in these tiny quarters. Note the smoke stains on the walls and the simple but elegant furnishings. You will notice a cardplaying room and other tiny enclaves. A walk up the wooden stairs will bring you into the much more elegant part of the house, the mid-18th century addition known as Maria’s Room. The room takes its name from Maria Evans Fenwick Peavett, the subject of Eugenia Price’s novel. Lovely colonial furniture, a paneled ceiling, and elegant wood floors sharply contrast to the plain amenities found in the Gonzalez section below.

From Maria’s Room you can tour the Alvarez dining room, a family gathering spot during Geronimo Alvarez’s ownership of the home. If you can, try to visit in the morning; there’s nothing better than a cool Florida morning breeze blowing through the house’s open windows. Walking back a small hallway reveals a small but lofty room. A huge bed takes up much of the room, and is lovingly described as the “Million-Dollar Bed.” While it may or not be worth that much, it is said to have once belonged to Florida notary General Joseph Hernandez.

Once you’re back outside, don’t forget to tour the separate Spanish kitchen. In colonial St. Augustine, threat of fire goaded wealthier residents to have their kitchens built apart from the main house so damage would be minimal. Statuary and small items scattered here and there in the gardens will capture your interest. The back of the house is as charming as the front, made up of many large windows and smooth white walls. You can visit a museum on the grounds, and check out another 18th century house next door, the red-and-white Tovar House.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

A Trip To Chattanooga

My family went to Chattanooga this year for vacation. Although I had driven through Chattanooga, I had never stopped and visited anything. I must say that I would give the small city moderate reviews after our visit there.

We stayed at the campgrounds at Harrison Bay. The bay is a state park and is a magnificent body of water. One of the best things about it is looking out over the water and watching the people on jet skis and in boats glide over the beautiful stillness. The downside to the bay was that it really is not made for swimming. We did find a little area down by a picnic area where we could slip into the water. We had anticipated being able to swim from a beach or bank, however. My in-laws, who went with us, had been before and had stayed along the bay. We did not get there in time to stay at the bay because some locals apparently paid for a week of bayside spots so that they could arrive on the Fourth of July weekend.

Still we were able to swim for at least an hour each day in the bay while we were there, which was a very nice way to cool off. Being from the Deep South, I loved the heat, since I do not often feel it now. People who are not accustomed to the heat, however, should bring along plenty of water and should be sure that they are wearing light-colored clothing in very lightweight fabrics.

Our first tourist attraction was the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. This place was a little different than I had imagined from the descriptions. It is essentially a shopping district within downtown Chattanooga. The buildings were once a train station, and train memorabilia and factoids decorate the ways of the building. Today it is home to shops, restaurants, and other fun places for tourists to visit. We ate while we were there and purchased a tourist t-shirt for our son.

We also took a ride on the historic trolley. This trolley began its life in New Orleans and made its way to Chattanooga about 50 years ago. Today it is restored and used only for transporting tourists around the train depot and giving them an idea of how the trolley worked. The trip was interesting as we were able to get an idea of the lighting used and the way that trolleys worked. Children will enjoy this part of the trip as they will have a great view in the trolley seats.

The next day we took a ride on the Incline Railway. The railway is the steepest passenger train in the world. At the top, the railway is at a 72.9 percent grade, so you feel as if you are moving straight up into the air. If you have a weak stomach, then this ride may not be for you. Instead you can drive up to meet your family at the top of Lookout Mountain. The mountain is home to many beautiful estates although most of them are guarded by privacy walls so that no one can see the whole house. There also is a lighted re-enactment of the battle that took place atop Lookout Mountain during the Civil War. This re-enactment uses thousands of lights to depict soldiers playing out the battle. There also is a national park that has cannon balls and a magnificent view. This park is only for viewing the historical memorabilia, however, so do not plan a picnic lunch or any roughhousing on the grass.

Our final stop was Rock City. After getting over the initial shock that we could not bring our stroller in (no one told us that when we paid), we found that the caverns were beautiful. The best part was the view of the waterfall along one of the larger rocks. Rock City is not suited for people who have trouble walking for long periods as little of the park is wheelchair accessible or for small children as there are many dangerous spots. The area is pristine, however, just as it was when it started in the 1930s.

