Category Archives: Travel

2017 Gift Guide: Gifts for Campers

Last up in this year’s Gift Guide series we have Gifts for Campers. We didn’t get to camp as much this year as we’d have liked to, and I hope to remedy that next year. Over the years we’ve built a pretty full camping kit, so I thought I’d share some of my favorites in case you have a camper on your list this year!

Stocking Stuffer Gifts for Campers

gifts for campers mystical fire

Mystical Fire packs are hands-down my absolute favorite thing about camping. We discovered these a mystical fire in usefew years ago. We were camping with friends, and two of us went to buy ice cream in the camp store. They had a box of these packets next to the cash register, so I grabbed one to see what it did. We threw it into the fire when Jimmie wasn’t looking, and for a good 15 minutes had him convinced we were wizards. They turn the flames a beautiful shade of turquoise, and last for almost 2 hours. Just don’t use them until you’re done cooking – no telling what chemicals are in here. (Sorry to ruin your dreams of turquoise marshmallows!)

gifts for campers dog bandana

I couldn’t leave the puppers out of this guide, since they camp right along with us. Our pack has matching Camping with Dogs bandanas, and wear them on every trip. We frequently get referred to as a gang when we walk through the campgrounds. We’ve even gotten our doggie friends matching bandanas so they feel like members of the gang. If you camp with your dogs, definitely take a look around the Camping for Dogs site – they have some really awesome stuff!

Gifts for Campers Under $25

gifts for campers mug

Any camper will tell you – enamel mugs are kind of a camping staple. They’re functional, easy to clean, and best of all, they just look the part. This Gentlemen’s Hardware Adventure Enamel Mug ($14) is perfect for anyone who loves the outdoors. It also comes in cream.

gifts for campers solar charger

I’ll be the first to admit, when we camp, we’re not roughing it. I insist on going where there’s electricity and a clean bathroom. But, for those of you who aren’t quite as high-maintenance, nothing beats a $16 Solar Charger. This one from Brolar (ha!) even has a built in flashlight. It’s rugged, water-resistant, and has a compass, so it’d be great for hiking too!

gifts for campers firestarters

Who else struggles to light a fire? Anyone? No, it’s just me? Humph. It doesn’t matter how I set the thing up, I’ll have trouble lighting it. The same exact fire, Jimmie will light in seconds. These $13 Pine Firestarters just might save my life. They’re little blocks that you light and toss into the fire. Easy, right? We’ll see. I bet they’re also going to smell amazing.

Gifts for Campers under $75

gifts for campers growler set

Camping just wouldn’t be camping without a growler full of beer. I picked up this Stanley Growler and Tumbler Set ($65) on sale a few years ago, but I’d happily pay full price for it again. The growler keeps beer cold for hours, and it’s easy to fill – which isn’t always the case with vacuum growlers. The tumblers stay in our camping kit. I like the sleeves, because A) they’re different colored so it’s easy to keep track of which glass is yours, and B) they give me somewhere that’s not cold to hold onto. That’s important especially in cold weather camping! I suppose if you don’t like beer, you could always put soda, juice, or water in here instead.

gifts for campers sleeping bag

Three words. Double. Sleeping. Bag. Even if you don’t share it with anyone, you need one. It’s like sleeping in a real bed with real sheets. More or less. And if you hate it for some reason, you can turn it into two sleeping bags. I like this Sleepingo one because it comes with pillows and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg ($58).

Splurge Gifts for Campers

gifts for campers coleman tentYou really can’t camp without a great tent (I’ve tried). Our first camping trip, we took Jimmie’s old tent. It was great for 13 year old Jimmie. Not so great for 30 year old Jimmie and 29 year old Casey. We upgraded shortly after that trip to a Coleman Evanston 4 Person tent. We loved it, but with the dogs, it was always a little cramped. Two years ago we happened upon a great deal on the Coleman WeatherMaster 10 Person, and even though it’s more space than we need, couldn’t pass it up. There’s enough room for all the dogs, our air mattress (I told you I’m high maintenance), and a table with chairs if we needed it. We’ve been in this tent in multiple thunderstorms, and its held up just fine. My only complaint is that it doesn’t have much in the way of hooks or hangers, but that’s a small price to pay. And, it takes less than 10 minutes to set up and take down. If you have a local Coleman outlet near you, check there, or it’s $170 on Amazon.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed the inaugural She’s All Booked Gift Guide Series! If you missed the rest of the series, head over to Gifts for Book Lovers and Gifts for Travelers. Let me know what you thought, and what kinds of gifts you’d like to see next year!

 

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gifts for travelers

2017 Gift Guide: Gifts for Travelers

Continuing our Gift Guide series, next up we have Gifts for Travelers. I’ll be honest, I had a ton of fun putting this guide together, and it’s inspired some major wanderlust.

I’ll admit I’m not exactly one to travel light. I certainly can, if I need to, but I don’t tend to take trips where I need to limit my stuff. While yes, it annoys me to pay for a checked bag, I’d rather cough up the cash than get frustrated with trying to cram everything into a carry-on. I like to have options, and I like to have room for books and souvenirs. That said, I also try to make sure everything I put in my suitcase is worthy of the space it takes. I put this list together with a hefty dose of suitcase-worthy items (and one not-so-suitcase-worthy).

