Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Worst Places to See a College Football Game

1. The Orange Bowl, Miami, FL
Bar None -- this is the WORST place I've ever visited and it's not because Miami is another rival of my favorite team. The OB is obsolete! It's in a very inhospitable neighborhood (to put it nicely), it's dirty, it's cramped. To get the the top tier seats, you practically have to walk vertically. There are posts throughout the stadium that block views (but you pay the same price to sit in those seats). The overhanging leaks like a sieve. There aren't enough toilets (once, they "swapped" bathrooms and made the women use the ones with urinals (and 2 stalls) so the guys could have the multi-stall restroom!) What a nightmare. They only get one or two full stadiums a year and they are unprepared for the crowds when that happens. I was there at one hot, hot game and they ran out of EVERY BEVERAGE INCLUDING BEER by half-time. People were fainting all over the place, including people on the sidelines. They blare rap music (etc) at the loudest volume possible before and during the games so you can't hear the bands. The fans are the pits -- rude, crude, profane, and drunk. If they lose a game, they are out of there by the 4th quarter. If they win, they are in your face until you slam the door on them. I HATE going there.
2. Wallace Wade, Duke (Durham, NC)
A cultured crowd -- where the opposing teams often outnumber the Duke fans. It's a hollow pit with very little embellishments. You have to walk through the woods to get to the restrooms. It's not unpleasant -- but you just miss the atmosphere.
3. Georgia Tech, Atlanta, GA
Designed at a school that's known for engineering -- its sight lines are disasters. If you happen to be sitting beyond the 30 yard line, you will get a crick in your neck from trying to watch the game. If anyone stands up between you and the action, it's over with. One of the few schools where I'd rather sit in the end zone.
4. Superdome, New Orleans, LA
Pre-Katrina. The biggest problem with this stadium is HOW FAR YOU ARE FROM THE ACTION. I'm not talking vertical -- I'm talking horizontal. Next time you watch a game, look at the space between the teams and the fans. Even if you are in the first few rows, you'll need binoculars to see the game. Again, best seats are in the end zone -- you're closer to the action.
5. Cotton Bowl, Dallas, TX
I haven't been there since 1991 so maybe they've spruced this place up. All I remember is how hard the seats were and how cold I was. I wasn't impressed, except by the main gate where I saw "Cotton Bowl" in big letters.
6. Sun Devil Stadium, Arizona State, Tempe, AZ
Another one with poor sight lines for anyone who isn't between the 30s. I had to watch most of the game on the big screen above -- might as well have been on TV and saved myself a few hundred dollars. Plus the stupid Fiesta Bowl put us right down in the middle of a huge section of opposing fans! There oughta be a law!
7. Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC
Not even on the campus (a la Miami's Orange Bowl). Until recently, our opposing fans outnumbered their fans. They are starting to get a bigger fan base. No real amenities to remember and the atmosphere still has a lot to be desired. One good thing going for it -- a grassy area for fans to sit but they may be enclosing that. I forget ... that's how memorable it is.

Well, there weren't 10. Most places are nice to visit for one reason or another. But these lost their luster for me. Again, it's a personal preference. If you have a comment, click on Comment or, if you want, email your comments and I'll post them for you!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Top 10 Football Stadiums