Chattanooga does not offer enough for a weeklong visit, but for a four- or five-day trip, it is worth the drive.

By Julia Mercer

Beautiful Christ Church: A St. Simons Island Treat

St. Simons Island is unique in the way that every island is unique; it’s a chance to get away from traffic and highways and road rage, and escape to a seaside villa. There are attractions, restaurants, and shopping experiences here that are very different from anything else Georgia has to offer. Even with all the island’s appeal, one beautiful getaway far outshines the rest; Christ Church Frederica. In the 1700s, Fort Frederica was built, lending its name to the surrounding area. To call this church “nice” is to make the understatement of the century.

You certainly don’t have to be religious to come here; you’ll be welcome no matter what your views are (just make sure services aren’t in session before you barrel inside with a movie camera in tow!). It’s always polite to ask if videos are allowed inside the church, and to remember that there are times that the interior is not open to the public. This picturesque white church’s architecture brings a romantic hideaway to mind and makes a wonderful photo spot; don’t be surprised if most of your St. Simons vacation photos are of Christ Church! The grounds are also beautiful. Different types of plant life make up a stunning tropical atmosphere. You will find a burial place where author Eugenia Price, who wrote about many local people and places, was laid to rest.

Once inside Christ Church, you may be surprised. It isn’t fancy, but somehow the intricate woodwork makes it more quaint and beautiful than if it would be covered with gold and gems. If you are of the Episcopal faith and want to attend a service, this would be a great place to worship while on vacation. Just check their website to find out when services are held, for how long, and if there is anything you will need to know. Even if you don’t come to worship, always feel free to appreciate the sights. The stained glass adds a graceful and luxurious touch to the already stunning building.

Across from the church you will see a huge, gnarled tree that looks as if it’s of some importance. This tree is known as the Wesley Oak, and it’s said to be the very tree under which the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, preached in the mid-1700s, long before the current church was built. It is very easy to believe that the oak has seen so many years. Don’t forget to look closely at the wall surrounding the entrance to the church; graceful little crosses are carved intricately into the brick, adding to the idyllic scene.

The church has had a colorful history; the church that existed here in the 1800s was destroyed during the American Civil War, until Anson Dodge reconstructed the church into the form we see today. This was in 1884. One of Eugenia Price’s novels, Beloved Invader, tells the story of this man and his connections to Christ Church. Dodge is buried at the church, along with the builder of the original St. Simons Island Lighthouse, James Gould, and other notable people.

Also near the grounds of Christ Church you will find a little walkway area that pays homage to the Wesley brothers. Feel free to enjoy the Spanish moss and quiet ambiance of this beautiful island. Christ Church is a great attraction because it’s so different from the rides, costumed reenactors, and hustle and bustle that you may be used to. This portion of St. Simons is generally free of noise and traffic, adding to the appeal. It’s a deep, spiritual journey disguised as an island vacation, and should leave you with many warm and treasured memories.

While visiting Christ Church, don’t forget to check out the 18th century Fort Frederica, the desolate and intriguing Bloody Marsh battlefield where many Spaniards met their fates in 1742, the St. Simons Island Lighthouse, and the pier, as well as Gascoigne Bluff and the shopping village. There are lots of activities to browse on St. Simons Island, but the striking beauty and reverence of Christ Church should not be forgotten. One option is to read Eugenia Price’s “Beloved Invader” before or during your visit to St. Simons, and then make a family trip to the graveyard to see where the people in the book are buried. It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the area before visiting.

Don’t Get Dizzy At Disney: Gentler Family Rides

Sometimes it seems as if everyone assumes we like the “fast” rides. Roller coasters and thrill rides aren’t for everyone, but somehow we can’t convince anyone of that. Now that you’ve decided to go to Disney World, you’re probably getting suggestions like “You *have* to ride Splash Mountain” and you just can’t see anyone in your family enjoying a ride where you scream your guts out. What to do?