Similar to the Gifts for Book Lovers Guide, I searched out a handful of gifts under $100. But, this time there’s one amazing splurge. Scroll down to see some of my favorites this year, and let me know where you’re traveling next!

Travel Stocking Stuffers

travel gift luggage tags

We tend to just tie ribbons on our suitcases, but only because I usually forget about luggage tags until we get to the airport. I’m partial to the Pizza Tag, but if that’s too funky for you, this Vintage Suitcase Tag is quite nice. Or hey, get both since they’re $7 each!

travel gift anywhere guide

One of my favorite things about traveling is getting off the beaten path and exploring like a local. The Anywhere Travel Guide ($13) is a pocket-sized set of 75 cards that helps you do just that. Throw it into your bag, and next time you travel, pull out a couple of cards at random. Will you be tasked to “Ask a stranger where their favorite street is, and go there,” or will you get something like “Whisper to a tree”? I love this idea.

Travel Gifts Under $50

travel gift passport wallet

Years ago, I ordered super cheap passport wallets off Ebay for our first trip to Mexico. They’re ugly, they’re starting to fall apart, and they’ve been insanely useful. I’ve had my eye on this $15 gorgeous turquoise Travel Wallet for two years, and I plan on ordering it before our next trip. It comes in a wide variety of colors, so if turquoise isn’t your thing, you have options. (Though I’m not sure we can be friends if you don’t like turquoise!) These wallets are so handy for holding passports, pens, travel documents, and cash. I ditch the purse and just slide this in my carry-on whenever we fly.

travelgift book lonely planet

There’s no shortage of travel books, but I really like Lonely Planet’s Book of Everything: A Visual Guide to Travel and the World ($14). Wherever you’re going, this book is sure to help you with everything from how to properly greet someone to how to read Hieroglyphics. Tons of useful and fun information.

travel gift scratchmap

If you head over to my Travel Adventures page you’ll see I’m a huge fan of maps that show where I’ve been. What’s better, then, than a Scratch-Off World Map? I like this $30 one because it’s a good size, has the US states depicted (instead of just the whole country), and has beautiful watercolors once you scratch places off. It even has points of interest. (This is the one you’ll want to leave out of that suitcase!)

travel gift diffuser kit

Over the last 8 months or so, we’ve been diffusing essential oils nearly every night. We enjoy the scent, and if there are medicinal properties, even better. They’re soothing, and we have a rather large collection by this point, so it’s fun to create new combinations. I miss the diffuser when I travel for work, and we even contemplated taking it on our recent trip to Atlanta. This $30 Travel Diffuser Kit would have been perfect! It comes with three of our favorite oils – lemongrass, peppermint, and lavender, and looks like the perfect size to toss in a suitcase.

travel gift luggage scale

If you, or your favorite traveler, do not own a luggage scale, ignore everything else on this list and buy this $14 Tarriss Digital Luggage Scale. I’ve been that person frantically trying to rearrange my suitcase to get under the weight limit. Because I always bring home beer. Skip all the hassle and use your own scale before you get there.

Travel Gift Splurge

travel gift mia toro gelato luggage

Just trust me on this. I know, I know. $400 is a lot of money, but this luggage set is amazing. I have it in aqua (imagine that), and I get so many compliments. It brightens my day whenever I see my suitcase, no joke. It comes in pink, orange, lime, and aqua, though you may have a hard time finding the aqua. Aesthetics aside, the Mia Toro Gelato Luggage has a built-in lock, an interior pocket separator, and the smoothest wheels I’ve ever felt on a suitcase. It’s lightweight, scratch resistant, and scuffs wash right off. Jimmie bought me my set before Mexico, and other than the dog, it’s probably my favorite thing he’s ever gotten me. I used to be one of those people who refused to spend money on luggage. I didn’t see the point since it just gets banged up. Now I get it. I 100% get it. (And my luggage is fine, in case you were wondering.)

 

Happy shopping!

 

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Travel: The Great West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Trail

Guys, I had so much fun reliving this adventure for this post, so I really hope you have fun reading it.

A couple weeks ago, work took me Athens, Ohio. The only photos I took there were of food, so I’m afraid I can’t really show it to you. But, suffice it to say, Athens is a funky little town that were it not 6 hours away, I’d love to go back to.

What does this have to do with pepperoni rolls and West Virginia? Quite a bit, actually.

See, my coworker and I had 6 hours together in the car. Thankfully, we get along wonderfully, but 6 hours in a car with anyone is a challenge, and as most people do, we were looking for ways to make the drive more exciting.

We also needed a lunch plan.

One of my favorite things about traveling is eating things I’d never get to eat otherwise. So, when Kristin asked me if I’d indulge her desire to find and try an “authentic West Virginia Pepperoni Roll,” I didn’t hesitate. What happened next was an adventure of epic proportions.

