Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hotel Review: Disney's Saratoga Springs

source
When I stayed at Saratoga Springs it was in a one bedroom villa. It was the first time I had ever stayed in a "Home Away From Home" style resort at Disney, and I was extremely impressed. The room was immaculate, the resort was beautiful, and the spa was amazing!

Our room consisted of a kitchen, a spacious living area with a pull-out couch, a decent-sized balcony, a bedroom with a king-sized bed and a large bathroom complete with whirlpool tub. Though we only stayed a few days and didn't need them, there were full-sized washer and dryer units in the villa as well.

The only complaint we had was the lack of restaurants (at the time, they only had a quick service restaurant on the Saratoga Springs property but have since added at least one more eating establishment); however, I feel the need to mention that the flatbreads they served at the quick service restaurant were amazing. The price is a little high, but I think this resort was more than worth it when you consider the money you save having a full (and fully stocked) kitchen available to you throughout your stay.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Vacation prep can be fun!

Today my husband and I are doing some prep work for our trip to Europe later this summer. It's been four years since I went overseas and Steve hasn't been since he returned from his year abroad in the late 90s!

Of course I do the usual - read guidebooks and do Google searches. At the moment I'm working on the days we will be spending in Marseilles/southern France, though, and it's easy to make that fun! For instance, I spent the morning reading
source - A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle on Amazon
We also made some of our famous homemade iced coffee, which isn't necessarily French but hey, they like good coffee, no? ;)

And once afternoon hit, it was time for lunch!

Mimosas and Croque Madames, of course, though we had sparkling wine rather than actual Champagne (because Champagne is only Champagne when it's from the Champagne region of France, of course).

Just goes to show you that trip prep doesn't always have to be poring through guidebooks and Trip Advisor reviews :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Updated Visited States Map :)

35/50 states! (Or to put it in percentage terms - I have visited 70% of the states in the US!)

I just returned from a short business trip to Columbus, Ohio and can now mark Ohio off my visited states list :) I definitely have some thoughts on Columbus, even if I wasn't there that long, so stay tuned for a future post...if I ever catch up on the trips I'm backlogged on, that is...haha

And I'm geeky enough to be super excited that my Entire East Coast is now colored in...that empty spot of Ohio was really bugging me... ;)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Green Room Upstate: A great downtown option!

The Green Room opened on North Main quite a few months ago, and after hearing numerous stellar reviews from friends we finally stopped by to check it out. We even wanted to make a full night of it - appetizers, entrees, drinks...maybe even dessert!

Our shared round of appetizers included the grilled artichokes over mozzarella slices, the bruschetta and the Ahi Tuna mini tacos.
Grilled Arthichokes over Mozzarella

Ahi Tuna Mini Tacos

While the bruschetta and the grilled artichokes were certainly tasty, it was the Ahi Tuna tacos that truly stole the show. If you're at The Green Room and just need a snack, or if you know you'll be ordering an appetizer, we highly recommend these!

Our group ordered numerous different entrees as well - a New York Strip that was on special, the Seared Scallops, the North Main Chicken, the pork chops, the seafood pasta and the TGR Meatloaf. We all enjoyed our meals immensely, but the real hits were the North Main Chicken and the scallops!
Seared Scallops over polenta with asparagus
TGR Meatloaf with jalapeno macaroni & cheese and creamed peas
The chicken was delicious and not at all boring as many restaurant chicken dishes can be. The scallops were large and succulent, cooked to perfection and somewhat surprisingly complemented by the simple side dishes of polenta and asparagus.

A note on the meatloaf - this was the dish that I personally ordered and while both it and the mac & cheese were extremely good, it is pretty darn spicy. I'm not big on spicy dishes and I still ate almost all of this meal, which attests to how delicious it was - but I do wish I'd had a bit more warning as to just how spicy this meal would be.