The Internet is a beautiful way to pull up Disney sites and see just what rides are available. Believe it or not, there are quite a few attractions that will get your heart pumping without making you a puddle on the sidewalk. Personally I am not a friend of roller coasters or heart-stopping thrill rides, and wonder why it’s always assumed that all visitors to Disney like that kind of thing! It depends on what level of “quiet” ride you’re looking for. The ferry that transports you to Disney World actually isn’t an attraction but it *feels* like a nice, relaxing ride. Once you’ve esconced yourself aboard ship, you can press your nose to the railing until you see the famous castle come into view.

For a sweet approach to Disney World that won’t make you woozy, you might want to consider the well-known It’s A Small World. If your first thought is of cute dolls and cheap costumes, you couldn’t be more wrong! This is a beautiful presentation where figures represent little boys and girls from all over the world, and their ethnic dress is just striking in its detail and authenticity. This is a slow, enjoyable boat ride that lasts long enough to entice you, but not long enough to make you bored. The only bad aftereffect is that after you exit the ride, you *will* be hearing “it’s a small world, after all” in your head for a few days at least.

Haunted Mansion is somewhere in between wild and tame. It’s not a gentle ride, but it’s not high energy or worthy of stomach-turning, either. You start out by getting into a covered carriage, which then carries you through a dark “haunted house” full of cool animatronics, neat special effects, and things popping up out of the gloom. It can be scary for kids, but the older the kids, the more they will probably appreciate the excitement. Mostly the ride is smooth sailing, with few bumps and surprises except an occasional ghost or ghoulie. In my opinion, the best part of the ride was looking down into a dimly-lit room and seeing “ghosts” dancing transparently on a ballroom floor. The effect was stunning.

Liberty Square’s Liberty Bell Riverboat is another gentle ride that won’t disappoint. Especially if you’re visiting on a hot day, this is a wonderful alternative to walking! As you stand at the covered ramp you can see the ominous Haunted Mansion in the distance. The Liberty Bell Riverboat is a lovely paddlewheeler from which you see the quaint buildings of Tom Sawyer’s Island as you sail along. The trip usually takes somewhere around 20 minutes. Be careful to time when you arrive, because there’s nothing worse than looking forward to a soothing boat cruise only to discover it’s just left port.

Adventureland’s Jungle Cruise is another wonderful boat ride that will give you a totally different experience than the Liberty Bell Riverboat. A small canopied vessel transports you over tropical rivers and “animals” graze alongside the water (don’t tell anyone they’re not real; unless you get very close to them, you probably won’t be able to tell!). Some of the rivers represented are the mysterious Congo and the intriguing Nile. Be warned that on a hot day, this ride will probably be in high demand, so try to get there early!

One last simple ride that will bring enjoyment to kids and adults alike is Cinderella’s Golden Carousel. “Adults don’t ride carousels” you say? Not so. I know of a certain person (I will withhold names) who went on the carousel a few years ago with her grownup self and a pair of new Mickey Ears, and it was so wonderful to feel like a kid again that the feeling never left. Disney World does that to people; it reminds you that it’s not always so great when you bury your childhood.

Pedro’s South of the Border: A Fun I-95 Tourist Stop

Traveling to Florida from the Northern states? If so, there is a unique family-friendly tourist attraction you shouldn’t miss. On the border between North and South Carolina you will find South of the Border, a Mexican paradise where you can unwind on your way to the Sunshine State. South of the Border is many things to many people; some find it touristy, but others ignore this technicality to have fun and relax. South of the Border actually offers many different activities depending on your family’s interests.

As a Florida-lover who has visited South of the Border numerous times, I can honestly say that even if you don’t enjoy the atmosphere, you’ll love the chance to stop and stretch your legs before you continue on your journey. The import stores are a bit on the expensive side, but digging deep can reveal treasures, such as in the Africa Shop. This place has lodging, dining, shopping, and family-oriented attractions in the large space that makes up the complex.

