… and then there was that time that Best Western won

Merry Christmas from Cave City, KY!

photo 2

Christmas has brought us joy and cheer, beautiful scenery, and now free wifi and a non-smoking room before the final leg of the late 2013 great Florida adventure. Aside from the disappointment of landing in a dry county on Christmas night, the Best Western in Cave City is surprisingly choice when compared to the layover lodgings on the way down. I warned you there was a story about the Ramada in Nashville… here are the cliff notes, based on the qualities I look for in a one-night hotel stay:

Passing through traffic-free Hotlanta
Passing through traffic-free Hotlanta

Wifi:

BW – Yes.

Ramada – Yes.

Clean linens and no visible sign of bed bugs:

BW – Yes.

Ramada – Yes.

Fitness Center:

BW – No.

Ramada – One treadmill and one recumbent bike count as a fitness center, right?

A clean bathtub:

BW – Yes.

Ramada – We were booked in the only handicapable room despite having a reservation, so no soak in the tub for me.

Parking:

BW – In front of the room; included.

Ramada – Parking lot in front of the hotel; the staff attempted to charge us $40 for overnight parking due to a football game across the street at the stadium at 3pm. Check out was at 11am. After copious threatening tweets we arose in the morning and asked to speak with the manager. Parking was ultimately $10 + a headache.

Presence of a famous indoor guitar-shaped swimming pool:

BW – No.

Ramada – Yes. But there’s no water in it and it smells like feet.

Cost:

BW – $65 + tax.

Ramada – $89 + tax + the $40 parking debacle.

Sunset behind Tennessee hills.
Sunset behind Tennessee hills.

Ok, so it might be slightly unfair to compare price between Cave City and Nashville, but Hotwire called this a downtown hotel, which was neither accurate nor fair.

Lessoned learned are the following:

1) Don’t book hotels on Hotwire.

2) I should lower my expectations of Ramada.

3) Guitar-shaped pools are overrated.

A Coffee Post that is Not About Starbucks

One of the reasons we decided to drive to Florida this year was to create a reason to go to Nashville. While I don’t necessarily envision Nashville as a final destination, stopping over for the night was something I was really looking forward to. Provided you don’t stay at the Ramada by the airport, it’s a really good time… but that’s another story.

tumblr_mxusu1awVm1qmywbko1_500

Crema is  a totally rad coffee shop a little off the beaten path from the big flashy bars and touristy country music stores. I’ll always love my Starbucks, but this place is special. We met up with a friend who swears by their Cuban coffee. Since she’s marrying a Cuban guy you can be sure she’s a reliable source. A had the cortado, which is essentially a really, really strong latte. I wish I hadn’t eaten a crappy waffle at the Ramada, because I would have loved to try the house-made quiche, or a breakfast “cremarito”. On a chilly Sunday morning it was easy to find a cozy corner to chat or read a book, but from what I hear the place can get packed pretty easily. People don’t mind the wait, and after trying Crema once, I wouldn’t mind it either.

Using the Nashville filter in Nashville… naturally
Using the Nashville filter in Nashville… naturally

Crema is located at 15 Hermitage Ave. in Nashville, TN. Store hours are MON – FRI 7AM – 7PM // SAT 8AM – 6PM // SUN 9AM – 4PM. Follow them on twitter @cremacrema

Starbucks Around the World: Somewhere outside Atlanta, GA

Ah, how I love a road trip. I’m not going to say that I rely on road trips to fill out my collection of Starbucks site visits, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

Leaving this winter wonderland behind wasn’t too hard…

tumblr_mxszulkri11qmywbko1_500

… to spend the holiday vacationing in Florida. Along the way we came across rising temps and a nice little Starbucks outside of Atlanta. Apparently you aren’t supposed to drive through Atlanta, though I can neither confirm nor deny the horrendous traffic that is rumored to be there. After a couple hundred miles with not a green siren in site, this was a misto I’d been waiting for (which might explain the weird look on my face… or maybe I was in the middle of sentence. Either way…)

tumblr_mxv9vqCl7s1qmywbko1_500

Don’t Knock Wyoming ‘Til You’ve Tried It

If you had told me a year ago I’d be spending June in Gillette, Wyoming, I’d have called you a liar.  

But, here I am.  

And, that means that my current blog-worthy material is, again, Wyoming.

