Friday, March 20, 2015

On Vacation Planning....

I wish I traveled enough to be a "travel expert", but I don't.  It would be my dream to fall into that category though.  Seriously... How can I get a job where they pay me to travel?  Maybe I could travel and write up the destinations for a magazine, book, blog, etc.?  Maybe some hotel group would like to pay me to be their secret traveler who goes from place to place and tests out the customer service and condition of their hotels?  Heck I could also write up itineraries and restaurant recommendations based on those visits, and they could provide those to their guests.  Again, that would be a DREAM!

I do know, that there are many different types of travelers in the world.  There are people who want to do nothing on vacation...just relax at the beach.  Then you have people who want to go and do.  Personally, I like a little of both.  Although, even on a beach vacation, I like to go and do and see a little too.  I also think there are many types of vacation planners...

Type 1~There are the people who want to book a cruise or an all inclusive and never think about the vacation again until it is time to get on the plane.

Type 2~There are people who loosely plan their vacation.

Type 3~There are people who read and plan each and every detail.

I'm a Type 3 planner for sure.  Obviously some vacations require more planning than others, but I have rarely gone on any vacation (even an all inclusive resort one) where I didn't do some research and planning first.  

Here's what I use to plan my vacations:

I'm a believer in travel books.  For general travel information, I like Frommer's and Fodor's when they are available for your destination. Sure these books give general travel info like where to stay and where to eat, but that isn't what I use them for.  I use them to learn about what I'm suppose to see while in any given destination.

For foodie destinations, like NYC, New Orleans, Seattle, etc., I also like to get a Zagat, so I can ensure that each and every meal is on point.  Sometimes, even despite research, you will get a disappointing meal, but there is nothing worse, in my opinion, than a disappointing meal because you didn't do your research.  
Another book that I consult, is "1000 Places to See Before You Die".  I just give it a quick glance while planning a vacation so that I don't miss something that is bucket list worthy.  I generally put a check mark and the date I visited beside the entires after I have seen them.  This is the original 2003 version, but I think they have a "1000 Places...U.S. and Canada" edition now too.  I probably need to get my hands on that!

There are countless sites to use when planning a vacation, and you can kind of drive yourself nuts sifting through them all.  These are my two favorites and I'll tell you how I utilize each of them...

Trip Advisor
I enjoy trip advisor for a variety of purposes.  They tell you about places to see at a given destination, places to eat, and places to stay...and they rank them in order based on reviews posted by travelers.  I have an account with them, and actually post reviews myself (mostly for hotels), so now when I pull up hotels, it will rank them based on one's it thinks I would like best.

If I had to pick one reason that Trip Advisor is great, it would be for hotel feedback.  Whether I've located a hotel from a book, or another website, I go to Trip Advisor to see reviews posted by other travelers, and even more importantly, travelers' photos of the property and rooms.  Often those real photos are very helpful so that you don't get fooled by polished professional photos that can trick you into staying somewhere you expect to be awesome, but in fact is quite dreadful.  Even if I have been somewhere before, I find this to be a valuable tool to use... maybe the hotel is run down now, maybe it's currently under construction, etc.

Pinterest has many purposes, but one of my favorite uses for Pinterest is for travel.  Whether it is my "Places I want to Go" board, where I post places I hope to visit one day, or a board geared toward a specific vacation, I don't think I could travel without Pinterest!  As you can see, most of my more recent travels, have a board on my Pinterest page...

I've found Pinterest to be useful for finding great places to eat, places I want to be sure to visit, and places to get a great photo-op.  A great example:  But for Pinterest, I wouldn't have thought of doing a moonlight tour of Washington, D.C.  

I also use pinterest as a visual source to supplement the travel books I consult.  Most travel books contain very few, if any, photos.  So I read about a place and then search it out on Pinterest.  You can usually find lots of pictures of that place.  If it looks like a place I want to visit, then I pin it to that travel board.  It's pretty easy to reference your Pinterest board while on vacation too (unless you are traveling internationally and not wanting to use expensive data).

Let Me Make My Case for Being a Type 3 Traveler...