A bite to eat: For a change of scenery from the everyday fast food joints, you can choose a Mexican restaurant or “plainer” foods such as ice cream and sandwiches. There are many comfort foods available here. The quaintly-named Sombrero Restaurant should satisfy your spicy cravings and transport you to the real “South of the border.” I was on my way to Spanish St. Augustine, Florida when I ate here, and nothing prepares you for the Spanish culture more than downing a spicy enchilada!

Shopping: If you want South of the Border-themed shirts, magnets, hats, and things like that, check out the huge “t-shirt shop.” For fancier souvenirs with an African theme, try Africa Shop. I purchased a religious collectible here that made a very nice gift, and the price was to my liking. You just have to hunt around a little. I have to admit that it’s fun to buy a South of the Border t-shirt to flaunt your visit to this roadside stop-off, whether or not it’s the most fashionable article of clothing in the world.

Some shops include Mexico Shop, Rodeo Drive Boutique, Leather Shop, and Myrtle Beach Shop. I bought a beautiful Chinese brocade blank book in the t-shirt shop, a little gem among the plainer offerings. It’s one of my favorite books now. They didn’t carry the item the last few times I visited, but I see now that it’s good not to judge a whole store by the first few things you see. Another nice item I bought here was a butterfly hair barret with sparkles. Far from being a cheap item, it has stayed in good condition for four years with no signs of breaking.

Lodging: South of the Border’s lodging is one aspect of the complex that should not be considered a tourist trap. If you can’t drive any further than South Carolina in one day, consider stopping here for the hotel if not for eating or shopping. You have the option of staying in a motel or bringing your camper to the campground nearby. At the motel you will find pools and other simple but high-in-demand amenities. At Pedroland, South of the Border’s website, you can call for rates and room descriptions.

Attractions: Mini-golf is available here, as well as a park with rides like a carousel and ferris wheel, among many others. It’s a great way to keep the kids from being bored after a long day of travel, and who says adults can’t have fun, too? From fast rides like Wild Sombrero to the Carolina and Upper Mexico Railroad (which will hopefully be more soothing to weary parents) you have a fairly good selection.

Location, etc.: Technically, South of the Border is located near Dillon, South Carolina. You really can’t miss it because you will see signs *long* before reaching the place. These colorful, whimsical signs are great with helping you pass the time as the miles go by. When you get close, you should see a huge sombrero at the top of a wrought-iron tower. If you can’t see it, I suggest you check out El Drug Store and see if it’s time to renew your glasses prescription! This tower is huge and dominates the complex. You can even take an elevator up inside the sombrero and survey the entire area.

Make Your Summer Visit to Southeast Illinois Pleasurable

By Misti Sandefur
Planning a summer vacation to Southeast Illinois or visiting family and friends in the area? Then make your stay enjoyable! Southeast Illinois has a variety of places to visit and oodles of fun to boot! Many of the small town folks are friendly, and the cities are surrounded by the beauty of the Shawnee National Forest.

Summer Happenings

Summer in Southeast Illinois brings farmer’s markets, car shows, firework displays, fairs, community yard sales and much more! Following is just a small portion of the summer fun Southeast Illinois has to offer.

Every Saturday — from 8 a.m. to noon — on the court house lawn in Golconda — enjoy the farmers market. There are homegrown vegetables for sale, animals and much more.

Eddyville has their annual 4th of July celebration during the first week of July. They commemorate with good barbeque, live entertainment, a beauty pageant for kids, a community yard sale and a fireworks display that ends the festivities until the next year.

Every September, on Main Street in Golconda, you can get pleasure from the Squads and Rods Car Show. While attending this annual affair, you will view classic squad and hot rod cars. In addition to the classic cars, the courtyard is also filled with delicious food and vendor booths.

Eldorado’s annual Town & Country Days is a three day event in September. There are many festivities to enjoy during Town & Country Days: cake walks, bingo, carnival rides, beauty pageant, kiddie parade, giant Town & Country Day parade and a whole lot more!