The top 10 stadiums in which to watch a football game

1. Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, IN
Sure, there are bigger, louder, and more hostile stadiums. But you can't beat this venue for history and tradition! This is the field of Rudy, The Four Horsemen, and The Gipper! Prior to the game, the players meet in the chapel and then WALK to the stadium in coat and ties! The band is awesome and if you're lucky, you'll get a seat where you can spot Touchdown Jesus!
2. The Swamp, Gainesville, FL
It kills me to admit that our ARCH RIVALS have such an awesome stadium. The stands are full of blue and orange RABID fans. Even if they are losing, they are loud! And if they should turn the tables -- well, it sounds like a jet landing. I've come out of there with numb ear drums (FSU vs. UF, 1993). My biggest caution is not to sit next to the student section (or if you do, wear headphones and listen to the radio).
3. The Big House, Ann Arbor, MI
Another stadium with a lot of history. If you go through their athletic Hall of Fame, you'll see names you recognize from other walks of life -- like former President Gerald Ford. The fans are extremely gracious and the tailgating beforehand is great. Despite having over 100,000, it's not as loud as some because of its configuration.
4. Death Valley, Clemson, S.C.
Talk about loud! This place is second only to The Swamp for volume out-of-control. For those visitors unlucky enough to get in the top tier --I hope you don't have fear of heights! Even the most hardy of us traveling fans have a tough time once we reach our seats and turn around! You are UP THERE and looking STRAIGHT DOWN! Lots of tailgating and fired up barbecues. When the team does something great, you'll hear the roar of a tiger piped in through the loudspeaker. Quite cool.
5. Death Valley, L.S.U., Baton Rouge, LA
Another venture into the Alps of stadiums. You are almost looking through the clouds at the top of this stadium. What really caught my eye was the beautiful "painting" of a tiger's eye in mid-field. I don't know if they still have that, but it was awesome. They used to keep a real tiger on campus, too, but I believe that has been changed.
6. Doak Campbell, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Okay, I admit some "homer" fondness for this stadium. But FSU has done a lot to improve this stadium over the past 10 years and it really looks like a fortress from the outside. One of the most impressive traditions in CFB is when Chief Osceola rides out on the back of the Apaloosa, Renegade, hoists his flaming spear, and then throws it midfield as a challenge to the other team. The band of 450 is also one of the best! And when that War Chant starts up, it sends chills up your spine, friend or foe!
7. The Coliseum, Univ. Of Southern Calif., Los Angeles
Again, the history of this stadium adds to its mystique more than its accommodations. But like FSU, it has a horse run the field when USC is playing, and the USC fight song is one of the most recognizable in the country. And reminders of the 1980 Olympics are everywhere.
8. The Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY
This facility looks awesome from the outside at night -- almost otherworldly. I like the indoor venue when the weather's inclement, too. The concessions and restroom situation is good, too.
9. Alltell Stadium, Jacksonville, FL
This stadium has spoiled me for "box seating." We were able to get box seats for a couple games and I was hooked! First of all, you have access to food and drink concessions (including bars), you can watch the game from inside on a big-screen TV if the weather is bad, and you have nice clean (uncrowded) restrooms. You have your own seat with a cupholder and arms. They even have wait staff coming into the stands. The stadium itself is nicely set up -- easy to see the field from just about any seat.
10. Pro Player Stadium, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
It's really not fair to compare pro-stadiums to college stadiums, but I've been to regular season as well as bowl games here and it's a nice facility. I especially like the escalators that take you to the high seats! Again, your own seat (defined by arms) and your own cup holder makes it easy to enjoy the game. Up high, the front seats have plexiglass in front of them so you can see the game unobstructed. The concessions have TVs so if you get stuck in line, you don't have to miss the game. It's great!

So what's your take on football stadiums? Any comments or additions, please use the Comment button below. My next entry will be the WORST places to view a football game!

Monday, July 17, 2006

10 Highly Recommended Restaurants

My favorite restaurants that are not national franchises:

1. The Bubble Room, Captiva Island, FL
You may have to wait awhile to get in, but you can walk down the road and see a gorgeous sunst if you time it right. ! You will be served by a Bubble Scout covered in buttons and wearing funny hats. The ambience is straight kitsch -- bubble lights, memorabilia from the 30s through the 60s in shadow box table tops. If you're lucky, you'll get to eat in the cut off prow of a boat. Be sure to visit Bubba the Gorilla! The food here is scrumptious! I recommend the filets but the "bagged" fish is a favorite with those who like fish. But the best part ???? Bubble Bread!!! Thick slices of chewy bread with a secret topping of 7 cheeses! And dessert??? Oh my gosh -- take it with you but get some! Prices will run close to or over $20 per person but you get a lot for your money. Full bar: try the margaritas.

