A Travellerspoint blog

14 More Great Travel Experiences in 2014

How on earth in 2014 did I manage to take five trips, exploring countless big cities & small towns in eight U.S. states? It just happened that way, and I am very grateful to have had so many amazing experiences during the past 12 months. With only one backpack as my luggage, I helped my sister drive 1,800 miles from Missouri to California. I zip lined near the lovely Blue Ridge Mountains. I spent Easter searching for the mysterious Marfa Lights, and on Christmas Eve, I watched the sunset on Hollywood Blvd. I spent so much time "on the road" in 2014 that I did not get a chance to write about a few memorable places and experiences that I meant to document in this blog. Therefore, please enjoy the following list of previously "unseen" moments from my epic travel year in 2014!

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1) Christmas on the Beach - Malibu, California
My sister Rebecca and I have taken dozens of road trips together, but nothing felt so sweetly surreal as driving up the (empty) 101 Freeway towards the coast on December 25th. Winding through the Santa Monica Mountains, it almost took my breath away when I got the first peek of the insanely gorgeous, blue ocean near the Pacific Coast Highway. At the sparsely populated Zuma Beach, Rebecca and I drank our coffee, opened our Christmas presents and enjoyed the quiet, beautiful scenery around us.

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2) Champagne Bookstore - Asheville, North Carolina
The Battery Park Book Exchange Champagne Bar is as great as the name of the establishment sounds - literature meets fine wining. A used book store and a very classy place to have a drink, here you can take advantage of comfortable lounge areas to hang out with your friends and browse hundreds of titles. After looking around for a couple hours, I settled in a cozy chair with a Paul Theroux book that I purchased and a hearty cup of hot apple cider. (Side note: The Champagne Bar also serves some non-alcoholic beverages, and since it was a cold day in November, I opted for a hot drink instead of bubbly.)

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3) Ghosts on Church Street - Asheville, North Carolina
Is it just me, or is this a really cool imprint on that brick wall? While taking a private ghost tour, I learned that the building in the vacant space had been torn down six months prior, and that paranormal activity spiked after the demolition.

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4) Listening to My Life Calling - Somewhere in Arizona
Do you ever catch yourself in a moment of unexpected, blissful happiness? While my sister and I were driving along an open stretch of road somewhere in Arizona, I had a small, random epiphany. While listening to the song "Ends of the Earth" by Lord Huron, I realized all over again how much I love to travel, not as vacation, but a way of life that I continually work toward in spite of the challenges. Look up the lyrics and listen to the song because it really captures a lot of what I think and feel.

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5) Moving a house - near Santa Fe, New Mexico
Driving out of Santa Fe along I-25, my sister and I unexpectedly got stuck in traffic...because an oversized house on wheels was taking up both lanes of traffic! Luckily, after realizing that a long procession of frustrated regular sized cars was following close behind, the house pulled to the side of the road so that other vehicles could pass.

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6) My first time in Oklahoma
I know, I know. I am a 29-year-old native North Texan, and I only just visited my home state's northerly neighbor this past summer while driving with my sister from Missouri to California. For the most part, I only saw the state at 70 miles per hour along I-44 and I-40, though we stayed overnight for one evening in a small town somewhere between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. So what did I think about Oklahoma? Parts of the state (especially the northeastern area) looked very pretty with lots of trees, but we also passed through several toll road check points. Nonetheless, I would love to explore more of Oklahoma sometime in the future.

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7) Something Completely Unique & Different - St. Louis, Missouri
Enchanted caves, a giant hamster wheel, exquisitely detailed mosaics, and eccentric long slides and tunnels. You have to see it for yourself. With less than 24 hours to spend in St. Louis, I made a point to visit City Museum before anything else, and it was worth it. Tilting my head towards the upper floors of the building, I marveled at all of the secret passage ways and quirky attractions. It was a little bit overwhelming, but in the best way possible.

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8) Gorgeous Drive and Chicken Salad Stuffed Avocados - Palestine, Texas
One of our favorite "Adventure Day" road trip excursions of 2014, Rebecca and I went (twice) to the small town of Palestine, which is approximately two hours southeast of Dallas. Driving in the spring and summer time, the scenery along the stretch of Texas State Highway 19 from Athens to Palestine is spectacular, and there are other beautiful scenic paths in the surrounding area as well. The Palestine Visitor's Center, which is a very friendly, helpful resource, gives great recommendations, including where to go for pretty drives and delicious places to eat. When it turned out the BBQ restaurant in Palestine was closed, Rebecca and I instead had lunch at the Old Magnolia, which we ended up really enjoying. Who knew that two things I love - chicken salad and avocado - could go so well together (particularly the second time)! The iced lattes are delicious, and you also can browse knick-knacks and home items in vendor booths in the same building.

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9) Easter Sunset in the West - Marfa, Texas
While having dinner at a bar in Marfa, I looked up at a neat metal design on top of the building. As daylight faded into a brilliant mixture of warm and cool colors in the early evening, I quietly reflected on the past few days, remembering all of the neat, quirky sites in Roswell, New Mexico and in (and around) Marfa that my friend Donna and I saw. I also felt ridiculously excited - hoping the sun would set a little bit faster - because we were going to see the famed Marfa Lights later that evening.