Again in September, take a drive to Golconda for their annual Shrimp Festival. Enjoy some fresh water shrimp, a shrimp cook-off, take a horse and buggy ride, or you can also take a ride on the Shawnee Queen River Taxi. When you’re ready to sit down and rest a spell there’s always some kind of entertainment to take pleasure in too.

Do you enjoy crafts and flea markets? Then visit Harrisburg toward the end of September. Harrisburg’s Past and Present Festival brings a craft demo, flea markets and much more. The Past and Present Festival is a two day event, so if you don’t see it all in one day you can return the next day. Harrisburg’s Past and Present Festival takes place at the Saline Country Fair Grounds.

Also taking place at the Saline County Fair Grounds, usually towards the end of July, is the Saline County Fair. The smell of funnel cakes will draw you in from the highway, and each night of the fair is an event. Events usually include the demolition derby, mud bogs, tractor pulls and much more. My most favorite things at the Saline County Fair are the taffy and the demolition derby. Oh yes, one other thing, I’m still a kid at heart, and because of this I also enjoy the rides. The tilter whirl, spider (that’s what I’ve always called it anyway) and the mixer are my favorite rides at the Saline County Fair.

Places to See

Festivities aren’t the only thing to do is Southeast Illinois. Some other things you can add to your list of things to do while visiting is seeing the sights and beauty the Shawnee National Forest has to offer.

Do you enjoy walks in the wilderness? Then you’ve got to visit Garden of the Gods while you’re here. Garden of the Gods has over 3000 acres of beauty. You’ll see many fascinating rock formations that correspond to various objects. The trails will lead you to many destinations, and some of those places include High Knob, Indian Point, Mushroom Rock, Big H, Anvil Rock and others. There’s no need to worry too much about getting lost, because Garden of the Gods provides maps for your convenience. If you do get lost it will be in the beauty of the area.

Located in Pope County, approximately 14 miles south of Harrisburg, is Bell Smith Springs. Bell Smith Springs offers picnicking, swimming, hiking trails, camping, hunting and fishing. For more information about Bell Smith Springs and its history visit illinois.sierraclub.org.

If you’re visiting Bell Smith Springs then make sure to venture down the road a little ways and pay a visit to Burden Falls as well. While walking around Burden Falls, you’ll get spectacular views of waterfalls that drop 100 feet. In addition to the waterfalls, Burden Falls is a great place for bird watching, hiking, camping, sandstone ledges overlooking bluffs, and cliffs. One piece of advice, be very careful on the ledges and cliffs, because many people have fallen. After a rain, the limestone on the cliffs and ledges can become very slippery.

Why not cool off from the summer heat by visiting Lake Glendale. Lake Glendale offers an 80 acre lake where you can swim and fish. In addition, you can also rent a canoe or paddle boat and explore the beauty of Lake Glendale even more. If you do decide to swim it will cost a small fee of $3 per adult, and if you have children between the ages of 1 and 5 then it will cost $1.50 per child.

If you prefer to swim in pools rather than lakes, then visit Dixon Springs State Park instead. Dixon Springs State Park is located approximately 10 miles west of Golconda on Illinois Route 146 near its connection with Illinois Route 145.

Dixon Springs State Park is not only a place to swim, but it’s also a wonderful place for a picnic, nature walks and camping. I’m sure you’ll find a variety of things to do and see, because Dixon Springs State Park has over 700 acres!

If you’d like to cool off from the summer heat and swim for free visit Pounds Hollow. Pounds Hollow offers a free swimming area. There are no lifeguards on duty, but you can see your kids from the beach area. The swimming area is open from May through August. For more information about Pounds Hollow, and for directions, visit www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests

Not up for swimming? Pounds Hollow also offers a trail. The trail will let you and your loved ones discover Rim Rock and also more of the beauty that the Shawnee National Forest has to offer. If you’re unable to hike you can rent a paddle boat and explore everything that way. Some of what you’ll discover at Pounds Hollow, during your hike or paddle-boating, will be an ancient Indian wall, the Ox Lot Cave and the Fat Man’s Squeeze.