2. La Cocina, Aspen, CO
Guaranteed Mexican! Good service, great food. Love the blue tortilla chips. For Aspen, not bad prices. Full bar.   This restaurant is now closed!!!

3. Mom and Dad’s, Tallahassee, FL
A sentimental favorite -- where I found my engagement ring buried in plate of tortellini! Mom and Dad (Diana and Gene) run the place like their own dining room. In fact, the establishment looks like a converted home -- but it's always been a restaurant. The food is wonderful and has spoiled me for all other Italian restaurants. On football weekends, there will be a wait. Order a glass of wine and visit with the other diners. Moderate prices. Full bar.  Recently under new ownership but promised it will follow the same recipes!

4. The Dillard House, Dillard, GA
If you need to gain weight, here's the place to go. All meals are served family style. They bring EVERYTHING to your table. There's usually 3-5 types of meat, 3-5 vegetables, breads and dessert. My favorite meal is breakfast -- eggs, biscuits, sweet rolls, muffins, ham, bacon, chicken or pork tenderloins, fruit, pancakes, gravies, grits, potatoes ... uh, I'm sure I left something off. You can get seconds, thirds, whatever of any dish you want! It's one price per meal -- not cheap, but well worth the cost! All country cooking and most veggies, etc. come from the local area. (NO alcohol).

5. Michie’s Tavern, Charlottesville, VA
Take a step back in town with this Colonial watering hole. It's a buffet full of "authentic" food. Chicken, stewed tomatoes, green beans, biscuits, etc. Then sit inside and pretend George Washington has just left the building -- or enjoy your meal on the porch outside. You can order dessert for extra and wine and beer are available.

6. Paul’s Shrimp House, Tarpon Springs, FL
In the heart of a Greek community! You can order the usual gyro and dolmades, but I highly recommend getting the shrimp (by the 1/2 pound) and the "village" salad (called Horiatiki) -- authentic Greek salad that does not include lettuce or potato salad. Very casual. Full bar available but with Greek -- go retsina for a tangy wine.

7. Romero’s, Silverton, CO
Silverton is one terminus of the Durango-Silverton Railroad. It's about 9,000 feet in elevation. When the train pulls in, there are several good restaurants, but Romero's really made an impression on me. The food was good, but it was the margaritas I liked. A couple years after my first visit, I overheard someone talking about a place with great maragaritas and lo' and behold -- it was the same restaurant! Also, you just may sit alongside a cowboy (from the Wild West Show that they perform in the street!)

8. Rose's, Portland, OR
A popular place for the Nob Hill gang with great salads and sandwiches. It's very casual and the pricing is fair. The great part of Rose's, I'm told, are the desserts. I didn't try any because the sandwich filled me up.

9. The Southern Kitchen, New Market, VA
Just one stop but the peanut soup was delicious! The chicken and pot roast (Southern style) were also good. They've been around awhile and were featured in USA Today.

10. Mamma Dip’s, Chapel Hill, NC
Another Southern cooking spot -- Mama Dip started this on her front porch and it has grown into a legend today. Clean and airy -- attentive service and great chicken. It has a well-varied menu of Southern specialties like catfish and okra, too. It's just a couple blocks from University of North Carolina so everyone from students to professors like to dine there.

I'd love to hear about your favorites! Post a comment below.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Top 10 "Lesser Known" Cities to Visit

Not usually on the radar for tourists but great places to visit for a few days:

1. Moab, UT
This quirky town sits near two National Parks -- Arches and Canyonlands. If you go, though, arrive early in the day to find a place to stay or make reservations ahead of time. It's a great place for people who like to mountain bike, hike, or whitewater raft. We got there late in the day and could not find a place to stay. We were at a phone booth calling around when a policeman stopped and even tried to help us. People were calling neighbors with basement bedrooms, etc. to try to help. We finally found a place 15 miles outside of the town in the middle of nowhere. But when we woke -- WOW!! What a view. That day we headed into town early.
2. Woodstock, VT
At every corner, my head was turning to look at the charm. Many B & B's and little locally owned shops. We were there in late spring and it was just full of green. Don't plan to go to anyplace in a hurry here.