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10) Hit by a Tumbleweed - Pecos, Texas
While driving through a quiet stretch of road in West Texas towards Marfa, it literally came out of nowhere. Then, Donna and I had to laugh in surprised disbelief when we realized that a kamikaze, giant piece of shrubbery whipped across the front of her Jeep. Hey, it makes for a great funny story - we literally were hit by a tumbleweed in the wild West.

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11) Aliens, where? - Roswell, New Mexico
Alien merchandise. Alien murals. Aliens playing poker in a window display. An alien on a wagon. You get the idea. Especially in the area close to Roswell's famed International UFO Museum and Research Center, but also found in other areas of the city, little green men made clever appearances in various forms. Hey, if it is a claim to fame, why not run with it!

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12) Reading Room in Edgar Allan Poe's House - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Visiting the eccentric writer's home on 7th Street was my favorite part of visiting Philadelphia. In stark contrast to the original part of the house (which is very raw with hardly any furnishings), the main visitor's area of the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site contains a lovely reading room, which is filled with an extensive collection of Poe's writings and other related resources. The room is styled according to descriptions in his essay "The Philosophy of Furniture".

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13) Giant Board Game Pieces - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Special thanks to my friend Donna who told me about giant board game pieces in the middle of downtown Philadelphia. I saw them (frozen in place from the snow?) on my last day in the city.

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14) Good Country Eats - Edom, Texas
Is it worth it to drive to a tiny town an hour-and-a-half southeast of Dallas in order to eat superb chicken fried steak, fried okra, mac & cheese and cobbler? Unquestionably, yes. The first time we visited Edom in February, my sister and I explored the nearby shops after lunch at The Shed Cafe. I particularly enjoyed exploring Arborcastle Birdhouses, and there are neat galleries & studios, as well. Just check the shop hours ahead of time - Rebecca and I got there when several places just happened to be closed for the day. Oops. The food alone in Edom was still totally worth the excursion...and I am getting hungry thinking about it!

Posted by rachwells 23:22 Comments (1)

Orange in Asheville: Autumn Leaves & Live Music

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What a wonderful way to celebrate my favorite color - bright fall foliage and jamming live music in a famous venue that is...orange.

I purposely visited Asheville during mid-November in order to see the autumn leaves in the brilliant, vibrant shades of marigold, tangerine and crimson. And wow, it was such an amazing treat to walk around the quirky, artsy town in Western North Carolina while admiring the distant Blue Ridge Mountains! The cold weather, the crackling leaves rustling on the ground, the smell of pumpkin-flavored goodies in the downtown shops - I felt grateful to have a real autumn experience.

Yes, the leaves change colors in my hometown of Dallas, too, but it is not the same as what I saw this week in the mountains on the East Coast. What causes the insanely beautiful, warm-hued pigmentation on the leaves in the Asheville area, and how is it different from other parts of the country (and the world)? The town's tourism website has a great article about the science of autumn leaves, as well as gorgeous images of the region from September through November. (Warning: Clicking the weblink may cause the spontaneous urge to listen to John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" and to book a hotel & plane ticket for North Carolina. It happened to me, and if you're lucky, it could happen to you, too.)

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Speaking of music...and the color orange, merely hours after exploring and zipping (literally) around Asheville, I walked over to The Orange Peel - a famous live music venue in town - to see the band O.A.R. in concert. Of course, the band was great - plenty of upbeat, crowd-favorite songs that stretched into extended jam sessions.

But let me tell you about the opening act, singer-songwriter Andy Grammer. Think Jason Mraz's sound, meets Howie Day's one-man band talent with a looping pedal, meets Matt Nathanson's humor...and Justin Timberlake's beat-box skills. Yes, quite a combination. I was a little unsure at first, but I ended up being impressed by his musicianship (again, one person layering guitar, drums, piano & vocals) and how he engaged the crowd. I liked the songs "Back Home" and "Sinner". And the icing on the cake: The closing song was a cover of Coldplay's "A Sky Full of Stars". And I got to experience all of this in an orange room, and then walk back to my hotel afterwards amongst Asheville's lovely orange trees.

Posted by rachwells 18:21 Comments (0)

Zipping across Asheville, North Carolina

On my first full day in Asheville, North Carolina, I jumped right into it - literally. From 70 feet above the ground, swooshing on a cable at 35 miles per hour, I watched the blur of the gorgeous mountains and city skyline. The adrenaline rush felt amazing, and I could not stop smiling.

When I arrived early at the zipline site, I sat on the porch and excitedly admired my surroundings. Conveniently located one mile from the city center, Asheville Zipline Canopy Adventures has views of both downtown and the scenic mountains and treetops. Yes, the course is close to a hotel resort, but honestly, when I was up on the treetop platforms, I did not much notice the buildings - I saw various shades of warm-hued leaves in the trees and majestic mountains in the distance, and it was a great view.