I haven’t had much occasion for days off while working for PAW (Performing Arts Workshop), but last Sunday I certainly made the best of it.

photo-5From Gillette, a drive up I-90 West takes you past the Big Horn Mountains (you know, like, THE Little Bighorn…) and straight into Montana. After a stop in charming Sheridan for lunch, we entered one of two open shops (Note: Sheridan on a Sunday is NOT, generally, open for business).  The cowboy/shopkeeper suggested a day trip through the mountains, and though I’m not often up for following a stranger’s directions without a plan, a map, or cell phone service, I was up for an adventure.  We drove further up I-90 to the Montana border (because we could), and then took a lengthy tour over the mountain range, down, and back again. Eight hours later, we were back in Gillette, having literally traversed the entire Northeast quadrant of the state on the advice of a few strangers.

What strikes me about this area of the country is how quickly the landscape changes.  The high plains shift to arid foothills, to red clay hills, tall, snowcapped mountains, and rolling green pastures.  Towns with populations smaller than the building I currently live in are scattered among cattle ranches, oil fields, and uninhabitable natural landscapes.

Here’s a peak at some of Wyoming’s NE corner:

tumblr_mo4wlvsawQ1qmywbko1_500
I-90 West toward the Bighorns
tumblr_mo4x16DAxP1qmywbko1_500
The uninhabitable foothills
Into the mountains
Into the mountains
Shell Creek canyon and falls
Shell Creek canyon and falls
tumblr_mo5o9xV1Uf1qmywbko1_500
Unattended gas station in Greybull

I won’t go on – I’ll just simply say that Wyoming is a pretty phenomenal place, and totally underrated.  I could have anticipated natural beauty and livestock, but what I didn’t expect to find here are kind, generous, tolerant people who take care of one another, and even take care of people they don’t know.

I guess when you live in a place where there aren’t that many people, you tend to value them more.

Starbucks Around the World: Bolingbrook, IL

photo-2

Well, I’m back on the road to St. Louis for the second time in a week.  The Starbucks off of I-55 in Bolingbrook was pretty much the same at the Starbucks in Springfield, with one notable exception:

The cashier appeared nervous.  Perhaps he somehow knew that I’m a famous travel writer visiting Starbucks-es around the world (she says sarcastically).  Actually, he had cut his hand and I think felt nervous about serving customers. He was wearing a glove (good move), explained to me why he was wearing it…

…to which another barista replied that he was actually imitating Michael Jackson today…

…to which I replied that he would do a better imitation if he studded his plastic glove in rhinestones.

Not Your Typical Memorial Day BBQ…


tumblr_mn90axNPYs1qmywbko1_500

While most Midwestern Americans are whooping it up backyard barbeque style, I’ve got quite a different plan in mind.  Memorial Day in St. Louis is probably the same as it is in Chicago, with the exception of a big ass dance festival at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center.  In lieu of brats and Bud Light, I’ll be high-browing it with some of the best dance companies in the Midwest (and the country) at the Spring To Dance Festival.

Fortunately my time here isn’t all work and no play.  I get to play tourist by day and dance writer by night, and made a promise to myself to explore some new parts of St. Louis I didn’t see last year.

Lafayette Square was one such discovery.

Beautiful french-colonial style homes, a really big park, cobblestone streets, and pervasive greenery… this is clearly where the old money lives, and the closest I’ve come to the feeling of Paris in a long time.  If ever in St Louis, skip the arch and come here.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d like to live here.

Walk through the park, and be sure to dine at Eleven Eleven Mississippi.

tumblr_mn909xXnOV1qmywbko1_500

The food is fresh, seasonal, and unpretentious.  You’ll get great service, and a kitchen open to the dining room made Eleven Eleven one of the best food experiences I’ve had. Period.

So maybe my Memorial Day weekend is a little different than yours, but there will be plenty of time during the white pants season to sit in a lawn chair and drink beer.

Starbucks Around the World: Cleveland, OH

2012-12-09 14.51.15

I think I might be entering a new phase in the Around the World Series.

Enter the introspective “view from my table” picture.  Not having a buddy with me to snap a goofy shot outside with thumbs up, this shot is from a lovely second story cafe in the theatre district of downtown Cleveland.  I happened upon it on a rainy day with some cash in my pocket and several hours to kill, and thankfully, Cleveland never disappoints.