Before you leave Southeast Illinois, make sure to drop by the Shawnee Restaurant and Lounge in Eddyville, Illinois (located on Route 145) for some good, down-home southern cooking! Paulette and Charlie Hobbs are the owners of Shawnee Restaurant and Lounge, and they offer a variety of homemade goodies. In fact, if you like catfish then drop by and visit Shawnee Restaurant and Lounge on Friday night, because you’ll get all the catfish you can eat, and let me tell ya, they have some of the best catfish there is in Pope County! The hushpuppies are also delicious — Mr. Hobbs makes these from scratch, and he also makes them from his very own recipe.

Shawnee Restaurant and Lounge not only offers good down-home cooking, but you’ll receive a friendly greeting, and who knows, the owners, if they’re there, may even come to your table and chat with you; they visit everyone they can to make them feel at home.
These are only some of the summer happenings and places to visit in Southeast Illinois, but I’m sure the activities in this guide will give you plenty to do and see while visiting the area. Y’all come back now, ya hear!

Getting the Most out of a Weekend Getaway

By Christina VanGinkel

Weekend getaways can often seem to be more work, than they are worth. After spending countless hours deciding where to go, you then have to arrange everything from travel arrangements, to hotel accommodations, to any activities that you intend to participate in. Unlike a longer vacation, timing of events is often very important, as you do not have any extra days to fall back on if the activities include outside events and bad weather happens to get in the way.

There are ways around some of the hassles involved in putting together a weekend getaway though. If you are truly after a weekend respite from the daily grind of a long workweek, then taking a cue from some of these tips is sure to keep your next weekend getaway on track and not add more to your level of stress than you started with.

Pick a Spot Close to Home

If you choose somewhere that is going to take you longer than an hour or two to travel to, you are risking adding stress through many outlets. Add a flight, even a short one, and the stress level is almost certain to climb. Airports are not somewhere you want to spend even a few hours of your precious weekend time, especially in today’s heated political climate with airports as hot a spots, as you are likely to find. Avoid them like the plague! With gas prices also on the climb, if you have to drive further than a hundred miles, you might want to reconsider the destination. For a longer vacation, it might be worth one or the other of these hassles, but not when you are dealing with a few short forty-eight hours of breathing space.

Package Deals

Vacation packages for weekend getaways are increasingly popular with hotels. Many will provide you with everything from lodging and meals to entertainment. They are my favorite way to take advantage of those few short hours available. Other than tossing a few possessions in an overnight bag, the hotel has taken care of everything else. Water parks are a popular choice with families, but even Bed and Breakfasts have been known to put together some attractive package deals for couples or even singles. Even if you do not see such a package offered, if you have a destination in mind, call them up and ask if they have any such packages available.

Bus tour companies can also offer you package deals where everything is provided including travel. Locally, we have several that offer packages from casino deals to fall color tours. You park your vehicle where the bus meets, and from the minute you step on the bus, your weekend is arranged. They do all the driving; your meals are all arranged, as is your lodging and all of your entertainment. These were once advertised for those of the senior age who did not want to drive up the state during the fall to see the magnificent color changes of the leaves, or off to one of the casinos across the state for much the same reason. We all listened to our parents and grandparents rave about how much fun they had, and soon enough, everyone from young adults on up were soon taking advantage of these fun weekends. Destinations vary, and can differ depending on the season, but if you drive by as patrons are filling up the bus, you will notice people from their early twenties all the way through senior citizen boarding the buses.

Rent a Cabin

If you are after a weekend of quiet, and you want to forego as much hassle as possible, check to see if there are any vacation cabins close by. Dress code is jeans and a t-shirt, and if you pack a cooler, you do not even have to get dressed to go to a restaurant. Many campgrounds even rent cabins with fully stocked fridges. You provide them with a shopping list of what you would like, and they provide everything including a grill. While cabins packages such as these might not be available everywhere, they are more popular than some might know. Check your local yellow pages for cabin rental listings, or check with a local real estate agent to see if they are aware of any close by. If a lake is included, add your fishing pole or swim suit for the ultimate in weekend relaxation

Planning the Perfect Extreme Vacation by Vonnie Crooks

If you are the type of person that considers a lazy vacation at the beach nothing less than torture, you may be one of a new and rapidly growing breed of vacationers that like to pack as much excitement into a trip as possible.