We also enjoyed some tasty drinks with our meal, and I can second a friend's opinion that the drink list here is well-rounded and that the bartenders know how to mix up a strong but still tasty drink. Unfortunately, when it came time to order dessert we were not offered any sort of menu but told they had just two options - pecan pie and cheesecake. Somewhat disappointing considering their online menu boasts such delicious sounding choices as blueberry bread pudding and "cookies and cream". My only real suggestion for The Green Room would be that they look into re-expanding their dessert menu :) Other than that, this restaurant is a great option for a somewhat affordable dinner out in downtown!
The Green Room

Green Room on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Guidebook Review: Michelin's Must Sees San Francisco

I cannot express enough how much I loved this guide. It is a fairly compact little book - 128 pages, 8.4 x 4.7 x 0.5 inches, 1.6 ounces. Why is this important? Because it slips nicely into any decent sized purse, and I was able to carry it around the entire time we were in San Francisco! It covers the basics, plus a little more - great for someone who only has 2-3 days in this beautiful city. Unfortunately, it appears as if this particular guide hasn't been printed in a couple of years; I got mine in a used book store but there are also a few available on Amazon.

Basically, sights are rated one to three stars; one star being a must-see "only if you have time", and three stars being "make this a part of your trip PRONTO!" There are plenty of restaurant recommendations for all budgets, a decent amount of information on nightlife, and even a couple of chapters on day trips and the Napa Valley. For such a little book, it packs a big wallop :)

If you're planning a quick trip to San Fran, this guide is perfect and I definitely suggest looking for a copy. And come on Michelin...put together an updated version of this and schedule a big printing! I'll even offer my services if you pay to send my husband and I out there to research it...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Walk on the Wild Side Charity Pub Crawl Recap

This past Saturday was the big day for our safari-themed charity pub crawl in downtown Greenville. Of course I'm a bit biased, but I'd have to say that it went extremely well! In the end we had 41 people participate and we raised $365 for Greenville County Animal Care Services! And considering this first time event was pretty successful, we're definitely hoping to make it an annual occurrence :)

We started the evening at Mojitos on South Main, and they were gracious enough to offer us a special of any mojito for $5! It was a great kick off for a summer pub crawl, for sure.
Just after 7 PM, I blew my peacock call (borrowed from my father because I thought it would be funnier than a plain old whistle or air horn - and it was a big hit!) and we headed on to our second stop, Chicora Alley. Because we had planned on stopping everywhere for at least 45 minutes, everyone knew that they had time to order some of Chicora's yummy food as well as enjoy some great draft craft beers for only $3.25.
Our third stop was a Greenville staple - Connolly's - who is gracious enough to participate in basically any pub crawl that happens downtown, and even offer awesome specials such as $1.75 domestics and two-for-one car bombs!
Now, apparently we looked like we were having so much fun - or we just looked like so much fun - that we picked up four random people at Connolly's! They happily paid their $6 each and joined in with our shenanigans for the rest of the night.

Rey's was our fourth stop, and the only semi complaint that I have about the evening revolves around this. Despite having been in contact with the manager, the bartenders had no idea that a pub crawl would be stopping there. However, we still ended up attracting I two more people with our crawl and around 10 PM it was time to head over to Hoops and Hops!
Hoops and Hops was by far one of the easiest places to get in touch with when planning this crawl. They were happy to be involved and offered up a ton of great specials for us, including $5 Jagerbombs and $1 jello shots! We settled in here until about 11 PM, as they were still serving food and some of us wanted to snack a bit ;) And from there we moved on to our sixth and final stop, The Gathering Spot. They had a DJ that evening and us pub crawlers settled in to dance the rest of the night away!

All in all, we took what we felt were the best ideas from past pub crawls that we've been to in Greenville and combined them for one heck of a fun night. As I already mentioned, we raised $365 for GCACS and I hope to put on another Walk on the Wild Side pub crawl next summer and maybe raise even more money for a great cause!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Music Weekend in Music City: Part 2

So hopefully you've read about the first night and day of our Nashville trip back in April, which means you're ready to read about the second and final full day of an amazing music-filled weekend in Music City!

We dragged ourselves out of bed at a decent hour this day because we had a lot to pack in. Despite this being my third trip to Nashville, the Parthenon wasn't the only sight I had yet to see!

That's right, I had never been to the Ryman Auditorium, a.k.a. The Birthplace of the Grand Ole Opry!