The tour group included myself, a family of 4-5 people, and another solo traveler. Because almost all of us were first-timers/novices, we all could relate to the feelings of nervous excitement, and we all cheered each other on throughout the tour. Our two guides very patiently prepped us for the zipline process, and each of us even got to practice on a "mini" line which was only a few feet off of the ground.

By far, the toughest part of ziplining is knowing when and how much to brake. Your right-hand glove has a black rubber pad on the palm, and in order to brake, you are supposed to reach your right arm backwards - with an open hand - and gently glide it on the cable. The guides used hand signals and told us which points on various ziplines it would be best to start braking. After the first few ziplines, I started getting the hang out it (no pun intended). Good thing there are 11 ziplines on the course, because once you start, you keep looking forward to the next one. The ziplines get longer and higher throughout the course, the longest one being 1,200 feet. Another neat aspect: There are a few lines where two people can go at the same time, side-by-side.

Obviously, I thoroughly enjoyed my ziplining experience...and I want to go again. And I would have done another zip line while visiting the Asheville area, perhaps deeper in the mountains. However, knowing that the weather forecast predicted much colder weather for later in the week, I did not want to drive in those conditions in unfamiliar territory by myself. Yes, I will fly through the air on a cable, but I'm nervous about mountain driving. Don't worry, if you look really close, I'm sure you may see me swooshing through the trees somewhere else in the country in the not-too-distant future.

Posted by rachwells 18:51 Comments (1)

Rescued with Coffee in Ladue, Missouri

After a fun evening of exploring St. Louis and getting mentally prepped for the long drive to California, I checked out of my downtown hotel the next morning and hailed a taxi in order to meet my sister at her conference center on the other side of town. The driver seemed a little bit confused at first when I gave him the destination address, but after a minute, he told me he knew exactly where to go.

For the first 20 minutes, we easily breezed through traffic westward toward suburban Frontenac, located 15 miles outside of St. Louis. Then, disaster struck. Upon approaching Plaza Frontenac, an upscale shopping center, the cab driver told me that we had arrived at my destination, which I knew was not true. Once again, I told him that the address for the conference center was on North Geyer Road...and that I was not going to the mall.

"Geyer? Are you sure you want to go to Geyer? On the mountain?" the cab driver asked me. I am not very familiar with St. Louis geography, but...a mountain? That did not sound right, or anywhere close to where I needed to go.

It increasingly became apparent that the cab driver had no idea where he was, so I asked him to make a U-turn to take me back to Plaza Frontenac. I (unhappily) gave him the $40 fare, which included an extra $5 for the last-minute U-turn, and then he dropped me off at Neiman Marcus. I knew I was only 1-2 miles away from the conference center, but I did not remember which direction to go. Lugging my heavy backpack, I walked around the parking lot of the shopping center trying to figure out if I could recognize any of the street names. After several minutes of looking around, I felt fatigued and flushed from the extreme humidity, which is saying a lot from someone who grew up in North Texas.

Then, I spotted a coffee shop across the street, and my sweaty, under-caffinated heart swelled with joy. I still had no idea how to get to the conference center, but I knew that iced coffee, air-conditioning and wi-fi would greatly help my situation. I felt much better after I got my large iced vanilla latte (with an extra shot of espresso, of course) and sat down at a table.

From the coffee shop, I called my sister to tell her that I either could walk the rest of the way (which would take forever), or she could come pick me up. Although normally I love to walk, I was so thankful when she chose the latter option because it was way too hot outside for a long hike. Never have I been so happy to see a Volkswagon Golf and the familiar face of my best friend. We gave each other a big hug, chatted for a few minutes inside the coffee shop and then formally began our long drive westward towards California!

Posted by rachwells 19:14 Comments (1)

Through the Arch, and Westward Bound, Once Again

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Is my life like a Kerouac novel? An endless On The Road journey to-and-from the West Coast? Hey, I am happy to be along for the ride, even if just once more towards the lovely Pacific. My sister needed an extra driver to help her get to L.A., and I was happy to oblige. In preparation for the trip, I stuffed as many clothes, multi-media devices and bite-size toiletries as I could fit into my carry-on backpack. It was a tight squeeze and a slight strain on my shoulders, but I managed to pack "light" for the fast-pace, cross-country journey.

First stop: St. Louis. In the early evening as the sun waned across the lovely city skylight, I strained my neck as far back as possible to look up at the famous Gateway Arch. Known as the Gateway to the West, the 630 foot structure and the surrounding park served as a coincidentally fitting starting point for the impending long drive to California. I let my mind wander for several minutes, thinking about how many pioneers in American history began their own westward voyage just a few steps from where I stood. When I felt like I had sufficiently savored this unique moment, I took a deep breath and walked ceremoniously under the Arch, east to west. Don't laugh at me! It was a symbolic gesture to get myself mentally prepared for the long drive.

And so the exciting westward journey begins...again!

Posted by rachwells 18:45 Comments (1)

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