3. Cedar Key, FL
One of our favorite nearby hideaways. This is a fishing village first, and a visitor's spot second. There are several choices of lodgings -- from little Mom and Pops to lofts for rent. My favorite was the haunted Island Inn! The floors aren't straight and the furnishings are comfortable and not plush. If you stay there, eat breakfast at the Inn. There are many seafood restaurants along the small waterfront. Lots of fishing, hiking, canoeing and kayaking. There are even quirky artsy shops. Every year they host a seafood festival (fall) and an arts show (spring). Those are the only weekends it's not quiet.

4. Friday Harbor, WA
You have a take a ferry or a boat to get to this unique town. It's located in the Puget Sound, on San Juan Island. Great food, great lodgings, great shops. You can also go to other parts of the islands if you want to see orcas and other wildlife. Again, we were summer visitors. Accessibility is problematic in the winter, from what they told me.
5. Dillsboro, NC A great place to visit in the fall. There are tons of places to stay within 20 miles of this town. It's one of the stops of the regional railroad line. I love to visit the crafts shops there. They have a great "family style" restaurant, The Jarrett House, that also serves as an inn. But you can snack through the town's 2 main streets and have some great food. People are friendly and helpful.
6. Corvallis, OR
This is my idea of a college town. Oregon State University is probably the biggest employer in town. It's in the "heart of the valley" (what Corvallis means), the Multanomah Valley. In the summer time, when the students aren't there, you can move around easily and find rooms that are reasonable. Be sure to visit the campus, but go through main street and check out the shops and the cafes. Take a walk along the river, too.

7. Chautauqua, NY
I'd heard of this town almost all my life and equate it with "culture." We stopped in on a Sunday afternoon and had to park in a public lot across the main highway. Unless you are a resident (and if you are, you are a lucky thing!), you will pay to enter -- unless it's a Sunday, when admission is free! The only cars allowed in the town are those of the residents. The houses range from modest to mansion. There are houses for seasonal rent, but also rooms at the inn. The real draw of Chautauaqua are its cultural offerings -- from weekend concerts by the likes of Tony Bennett, Carole King, etc. to classes on "Pop Culture and Literature." Something is there for everyone -- from pre-schoolers to senior citizens. Just walking through there made me feel smarter. It has a lovely lake and several public parks. You have to see it to believe it.
8. Cooperstown, NY
Located in the Andirondacks, Cooperstown is most noted for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, it's there and it's fabulous, even for the non-baseball fan (such as me). But the town itself is so interesting. It's one of the older settlements and it has preserved a lot for history. It's located on a beautiful lake (referred to as "Glimmerglass" by James Fennimore Cooper, the man for whom the town is named). There are several lodges, inns, B & B's and motels available in the area. Again, the little restaurants and cafes give you an eclectic choice of food. I can't imagine a more "American" town.

9. Boothbay Harbor, ME
On our way up to Bar Harbor, the more well-known of Maine's harbors, we stayed a night in Boothbay. What a delight. Not one street is straight -- or horizontal. Quirky little houses and shops pop out in the strangest places. The waterfront is a little touristy, but nothing like Bar Habor. The only problem I had was that the sun comes up really, really early in the summer (because it is so far east from most of the cities on the East Coast). Worth a couple days stay.
10. Berlin, Ohio
Yes, Lancaster County, PA gets all the credit for Amish country, but this area of Ohio actually is the biggest settlement of the Amish and Berlin is in the center of it. Several places to stay for modest prices -- and of course, Amish food. Lots of arts and crafts (some hand made, some not). You will see horse and buggies parked next to Lexuses and Mercedes. The people were friendly but reserved. Drive around the countryside to see some of the farms and visit other craft shops. Just don't expect to find much night life -- the sidewalks roll up usually by 7 p.m. That's the time to curl up with a good book or sit down and write some letters. I guarantee you'll sleep well.