We "splurged" on the entrance ticket plus the guided tour, and I'm glad we did. It was only an extra $4 per person and it was really neat to see the dressing rooms backstage...even if they didn't exist until more recent years. In taking the backstage tour, we also had the chance to stand on stage at the Ryman. Now if only I could have brought my guitar...

We spent quite a bit of time (I'd say about 2 hours, including the tour) wandering around the Ryman, but if you're not a total nerd like me and don't feel the need to read nearly every panel and plaque of information that exists in the place, you can probably do the whole shebang in an hour to an hour and a half.

After the Ryman, we wandered down Broadway a bit for some kitschy souvenir shopping.

I almost convinced Steve to buy some crazy cowboy boots...or at least a hat. Almost. Then we saw the price on the boots (you don't want to know) and he put a hat on and I said "Absolutely not." If not even I want to see the love of my life in a cowboy hat, trust me, you don't want to see him in one either ;)

Next, it was time to drive a bit out of the way and introduce Steve to the grandeur of The Opryland Hotel. I was a bit disappointed in the [lack of] bar options here - there used to be a rotating bar in one of the atriums, but we couldn't find it! But we did wander around and see a lot of this gorgeous resort.
Let's not talk about how hideous I looked this day. I really don't know what my problem was, blech.
After a good hour and a half or so, we were burning up (I'm telling you, that sun beats through the glass in those atriums) and decided to head back to Ron and Katherine's house for some pizza and a quick freshen up before our last night out. Because we were going to see RUSH!

(Yes, it really is/was that exciting!)
Ron & Katherine (our gracious hosts for the weekend), myself and Steve in our awesome seats for the RUSH concert
Honestly, I'm not a huge RUSH fan. Not that I don't like them...I do. I just didn't know much of their music until a few months before this concert. I just saw that they were playing the weekend we were going to be in Nashville and figured it would be a good time. I got great seats at the Bridgestone for about $80 a pop, and despite not knowing a ton of their music, despite being sober the whole time, and despite the fact that I was still suffering from awful allergies - this was one of the best concerts I've ever been to. They were uh.mazing.

Post-concert we debated over returning to Ron and Katherine's but decided to stop for a single drink before doing so - Katherine wanted us to experience The Patterson House. This speakeasy-themed joint can be literally impossible to get into on a weekend night. Upon entering, there is a list of rules posted in the foyer - such as no staring at stars, men can't approach women without being invited to do so, etc. It's dim. It's quiet. The decor is amazingly accurate. But the drink menu is extensive and the tapas-style food is amazing (we had the "tator tots", the grilled cheese, and the fried goat cheese between the four of us); plus, it's just an interesting, slightly-off-the-grid experience to have in Nashville.
I'm not sure why this is sort of blurry, but we're standing on the Patterson House porch.
We really did only have one drink at Patterson House before heading "home" and calling it a somewhat early night (as in...1 AM-ish). We had ended our music weekend with a RUSH (pun intended! ha!) and had to head home at a decent hour the next day (the woes of having to pick up dogs at the kennel, right?). But as always Nashville was a blast, and maybe next time we head out that way we'll make it a food and drink trip, no?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hotel Review: Best Western Carolinian in Myrtle Beach

source
From the moment we pulled up to this hotel our trip was a disaster. We had booked a two bedroom oceanfront suite at $219 a night in early April - not spring break, mind you - and I have had a better stay in an $80/night efficiency room at the 2.5 star Poindexter up the road! I have no idea why that hotel is rated at a mere 2.5 stars while this place gets 3!

For starters, the staff were rude and slow and gave us incorrect information on where to park. Then when we entered our room it was so disgusting that we had to call and have it [re-?]cleaned--and it took two calls and three hours to get someone up to do so.

To top it all off, I got stuck in the elevator on my last morning. Thankfully, after a few nervous minutes, we got the door open, but let's just say that I lugged a suitcase down ten flights of stairs after that incident!

Sure, the location of the Best Western Carolinian is great, but the parking is a nightmare and it's simply not worth the high rates you pay considering the lack of service and tired appearance of the building, the rooms and the staff. Complaints to the corporate offices went unheeded as Best Westerns are franchises and we couldn't get anyone from the resort to return our calls.