Ok, not really, but we did have fun, and if you ever find yourself in West Virginia and in need of lunch, I suggest you give The Great West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Trail a try.

About the West Virginia Pepperoni Roll

Pepperoni rolls – not pizza rolls, as I kept mistakenly calling them – are a bit of a thing in West Virginia. I mean, they’re considered the state food. In the 1920s, coal miners needed a portable, filling, easy lunch option that didn’t require refrigeration. An Italian immigrant named Giuseppe “Joseph” Argiro is credited with creating the first pepperoni roll in 1927, as a solution to this problem. Basically, a pepperoni roll is bread with some pepperoni stuffed inside and then baked. The oils and fats from the pepperoni soak into the bread, giving it that wonderful pizza-like flavor.

Modern pepperoni rolls have branched out quite a bit, and now have cheese and other meats (like salami or sausage) inside, but you can still get a traditional pepperoni roll if you look hard enough.

The Great West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Trail

According to the Interwebs, the best pepperoni rolls are all found in the Eastern part of West Virginia – Fairmont, Clarksburg, and Morgantown, to name a few. Unfortunately, our travels only took us as far as Huntington before we had to turn north. So, Huntington it was.

There was a significant lack of information on Google about just where in Huntington to find pepperoni rolls. I managed to come across an article from 2015 about the outcry surrounding Sheetz gas stations’ change in pepperoni roll supplier. From that, Kristin and I deduced that Sheetz had pepperoni rolls.

According to Yelp, there was also a place in the Huntington Mall that sold pepperoni rolls. Never having tried one before, we knew we needed a decent sample size to be able to fully critique the rolls. We decided to swing into Sheetz, then head over to the mall for a second variety, creating our own little pepperoni roll trail.

Our First West Virginia Pepperoni Roll

First stop, Sheetz. For those who don’t know, Sheetz is a gas station, albeit a rather nice gas station. They have a made-to-order food counter with, you guessed it, pepperoni rolls. Never having done this before, we each ordered two pepperoni rolls with both marinara and garlic butter sauces.

After what felt like hours but was in reality about 8 minutes, our made-to-order pepperoni rolls were ready. Turns out, you get two in an order….so we ended up with four each. No matter. We took our bounty out to the car, and ripped those babies open.

If this picture looks terrible, it’s because the pepperoni rolls were precariously balanced on my lap and I was trying to hurry so I could shove them in my mouth.

Pepperoni Rolls from Sheetz

Made-to-order Pepperoni Rolls from Sheetz

Here’s where I have to admit – we were both starving by the time we rolled into Sheetz, so a piece of cardboard probably would have tasted great. But, seriously, they were quite good. I ate one and a half of mine – I preferred the garlic butter because duh – and saved the rest to bring home to Jimmie. It reminded me of a thin calzone. The pepperonis were enormous, and it had just a little bit of cheese. You definitely tasted the pepperoni a lot, which I liked.

Our Second West Virginia Pepperoni Roll

As we waited for our rolls to be cooked, Kristin found a stand of pre-packaged pepperoni rolls. They’re probably the ones referenced in the article. Truth be told, we weren’t exactly inspired by the sight of them, but eventually I convinced Kristin we needed to try one. We settled on the “original” variety, just pepperoni and bread.

Sadly, we didn’t try it because neither of us thought it looked appealing. Kristin took it home to her husband, who thought it was better than the one from Sheetz. I thought it looked like a Slim Jim stuffed in a dinner roll, which now that I think about it, probably isn’t that bad.

Our Third West Virginia Pepperoni Roll

Next up was the Huntington Mall and Big Loafer. Except, I couldn’t remember the name and kept calling it Big Fluffy. I recognize this is probably only funny to Kristin and me. That’s ok.

Anyway, Big Fluffy Loafer is in the food court of the Huntington Mall, and was nominated for the best pepperoni roll in West Virginia this year. They didn’t win, but according to their Facebook made it to number 12. Respectable!

big loafer

Big Loafer’s pepperoni roll was round, and cut into four sections like a pie.

big loafer pepperoni roll

This one was super doughy. It also had a lot more cheese, and the pepperoni oil really soaked into the bread. It didn’t come with marinara, though I probably could have asked for it. I liked this one a lot, but then, I like soft bread a lot. Interestingly, this one also reheated really well. (I had it dipped in Brie when I got home and shared it with Jimmie. Best decision ever.)

Our Fourth West Virginia Pepperoni Roll

When we got to the food court, we realized Cosimos Pizza is right across from Big Loafer, and being a pizza place, also sells pepperoni rolls. A fourth option just magically dropped in our lap? Of course we had to try one from them too.

cosimos pizza

Cosimos’ pepperoni roll most resembled pizza.

cosimos pepperoni roll

This was my least favorite of the bunch, though it’s probably because by this point I was feeling a little ill. Cosimos had the most cheese of any of the rolls, and the least pepperoni. It came with a healthy cup of marinara, and reminded me of cheesy bread. Good, just not what I was expecting. I think this was Kristin’s favorite, though. The bread was baked well, with a crispy edge and doughy middle.