Extreme sports are growing in popularity, due in part to the many new safety features that make these sports a bit more mainstream, as well as the aggressive advertising campaigns from industry leading national adventure sports companies like ThrillPlanet.com that have increased public awareness. This new surge in popularity has created a new demand within the travel industry for customized vacation packages that target the adventurous traveler. When planning an Extreme Vacation there are several items to consider.

-What type of lodging is right for you? Are you looking for something that allows you to play hard during the day, but provides you with luxury accommodations to relax in the evenings? Or something more rustic with a cabin or lodge to unwind after your adrenaline packed day? You might even want to escape from civilization all together and spend an exciting day conquering rapids or taming the skies, then enjoy conversation around a bonfire at your campsite.

-Will you need transportation to and from your adventures? Some companies have arrangements that will allow you to take a shuttle from your hotel. Others can arrange for unique rentals like motorcycles (provided that you are properly licensed to operate one), exotic cars, hummers, or limousines. In some cases you might choose to rent a more traditional type of vehicle and allocate more funds to a wider variety of activities. It is best to have an idea about what is most important to you before you begin your research, since the choices can be pretty overwhelming.

-What is your current physical condition? Do you have certain limitations? It is important to choose your activities around realistic physical demands. Many adventure sports are accessible to participants of all different physical conditions and challenges, but it is critical that you let the company planning your adventure know of any limitations that could complicate or reduce your level of enjoyment. These limitations may not prevent you from participating, but may require some additional planning to ensure proper accommodations are made for you. For instance, if you have not be particularly active, a demanding rock climbing expedition that entails several days of camping and physically challenging cliffs or mountains might not be the best choice. You might want to consider an excursion that can be completed in a few hours and is classified as appropriate for a beginner.

-If you are above or below average in height or weight, you should also mention this so that the company can make proper arrangements to ensure equipment is available to accommodate you. Many companies can provide you with the right equipment, but this is something that must be handled in advance if your height or weight is above or below the average.

-Do you prefer a location with active daytime adventures like skydiving, hang gliding, or whitewater rafting, but that also has a robust nightlife? Your Extreme Vacation planning expert can help you select the perfect location for your adventure complete with a nightlife that will perfectly compliment your daytime excitement. There are many locations that offer thrilling daytime activities, but also include a thriving night scene with anything from gambling and shows to dance clubs or adult entertainment.

-Do you prefer a warm climate, or is your adrenaline fix centered a colder climate? The adventure sports world seems to have something for everyone. This includes sun worshippers and snow birds. Some sports can be enjoyed in both climates, but you need to have an idea as to which you prefer so that your adventure sports specialist can make recommendations.

-Will you be traveling alone, or with a group? Many of the new breed of adventure travelers enjoys meeting new people, and is not afraid to face an adventure alone. Others love to experience an Extreme Vacation with a friend or group. If traveling with a group, it is a good idea to discuss any physical or age limitations within the group to your planning expert to ensure no one in your party is left out.

-Be sure to ask your Extreme Vacation Planning expert for tips on what to wear and what to bring.

-Finally, make sure you choose a company that specializes in Extreme Vacations. Many travel coordinators will try to accommodate you, but if they specialize in sleepy beach resorts, you are less likely to capture the perfect Extreme Vacation.

Short History of Granada and What to See There!

Unfortunately, many travelers reach their destination without knowing anything about the city’s history. All the signs and markers and monuments can be confusing unless you have key parts of the city’s past dedicated to memory. Are you planning to visit Spain’s beautiful Granada? Here’s a crash course in their long and tumultuous existence.

First of all, the name: The Spanish word for “pomegranate” is “granada,” but there may be more to it than that. The Arabic term “Karnattah or Gharnatah” might have also been a factor in naming the city.