I know some people make the argument that planning your travel to the degree that I do, means that you lose spontaneous experiences.  That you should just go with the flow.  Here's the deal:  

I have FOMO...Fear of Missing Out:  I don't want to get home and then realize I was right by some awesome place that I could have easily seen if only I had known about it.  While I do have a general plan when I travel, I don't have a minute by minute itinerary.  If I run across something that looks fun, I do it...Whether it was in the plan or not.  I usually prioritize pre-vacation:  I have a list of things I feel like I have to do, a list I would like to do, a list of things that only if I find spare time, I'll hit up, etc.  I then organize the destination.  I want to know what sites, restaurants, etc. are located near others that I plan to see.  This enables you to be able to accomplish more on vacation, and prevents you from running around like a chicken with your head cut off.

Don't ignore Food... It is part of the experience:  The food that different places have to offer, is part of the experience in my opinion.  Some places are going to require that you have reservations for most every meal.  Not doing so, in my experience will most often lead to disappointment.  Plus, I want to experience the local "must eat food", and research will often lead you to that.  

So what is your travel and travel planning style?  What are your favorite resources for planning a great vacation?

Friday, March 6, 2015


Well, I didn't blog the whole month of February.  I think that may be the first time, I've gone an entire month.  There are no real great excuses for my absence, but I certainly find myself wondering where the entire month went.  I can't believe it's already time for Spring Break!

Here is what I was up to in February...

I got a new mattress... I love the mattresses that The Melrose in Georgetown has on their beds.  I mentioned this to my uncle, and since he works for the company that owns that hotel, he has the ability to order me the same mattress (at cost!).

Lola and I had a big Valentine's Day.  I was ridiculously spoiled by my friends & family!

Lola was spoiled too...

I took Lola on lots of walks when the weather permitted
We had several bad weather days... a sleet day, an ice day, and a couple of snow days.  Lola and I both enjoyed curling up under our Vera Bradley throw blanket

I feel the need to bake on bad weather days too.

Snow bunny is ready to come inside

Our biggest event in February was on the 17th, when Lola turned 10 years old!
New birthday toys!

I feel like most of these events were documented in real time on instagram.  Follow me @legallyblondekf if you want in on the instagram party

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Washington, D.C. 2015 {Days Three & Four}

After a very dramatic and crazy cab ride home on Monday night, I got to bed late, so I slept in a bit on Tuesday, and woke up to snow on the ground.  I ordered room service, and enjoyed watching it continue to snow out the windows in my room.

I eventually headed up to Capitol Hill for the opening of the 114th Congress, and I enjoyed the view of a snowy DC on the drive...

I was actually in DC because I had been invited to view the swearing in of Senator Cory Booker, and attend a reception.  I went 14 months prior for a similar event, because he had won a special election in October 2013, but he won a full 6 year term this past November.  

I had invited someone I met at the 2013 event to meet me in DC for this event, so we rode to the event together.  As we were approaching the Senate Office Building, I thought to myself "that looks like Cory walking down the street".  I didn't say anything about it.  When the cab stopped, we hopped out, crossed the street, and Sara ran inside as fast as possible.  I stopped and gazed down the street to see if that really was Cory coming toward me.  It was!  He was about to cross the street so that we were on the same block, so I waved, and he waved back, and then he told the call he was on to hold on, and we chit-chatted for a few minutes.  It went something like this:

me: "Hey!  I'm came here to see you, and I get out of the cab and here you are!"

him: "I'm glad you stopped and waved at me"

me: "of course!  I came from Texas to see you again"

him: "That's awesome.  How are you liking this snowy weather?"

me: "oh, it was colder in Texas when I left, so it's fine"

him: "are you going to be at the reception later?"

me: "you bet.  See you there"

....Cut to me walking into the senate office building....

sara: "where have you been?"

me: "talking to cory out on the street"

sara: "what?!?!"

me: "yeah, I thought I saw him as we were driving up, but when we got out and I finally determined it was him, but you had already ran inside"

sara: "how did I miss that?!"

I had a good time chatting with an interesting collection of people before and after the swearing in.  Again we saw "America's Rabbi," Shmuley Boteach.  He had his kids take pics of us, so I gave them my phone and had them get a snap too...

I had lunch there in the Senate building and then went to Cory's office for a tour.  We were cutting it close to the afternoon reception, and didn't think we were going to get a tour, but one of his staffers went to law school in Texas, so we bonded over talk of queso, and he gave us the tour.  As we rounded one of the corners, I almost collided with Cory.  He said something like "Well hello again!".  My friend Sara was already around the corner, and she just shook her head and said "You are getting serious face time with the Senator today!"