So Which is the Best West Virginia Pepperoni Roll?

Well….at the risk of sounding like I’m taking the easy way out…that depends.

If you like a lot of pepperoni, go with the made-to-order from Sheetz. If you like a lot of cheese, go with Cosimos. And if you like a lot of bread, go with Big Loafer.

Me? I’ll take Big Loafer.

pepperoni rolls

Kristin and I enjoying our West Virginia Pepperoni Roll adventure!

 

charlestonwv

Travel: An Evening in Charleston, WV

I’m fortunate to have a job that lets me travel. Sometimes that travel is exotic- I’ve been to Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, all for work. Other times the destinations are less exciting, but often turn out to be just as beautiful – Montana and Utah fit the bill there. And sometimes, occasionally, I travel somewhere that my expectations are fairly accurate.

Charleston, West Virginia, turned out to be one of those places. I expected a cute little college town, and that’s pretty much what I got.

I spent two nights there, but as anyone who travels for work will tell you – that gave me approximately 4 hours of exploring. Long enough to eat dinner. Work trips aren’t glamorous, friends. They’re grueling, often 12+ hour days where you’re lucky to see anything besides the inside of a hotel room or conference facility. I wouldn’t trade any of my trips though, because the stories and experiences are worth every bit of stress and exhaustion.

Plus, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, work trips are great ways to scout out places you’d like to return to.

Downtown Charleston, or at least the part I saw, reminds me a little bit of Asheville, actually – the architecture has a similar feel. It’s all cute boutiques and local merchants; you won’t find any chains or big box retailers on Capitol Street. The buildings are all funky colors, the streets are fairly narrow, and the walkways could use a little love and care. But, the drivers are patient, the shops varied, and the vibe incredibly low key. My kind of place.

The Block Restaurant and Wine Cellar

Our first night, we had a lovely dinner at The Block. It’s an upscale restaurant with over 500 different wines. The menu was thankfully manageable, and had a lot of eclectic pairings. If I had to label it, I’d call it Hipster American – think Alfredo pasta that’s got handmade noodles, sauteed kale and Brussels sprouts, and lots of Artisan cheeses.

I had the Braised Short Rib and a local West Virginia Beer (the Almost Heaven Amber Ale from Mountain State Brewing Co.).  According to the menu, my short rib should have had fried leeks (nope), whipped potatoes (yep), sauteed kale (yup, with little pieces of hot dogs?), shallots (nope), and garlic with rosemary demi-glace (possibly, though I didn’t taste any rosemary). It was tasty, but the kale was too bitter and overall, the dish was overpriced. I liked the beer, though.

Service was good, even though the guy had no idea about the beer – he told us Ayinger was brewed in Colorado, and that the Almost Heaven was a wheat beer – but to be fair, it’s a restaurant known for the wine. So I take the fault on that one. And, since we were staying in a hotel, we got a slight discount off our meal. block wv

Pies and Pints

Our second night, we headed over to Pies and Pints, a West Virginia franchise, on the advice of about 500 people. They’re known for their beer selection, but surprisingly, only had a small handful of WV brews. And they wouldn’t do a flight. What self-respecting beer place doesn’t do flights?

I ended up ordering the Wild Wonderful West Virginia Wet Hop Ale from Big Timber Brewing, and a sample of The Loud from Black Sheep Burrito and Brews. While I enjoyed both, I should have done them the other way around. The Wild Wonderful was mild, but the Loud was super hoppy. (I like hoppy beer!)

As for the food, there were three of us, and we were all kinda curious about the Black Bean pizza. Not being one to shy away from a weird food combination, I ordered it. The other two girls had the Heirloom Tomato and the Grape and Gorgonzola pizzas, and we ended up sharing them all.

I was a big fan of mine, and plan to recreate it next time we make pizza, though I might leave off some of the jalapenos. The grape and gorgonzola was only saved by the rosemary – without it, the pizza would have been bland. The heirloom was a little heavy on the pesto, but the tomatoes had great flavor so it balanced out. Overall, I wasn’t crazy about the crust. It might have just been overdone, but to me there’s a fine balance between a good thin crust and a bad one, and it all depends on the level of chewiness. Pies and Pints had a crunchy crust, and I ended up not eating most of it.

piesandpints

Ellen’s Ice Cream

Never ones to pass up ice cream and coffee, we headed across the street to Ellen’s Ice Cream after Pies and Pints. There we sampled a handful of the ice cream flavors, settling on mocha almond, pumpkin, and oreo espresso. Mine was the oreo, and even though I couldn’t eat much of it, the flavor was divine and left me wishing I could buy pints of the stuff.

ellensicecream

Taylor Books

Our final stop on our quick Charleston tour was Taylor Books. An independent book store, that also has an impressive coffee shop and art gallery, I could have spent hours in there. As it was, I practically had to be dragged out….but not before snapping a dozen photos, lamenting the fact that beer couldn’t be ordered to go, and buying a book just because.

taylorbooks

I’d have liked to have more time in Charleston to explore beyond Capitol Street. Have you ever been? What are some of your favorite spots for an evening in Charleston?