As some scholars say, Granada’s history can be traced much further than that of many famous cities, but its origins are cloudy at best. There is a rumor that the descendants of Noah spread to what is now Spain and became the early founders of the city. Another story says that Granada is connected to that great Greek legend Hercules. While these stories are mired in doubt, there is one fact that is probably true: Roman settlements most assuredly existed here at one time.

If you study the architecture of ancient Rome, you will notice the short, white-washed homes with columns and corrugated orange roofs. This is one of Spain’s most striking architectural features as well. The reason for this could very well be that in ancient
days, Roman troops conquered the Celtic people of the Iberian Peninsula and took over the territory. The original settlement, according to some, was known as “Elibyrge”.

In medieval times, Granada was a city unlike any other European settlement. Not only were Jews, Christians, and Muslims co-existing without major troubles (a time known as “convivencia”) but the Moors, Muslims whose ancestors hailed from North Africa, were in charge of one of Europe’s largest cultural centers. This was quite a feat, considering that most of Europe in that time was ruled by Christian kings. For centuries, the
convivencia remained throughout Spain until the Catholic ruler Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand gained the throne. After that date, there was no reconciling; the Jews and Moors had to go, or they would be converted or killed. Naturally, many chose to abandon their Spanish homes and go abroad, but the Moors flocked to Granada and refused to give up their stronghold.

After 1492, Christians attempted to pick up the pace and make Granada a more European city, but never quite succeeded. They made a church out of the old mosque and forced non-Christians to adopt a Christian lifestyle, but the pulse of the city was still more like that of Damascus or Baghdad. It was not until the 1500s or 1600s when all traces of the Muslim people were extinguished after many persecutions, relocations, and conversions to the Christian faith, but even after the Moors were long gone, Granada retained its Middle
Eastern heritage.

Everywhere you travel in the city, you can see evidence of their culture. The beautiful tilework (Islam forbade artists to create certain images, and these clever men overcompensated by making their patterns more and more artistic and creative)
and beautiful archways exist throughout this Moorish paradise. The Alhambra, in particular, is a piece of the Middle East in Spain that travelers definitely should not miss while visiting Granada.

After the problems stemming from cultural warfare, Granada settled back in to a relatively peaceful state until the early 19th century, when Napoleon’s brother was given jurisdiction over the Spanish people. The troops who followed this expedition furthered the
demise of the beautiful Moorish Alhambra by destroying towers at the site. Luckily, as the modern age approached, the Alhambra and nearby Generalife gardens were restored to their medieval charm.

It is important to know Granada’s history because everywhere you go, you will be surrounded by it. In many ways, Granada is still stuck in the past and that is a very lucky thing for those who choose to visit. Interestingly enough, Granada’s Moorish culture
spawned architectural inspiration far from Spain’s borders.

In St. Augustine, Florida, a city revered for its Spanish past and attention to historical detail, there is a beautiful building known as Zorayda Castle. It is supposed to be a smaller version of part of Granada’s Alhambra complex, and on it are sprawled the Arabic
words, “Wa la ghalib illa lla,” “There is no conqueror but God.” Granada’s beauty and influence traveled from the old world to the new, and will forever echo throughout the ages.

Viewing A Space Shuttle Launch

In reviewing some online resources, I came to the conclusion that the best place to view a Space Shuttle launch is from the beach in Titusville, more specifically at Space View Park. However, once we arrived, my MapQuest directions to “Space View Park took me to nowhere, and nobody I asked in the area these directions led me to knew what Space View Park was. So we just drove to the beach area, parked, and walked into the beach area of a local condo. The view was awesome.

What I learned, however, is that although from the south it was easy to get in, it is impossible to get out. Specifically, it took over five hours to get off of the beach at Titusville and to Orlando, normally a one hour trip, bumper to bumper virtually the entire way. Ugh.

What I learned from this is that, unless you not mind paying the price of hours of bumper to bumper traffic, it makes the most sense to find a hotel on the beach in Titusville and not leave until the day after a shuttle launch. Spend the night.

As for Space View Park, there appears to be better directions than what I used, but I was notably pleased with just any old beachfront location off of US1. We were sitting next to a lifetime resident that told me that any of these spots are the best you will find.