Any other small towns you'd like to tout? Make a comment below:

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Top 10 "Natural" Sights Every American Should See

The top 10 “natural” sights every American should see:

1. Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon NP, AZ
How can anyone not want to see this Wonder of the World? From the rarely visited North Rim with its beautiful Grand Canyon Lodge, to the donkey trails of the South Rim, every scene is postcard pretty. Below you is the mighty Colorado River. If you dare, take a wild ride on the river, but make the reservations early! The top of the canyon is HOT in the summer and FREEZING in the winter. Dress accordingly. Since I visited, I understand that unless you have a reservation in one of the lodges, you cannot drive there anymore, but must take a special train.
2. Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls, NY & Ontario, CAN
What you need to do here is stand right next to the American Falls when you first get to the falls on the American side. Then you will feel the power of the falls. All I can say is AWESOME. Take the walk to the Cave of the Winds. Then cross the border and check out the Canadian side. More times than not, if the sun is shining, you will see rainbows stretching clear across the rims. There is a nightly color light show on Horseshoe Falls, the one most people are familiar with. And of course, catch a ride on Maid of the Mist! Ponchos provided!
3. Great Salt Lake, UT
I haven't seen this lake in decades, but I still remember the impact it made on me. I've flown over it several times and remain impressed at the size. If anyone has anything to add, please make a comment below.
4. Half Moon/ El Capitan, Yosemite NP, CA
Both of these landmarks in Yosemite show up regularly on postcards and information about Yosemite. The park itself is awesome, but these two "rocks" are the stars of the show. El Capitan is a favorite with rappellers-- you can see them bunking down for the night half way up! Half Moon is absolutely stunning at sunset when the alpenglow sets in. It looks like it is on fire.
5. Old Faithful, Yellowstone, WY
I only saw this once and luckily it was going off within 15 minutes because that's all the time my dad would allow us at our stop here! But what a show! Definitely worth the trip to see. And remember all those cartoons (think Ice Age) that allude to it. And there is is! The real thing! Wow!
6. Zion Canyon, Zion NP, Utah
I've been through it and to it. This is a place that makes you feel so humble in the greater scheme of things. The valley is deep and lined with huge monolithic rocks. Again, new rules have made it hard to drive through (unless you have a reservation) but you can catch a tram into the park.
7. Bryce Canyon, Bryce National Park, UT
One of my favorite quotes from a NP sign was what the discoverer of this place said, "It's a hell of a place to lose a cow." Twisting and turning hoo doos from red to snow white. If you hike, I'm told, bring a ball of twine and plenty of water! Gorgeous photo opportunities from every rim
8. Mesa Verde, Mesa Verde National Monument, CO
This spot really hit the imagination spot in me. How did those people figure out this way of life and how did they handle it? And why did they leave? Some answers are given at the park, but I like figuring it out on my own. And as a bonus, beautiful Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Shay) is nearby.
9. Crater Lake, OR
Trust me -- you have never seen water this blue! This unique natural wonder is worth the goose-pimply ride along the ledges of the Cascades. Again, photo opportunities at every stop. You might even see snow in the summertime. Much of the area is inaccessible in the winter, so you have a narrow window to see it. Drive the canyon rim drive and if you have time, hike down to the lake and take a boat ride around. See the Phantom Ship and the Old Man of the Lake (I'm not telling you -- you need to go there).
10. Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, UT
During the couple days we spent in Arches, Delicate Arch was inaccessible because of heavy rains earlier that week. If you were brave, you could hike out to it, but I was neither brave nor ambitious. I did see many of the other arches and they were absolutely awesome, but everyone said that Delicate was the most inspiring. So it's on my "to do" list.

I know, I know -- I left off someone's favorite. But like I said, these are based on my own travels! If you want to add more or make a comment on the ones I've published, click on the Comment link. I'd love to read them.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Top 10 Cities Every American Should Visit

My list of the top cities to visit sometime in your life.