Travel: My Favorite Moments from Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun

I thought long and hard about this post. We were just at the Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun in February, and I did two lengthy posts about the resort and the food after that trip. Thinking about how to write about our second trip, I was at a loss for quite some time. I didn’t want to just repeat myself; after all, you guys are smart enough to know that if we go back to a resort a second time, it’s a pretty awesome place. And we didn’t do any excursions, so there wasn’t much new to write about in terms of Mexico itself.

That’s why it’s taken me so long to get a post up, honestly.

And then I realized, I didn’t have to wow you with details about the trip, because really? Who cares? I mean, yes, I know some of you do enjoy knowing every single thing we did (and ate). And most of the time, I’m all for sharing that. But while we had a lovely time on this trip, and we did do a few things differently, by and large if you read my first two posts on the resort, you’ll get the gist of it.

Instead, I thought I’d share some of my favorite moments from the trip. We enjoyed ourselves, and our friends did too. We love Royalton, and we love Mexico, but to be honest I think I’m ready for a different kind of trip. This makes 5 all-inclusives in a row; it’s time for a new kind of adventure. (Remind me of that in 6 months when I’m desperate to go to the beach again).

sushi royalton

You might have guessed this was coming if you read my post about the food, and how in love I was with Zen. I’m happy to report, the love affair continues. And yes, I had the Pad Thai again. It was delicious, but the real star of the show was the sushi smorgasbord. We asked our waiter if there was a sampler, and he and the chef made us this absolutely stunning display of every single sushi item on the menu. It was incredible, and we all ate way too much.

sunrise royalton

The first morning we were there, I woke up super early. I’d planned to do yoga, but forgot about the time change. As a result, I got to see the sun rise over the ocean. It was breathtaking, and pictures could never do it justice.

Coffee and gelato for days, friends. DAYS. Flaming coffee, espresso, Americano, latte…I had so much coffee. And so much gelato. I enjoyed the cookies and cream, and Jimmie liked the pistachio. The coffee shop also had pastries, and I discovered an intense love for Pain Au Chocolate (chocolate-stuffed croissants essentially). I kinda miss having easy access to both espresso and gelato. My waistline does not share that feeling.

We didn’t end up buying anything – I wanted a chip and dip set, but no luck – but it was fun to do a little shopping without having to leave the resort. The wares were about what you’d expect, but I can’t comment on prices because we didn’t see anything we wanted badly enough to stop. The lights were gorgeous, and I spent more time photographing it than I did browsing.

beach royaltonTrying, and failing, to paddleboard in the ocean. Not the same as doing it on the lake. And then I got mad, and pitched a tantrum and refused to try it again. And then Jimmie and I kayaked, and that went about as well as it ever does when someone has to paddle a boat with me. BUT. The beach was lovely, and we spent so much time there, and I’m so glad for that. We dug up shells and coral, we read, we walked, we swam, and we just soaked up the salt air. In the past we’ve spent more time at the pool – this trip, it was all beach. Sure, it may not be the prettiest beach we’ve been to (I’m looking at you, Catalonia), but the atmosphere was perfect. It was quiet, peaceful, and not at all crowded.

We didn’t find out until our last day there, and by then it was too late, that we could have booked a snorkeling excursion right from the beach. Next time.

new restaurants royaltonThere are 9 restaurants available to Hideaway guests. Before we left, Jimmie suggested we try to eat at all of them, meaning we’d have to do second dinner a couple of times. We didn’t make it, but we did prioritize the ones we hadn’t yet tried. Armadillo was Tex Mex, and while good, wasn’t one I’d repeat. Opa was Mediterranean, and a front-runner for my favorite restaurant at the resort. Everything was cooked well, it wasn’t crowded, and the ambiance was really unique. (I ordered tagine, and am going to try it at home soon.) Agave was Mexican, and everything I hoped it would be. I was able to order all the tacos in a mixed taco trio. If we go back, I’ll definitely be cycling between Agave, Zen, and Opa the entire trip!

royalton parties

During the Foam Party, which was held in the Hideaway pool after dinner, our friends brought mountains of foam back to the swimup pool. And at the White Party, I snapped this adorable photo of a little boy mesmerized by the stilt walker…and then shared the photo with his father. His father, who was Greek, and spoke very little English, while I spoke absolutely no Greek. Jimmie has a photo series of us working it out, and it’s amusing. Google truly is the universal language – all I had to do was show him the email button, and he now has the photo. The world is a beautiful place.

new favoritesMudslides. Mudslides. And more mudslides. I don’t usually like them, because they’re way too sweet, but the Royalton bartenders make a mean mudslide. I drank a LOT of them this trip. And those wings were Jerk flavored, and ohmygosh good. For anyone considering a trip, the wings in the sports bar are not the same – you need to go to the Caribbean restaurant and order like 4 of them.