The afternoon reception was great.  No, it was better than great, and not just because they had a big cake ;-) 
I had such a good time, and got to stand less than 6 feet away from a total of 6 US Senators.  Several came to speak about Cory and what a great member of the Senate he has been over the past 14 months.  We heard from Senators Menendez (New Jersey), Coons (Delaware), Schumer (New York), Merkley (Oregon), and Cardin (Maryland).

I only took my phone with me that day, and not my real camera, so pics aren't super.

I just think all these candids are hilarious.  We were having fun.

But we had some serious discussions too...
Criminal Justice Reform was our topic of conversation here

After we left Capitol Hill, we made a stop at the W hotel.  We went up to their rooftop bar, and enjoyed the view.  Here is a pic of my drink, the ice-cycles, and the White House...

{Day Four}

I saw the news on Tuesday evening, and they showed the Panda cubs playing in the snow at the DC Zoo, so when I woke up on Wednesday morning, I packed quickly and booked it to the zoo.  I wanted to see Pandas playing in the snow!  Needless to say, the zoo was NOT crowded.  It was COLD!

The pandas were not playing in the snow, but were eating their breakfast in the Panda House

I didn't really have time to see any other animals.  I went back to the hotel, collected my bags, and headed to the airport...but not without making the cab pull over for me to take a few snowy DC pics!
and then a few pics out the cab window...

I'm thrilled it snowed while I was in DC!  I love snow and love seeing cities in their winter wonderland state.  It was another great trip!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Washington D.C. 2015 {Day Two}

Monday morning, I woke up and took a cab to the Capitol because I had a tour scheduled.

I hadn't been to the Capitol for a tour in many years.  Back then, the Visitor Center wasn't even open.
It's located underground, and has two big skylights where you can get a good look at the dome.

Not the best view right now, but I'm happy they are fixing the dome, because it was literally falling apart.  The grounds crew walked around each day collecting pieces that were falling off.  A little known fact (but one I already knew and that surprised the tour guide with my useless bank of knowledge):  the dome is made out of cast iron.  It is just painted white.  Cast iron + weather = rust and falling to pieces.  
In the visitor center, the centerpiece in Emancipation Hall is the original plaster model for the bronze Statue of Freedom that sits atop the dome.  The plaster model was completed in 1857.  It's 19 1/2 feet tall and weighs 13,000 pounds.  
This room was the U.S. Supreme Court chamber from 1810-1860.

They have lots of draping on the inside to catch anything that might fall due to the external construction.  Unfortunately, it covers up a lot of The Apotheosis of George Washington.

but you can still see George sitting there under his blanket...

After the Capitol tour, I took the tunnel over to the Thomas Jefferson building of The Library of Congress.  I had never been inside before.  It is probably the prettiest building in Washington, D.C. 

A look into the Thomas Jefferson Reading room...

Here is Thomas Jefferson's book collection.

Additionally, I saw the Library of Congress Bible collection which includes the Gutenberg Bible and the Giant Bible of Mainz, a Civil Rights exhibit, and luckily caught the end of a 10 week exhibit of the 1215 Magna Carta.

Here is a view of the Capitol from the Library.
After I left the Library of Congress, I walked across the street to my favorite building...
I was cold, but happy to be heading inside The Supreme Court.

I have no idea why, but I had not ever been inside.  Obviously, I loved every second of it.  
Justice Thurgood Marshall....
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor...
Justice John Paul Stevens...
They had a Sandra Day O'Connor exhibit, which I loved!

The chamber...
I got to take the "tour" inside the chamber too...
You can't take pics inside, but you can from the doorway...
After I left SCOTUS, I walked around the Capitol to the west side steps...
A look down the mall before I walked all the way to the White House.  In the cold.  With the wind hitting my face.
I walked through the Sculpture Garden and they have an ice skating rink set up right there, across the street from the National Archives...
By the time I made my way to the Natural History Museum, I was frozen.  I decided to pop in and warm up for a minute.  I had good timing and caught an IMAX 3D showing of "Jerusalem".  It was pretty good, but best of all I got to rest my feet and get warm!
I also checked out the Hope Diamond before leaving...
I finally made it down to the Washington Monument.
And to the National Christmas Tree at the Ellipse

This is me... Frozen after walking 7.03 miles into the COLD WIND.


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