1. Washington, D.C. "Our Nation's Capital"
If you never plan a trip anywhere else, you NEED to visit the capital of this country. It will give you a real appreciation for what "we the people" means. Almost EVERYTHING you would want to see is FREE. Helpful hint: Stay outside of Washington and use the commuter trains or Metro to get around.
2. New York, NY "The Big Apple"
The capital of the world, some say. You can't spit a watermelon seed without hitting a landmark of some sort. On every street, at every corner, you will recognize either a piece of pop culture or history. Helpful hint: Don't drive to this city. Fly in, take a cab, and stay in the most affordable place you can find in midtown or downtown Manhattan. You can get everywhere by walking, bus, taxi, or subway.
3. Boston, MA "The Birthplace of a Nation"
A recent discovery of mine. Another very WALKABLE city if you stay in the southeastern limits. Follow the Freedom Trail -- it's a hands-on history lesson. If you can swing it, come for July 4 and listen to the Boston Pops concert followed by spectacular fire works. And be sure to stop in the North End for some great Italian food.
4. Philadelphia, PA
The only city on my list I haven't yet visited. But I can't imagine Philadelphia not being an engaging city, considering its impact on American history. I'd love to get some comments on this one.
5. Chicago, IL "The Windy City"
My second visit here improved my opinion of this city. We found the real Chicago by walking around instead of driving. Stay near the Lake and hoof it. The Art Institute is worth the trip in and of itself. But there's so much more. Again, it's the history of the city that gives it heart.
6. New Orleans, LA "The Crescent City"
I haven't visited the city since the devastation of Katrina, but reports indicate that the historic area around the French Quarter remained fairly unscathed. Just stepping into the streets gives you the feeling of going back in time. Not the cleanest town around, you just have to get used to the litter and the grime. But there's music everywhere (and quite a few little 'pubs' you can visit) and the food is delicious.
7. San Francisco, CA "The Golden Gateway"
I recently had a chance to take a "long" weekend to visit this wonderful town. Enchantment abounds! From the Golden Gate Park to Chinatown, San Francisco is a city for the romantic. Wonderful views. Great food. A real mixture of people. I wish I'd had more time there.
8. Atlanta, GA "The Big Peach"
Atlanta is a rising star on the socialite's calendar. It is beginning to rival New York and L.A. for its entertainment and night life. If you are interested in learning about the civil rights movement, there's no better place to start. Just be sure to dress for the weather.
9. Charleston, SC "The Holy City"
Walk the cobblestone streets near the waterfront park or along The Battery and take in the view of all the charming southern mansions in this city's historic district. Hidden gardens, the scent of jasmine and magnolia, the tasty Southern food, and the super mannerly Charlestonians. Don't forget to check out Ft. Sumter while you are there.
10. Baltimore, MD
If you want a taste of the maritime life, Baltimore is a great place to visit. The Inner Harbor offers views, restaurants, shops and entertainment. Not too far from all the hub bub is Ft. McHenry, where the battle that inspired the Star Spangled Banner took place. Historic sites abound, from Babe Ruth's birthplace to Edgar Allen Poe's grave. And did I mention the seafood?

Well, there you have it. I have many, many more favorite cities, but decided I needed to limit my list to ten. Any comments -- additions, deletions?

In upcoming blogs, I'll discuss other top 10 features -- like the best places to catch sunsets and sunrises, to see a football game, my top 10 "discoveries", etc. Stay tuned!

The historic Dock Street Theater in Charleston, S.C. believed to be the first built in the U.S. to serve for public entertainment. (actually on Church Street).

Welcome to Travel Americana

During my last vacation, I realized that I really have seen a lot of the United States that many other people have not seen. A lot of the people that I know usually spend their vacation in the same places with the same people. Not only do I travel for my vacations, but I also travel to follow my favorite football team. So I thought I'd try writing a very short blog, based PURELY ON MY OPINION, on top travels in the U.S.

My first entry will be coming within the next day. I hope that what I write will elicit some comments and helpful hints from those who read this blog!