As for the Indio, well…it’s a Mexican beer, so that was fun, but not really my style.

royalton spaI wanted to try the spa on our last trip, but didn’t get around to it. This time, I made sure I didn’t miss it. I dragged Jimmie along with me – we had a couples massage – and it was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. The massage was fine, but you get an hour of hydrotherapy beforehand. At Royalton, they rush you through each station, and it’s not at all relaxing. It’s like there’s a train to catch or something. It was so ridiculous that at one point we just burst out laughing. I’m glad we did it, and it was fun, if only because it was so strange. I can mark that one off my list, and for those of you taken in by Royalton’s spa pictures like I was – it’s not even close.

And finally….

I mean, he’s ok. *Grin*

Travel: Flying Saucer in Nashville, TN

Ready for the last post about our recent trip to Nashville? First, we had Sammy B’s, then we had Crawdaddy’s. After that it was Mantra Artisan Ales. And rounding out the Nashville posts, I bring you…Flying Saucer.

We also saw a concert while we were in Nashville, but it wasn’t all that exciting. It was One Republic, their third show of the tour. We were there to see Fitz and the Tantrums, who either pulled out of the tour or were never supposed to be on it in the first place….even though I’m 99.99% positive they were listed when I bought the tickets. I’m still bitter about it.

Moving on. Here’s photo proof that we did do something besides eat. And drink.

Nashville Flying Saucer

One of our friends recommended we stop in Flying Saucer while we were in Nashville (he knows us well). Since the concert was over at 10:00pm and neither of us was tired, we made the stop! It turned out well, since we were also both hungry. (We’d grabbed a quick Aldi chicken salad dinner in between Mantra and the concert. While yummy, it didn’t have much staying power!)

We parked in the lot behind the building, and I snapped a few photos of the back side of Union Station Hotel . The light hitting it was breathtaking. I didn’t actually know what the building was when I took the picture – just that it was beautiful!

The back of Nashville’s Union Station Hotel

The inside of the Flying Saucer is a beer lover’s dream, with dark wood, lots of saucers (more on that in a moment), and a tap wall that made me swoon.

Inside the Nashville Flying Saucer

Closeup of the Tap Wall at the Nashville Flying Saucer

The Beer

I’d never been to a Flying Saucer. Jimmie had, and I guess they’re all fairly similar. Tons and tons and tons of beer. 200 beers, to be exact. There’s so much beer that it gets its own double-sided menu.

  Beer menu at Nashville Flying Saucer

If you’re a hardcore beer fan, you can join their UFO club and they’ll track your progress. Once you’ve had all the beers, you get a fun reward – your very own saucer on the wall. If you make the rounds more than once, you get a fancier saucer. We saw some that said people had done all 200 beers….9 times. Impressive.

UFO Club Saucers at the Nashville Flying Saucer

UFO Club Saucers at the Nashville Flying Saucer

We ordered a Ghost Flight, which is 4 unknown beers. You rate them on the restuarant’s website, and then whichever beer ends up getting the highest rating gets added to the taps. We weren’t super impressed with any of them. We knew we had a Mexican style lager, and one of the others was a honey pale ale, but the third was pretty unremarkable. (They ran out of the 4th ghost beer, so gave us more gose.) Regardless, it was a fun experience, and yes, we did rate our beers! Our second flight had a Scotch ale, a Gose, and two IPAs. The Anderson Valley Gose was our favorite.

Ghost flight at the Nashville Flying Saucer

Ghost flight at the Nashville Flying Saucer

The Food

The menu at the Flying Saucer has about a million delicious-sounding things on it, all of them designed to pair extremely well with beer. Pretzels, brats, cheese…I wanted all of it.

Eventually we settled on a pepperoni and mushroom pizza and the Saucer Bratzel, which is a pretzel topped with cheese and beer brats. The pretzel was definitely the star of the show. The pizza wasn’t terrible either, but don’t go for the pizza. Go for the pretzel.

Pizza, beer, and saucer bratzel at Nashville's Flying Saucer

Pizza, beer, and saucer bratzel at Nashville’s Flying Saucer

I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of just the pretzel because you really should see that in all its glory. Guess you’ll just have to take a trip and try it yourself!

That wraps up our two-day Nashville trip – hard to believe we ate so much in two days, huh?! I’m sure we’ll be back that way soon, so where else should we try?

Travel: Mantra Artisan Ales in Franklin, TN

If you’ve been here a while, you know I’m a big beer fan. If you’re new (welcome, friend!), I write about beer a lot – some of these posts are really old, though, so be gentle. Check out our trips to Yazoo, Jackalope, Asheville, Asheville again, and Asheville a third time. Better yet, search my page for “Beer” (there’s even a tag at the bottom of this post), and enjoy.

Anyway, surprise! Here’s another brewery post!

A few months ago I discovered Mantra Artisan Ales when I had their Guru Gish at a book club meeting. It tasted like a Reese’s cup in a pint glass. I immediately decided I was in love with Mantra. I tried their Saffron IPA at a local beer garden, and from that moment on, knew it was just a matter of time before I’d make it to the taproom. So, when we traveled to Nashville recently and found ourselves with a few extra hours before our concert, we made the 30ish minute drive south to Franklin to check it out.

Mantra Artisan Ales

Mantra Artisan Ales is in perhaps the most unassuming location I’ve ever seen. It’s a business park. And then there’s this little brewery.

Outside Mantra Artisan Ales in Franklin, TN

We weren’t really expecting much on that first glance, but as soon as we walked inside we realized you should never judge a taproom by its location.

The Taproom at Mantra

They’ve got all their beers (all 20-something of them) listed on televisions above the bar. It made for terrible photos, sorry.

Tap Wall at Mantra

I loved everything about the taproom, from the tap handles to the bathroom mural.

Mural at Mantra Brewing

And yes, they have lots of t-shirts with that fantastic Mantra logo. They’re super soft and I bought a tank top.

Merchandise at Mantra

The Beer

We didn’t know before we got there, but Mantra is known for their sours. Roughly half of their taps were sour beers when we visited. I’m not a huge sour fan, but Jimmie is. We started with two flights, one each.

Jimmie had the Cherry Love (sour red), Tacenda (sour), Cassis (sour red), and ReinCOWnation (milk stout). Cherry Love was my least favorite – it tasted like medicine. Cassis was reminiscent of wine, so I enjoyed that one. ReinCOWnation was yummy, and Tacenda was very heavy on the muscadine.

I had Annika (wild ale), Chocolate Wit, Randall (IPA), and Roots (IPA). Annika was one of our favorites. I was really disappointed I couldn’t taste the carrots in the Roots IPA. Randall was ok, and the chocolate wit wasn’t my thing.

For our third flight we had Imli (sour), Noueveau (Belgian Dubbel), La Tian (peppercorn saison), and Big Juicy Dank (IPA). I liked La Tian, and Jimmie liked Imli. We were three flights in, so I forgot to take a picture until after we’d finished.

Tasting all the beers at Mantra

We really enjoyed our afternoon tasting at Mantra. We sat in the taproom and played Valley of the Kings, a fun little card game, and drank beer after beer. They know their beer at Mantra…even the ones I wasn’t crazy about, I could tell they were done well. And the atmosphere was perfect, laid back and friendly. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

What other breweries do you know and love? I’m always on the hunt for a good one, so let’s hear your recommendations!

Sneak Peak: Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun (2nd Trip!)

What can I say? We loved the Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun so much we just had to go back.

We actually planned to do a Mountain trip this summer, since we were in Mexico in February. But when I started looking at prices, we realized we could do a return Royalton trip for about $200 more. Tough decision, no?

So we’re off this week to sunny Mexico for our second trip to the most luxurious resort ever. Or maybe not ever, but that we’ve been to. I’ve got lots of ideas planned for this trip, including a list of “Drinks to Order at an All-Inclusive Resort,” so feel free to throw out some ideas for me. Just make them quick, since I’ll only have a few days to snap relevant pictures!

In the meantime, check out my first review of Royalton Riviera Cancun, my comparison of two of the Mexico resorts we’ve been to (I’m still slacking on the updated comparison!), and the best part, all the foooood. I’m making a beeline for that Pad Thai when we get there. Seriously, my priorities are to take pictures of everything I drink, eat all the Pad Thai I can stomach, and order room service every single night.

I’d thought about leaving the resort for once, but….nah. I like reading and relaxing too much. Speaking of reading, later this week I’ll share what’s in my beach bag. If you want you can place bets on what I’ll actually read.

We’re going with friends for the first time since 2014, so that’ll be a fun and slightly different experience! We booked a swim-up room again, and our fingers are crossed it’s the same one we had last time. I’m looking forward to seeing if Karina is still serving drinks in Hideaway!

As for drinks, any suggestions?

Travel: DelMonaco Winery & Vineyards in Baxter, TN

All the best people were born in July.

I can say that, since both Jimmie and I are July babies. We also happen to have a dozen or so friends who were also born in July. It’s a good month for a birthday.

A few weeks ago, a couple of our July-birthday friends invited us to take a wine tour for a joint birthday celebration. Turns out there’s a wine trail not too far from us (two, actually), so we loaded up the car and headed west to DelMonaco Winery and Vineyards in Baxter, TN.

We had a great day with friends new and old!

For those not familiar with the area, Baxter is one exit past Cookeville on the way to Nashville. Remember Cookeville from my Crawdaddy’s post? Anyway, I’m not sure there’s much in Baxter, though apparently there is a really good restaurant that we didn’t get to. Next time. (For those interested, DelMonaco is part of the Upper Cumberland Wine Trail.)

DelMonaco Winery & Vineyards

DelMonaco is one of the few wineries in Tennessee that grows their own grapes. In addition to the wine, they’ve also got an incredible event space. It’s genius, really, since as our tour guide told us, they make just as much money from their events as they do from their wine. If you live in Middle or East Tennessee and need a wedding venue, definitely check them out.

We paid $15 each for the tour and tasting, which got us a 45 minute tour and samples of all 14 wines. Yes, that’s a lot of wine. Most of DelMonaco’s wines are sweet wines, typical for the area. I learned that for the most part, the grapes we’re familiar with (Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc.) don’t survive in the U.S. Only the West Coast and a few places in New England have any real luck with them. Bad soil, pests, fungi, and inhospitable climates cause problems everywhere else.

But, that just means American winemakers have had to get creative. Some wineries purchase those more elusive grapes. Others grow America-friendly grapes like Muscadine and Concord. Still others make wines out of fruits, such as strawberries, blackberries, and peaches.

Needless to say, this wine drinker learned a lot on the tour.

The Tour

First of all, it was hot as blazes. Our tour guide took us through the venue first, showing us their different event spaces. I loved the Grand Bella, the main room. It’s got these gorgeous glass doors all around. You’ll have to take my word for it, since I failed to turn around and take a picture.

The Grand Bella at DelMonaco Winery

The outdoor areas are very nice too, and have killer views of the vineyard.

I absolutely adore this picture of us in front of the vineyards.

Next we walked down to the vineyard, where we learned a little more about the history of the place and some of the fun events they host. There’s a wine train – the train tracks run right by the winery – that brings people in from Nashville. You ride a train (drink wine), tour the winery (drink wine), and have a party (drink wine). It sounds like it might be one of the best things ever.

Concord Grapes at the DelMonaco Winery

We didn’t wander the vineyard (we were all melting), but we did snap lots of photos.

Another good one!

And some of us might have tried the grapes.

I’m thinking about framing this one and hanging it in my kitchen. That’d work, right?

Concord grapes are divine, friends.

Where the magic happens!

After the grapes, we went into the blessedly cool air-conditioned wine-making room (I can’t remember the proper term, sorry). There we got to hear about how they make the wine, how they bottle the wine, how they label the wine, and how they store the wine. All I remember was that it’s very similar to making beer, and that they do only about 4,000 cases of wine a year. I should have taken better notes, but I’ll just go back for the wine train and update you then.

On a side note – I was very disappointed to know that they don’t actually crush grapes in a giant vat with their bare feet. I’ve wanted to do that ever since watching the (albeit terrible) movie, A Walk in the Clouds. Anyone with me??

The Tasting

We actually did the tasting before the tour, since we were waiting on another couple to meet us there. Fourteen wines is a lot, and since you taste from dry to sweet, it quickly becomes A LOT.

DelMonaco Winery Wine Tasting List….side A.

Jimmie and I are dry-wine drinkers, so for the most part, we had a hard time with the wines. We could appreciate the flavors, and there were a few that we would have been able to drink a glass of if we’d needed to. There were a couple that I’d have added carbonation to, and a handful that I simply could not finish my taster of. But, we also liked some – the Chardonnay was quite good, and I typically don’t like Chardonnay. It’s got apricot and fig flavors, and oddly enough, you can actually taste the fig. The Merlot and Noiret were also good, though slightly too fruity.

Don’t let our experience put you off though – our sweet-wine loving friends bought like 8 bottles. They loved the wines.

I took like 8 pictures before I’d let anyone drink it. I’m that person.

After our tasting, we bought a bottle of Chardonnay and took it to the patio for a picnic lunch of cheeses, fruits, veggies, and meats. It was a wonderful meal, despite the heat, and the wine paired perfectly with the food.

Our glorious picnic

It was a fun-filled (HOT) day, and despite not loving all the sweet wines, wine is wine, so we left happy. It’s nice to know we have such a beautiful, relaxing place here in Tennessee, and I can see myself going back with a group of girlfriends to spend some lazy Saturday.

I believe you can order DelMonaco’s wines from their website, or if you’re local, it’s a quick day trip. And if anyone does that train, I want to tag along.

Travel: Crawdaddy’s Restaurant in Cookeville, TN

Last week, I shared our lunch date at Sammy B’s in Lebanon, TN, on our way home from Nashville. The type A personalities will be annoyed to know that we also had lunch on the way to Nashville – but I wrote the posts out of order, so you’re just now seeing it. *Grin*

The drive from Knoxville to Nashville doesn’t have a whole lot of large towns with food choices that aren’t chain restaurants, but so far, we’ve managed. On the drive out, we stopped in Cookeville with the intention of eating at The Cooke House. We’d tried to make it there on a previous trip, but the restaurant was closed for a private event. Wouldn’t you know – it was closed this trip too.

Cookeville is roughly halfway between Knoxville and Nashville, and it’s probably the biggest city you’ll pass on the drive. It’s home to Tennessee Technological University, and has an adorable downtown area. Since the Cooke House was closed, we turned to Crawdaddy’s.

Crawdaddy’s West Side Grill

Crawdaddy’s is a Creole-American restaurant in Downtown Cookeville. It’s housed in a 100-year-old building with a spacious patio.

Crawdaddy's Entrance Cookeville

Entrance to Crawdaddy’s in Cookeville, TN

Crawdaddy's Patio Cookeville

Patio at Crawdaddy’s in Cookeville, TN

In the 1930s and 40s, that patio was home to the Fox Cafe. A fire destroyed the building in the 1960s, and the space stayed vacant until Crawdaddy’s incorporated it into their restaurant.

History Crawdaddy's

History of Crawdaddy’s Patio

Crawdaddy’s prides themselves on being a friendly, welcoming establishment. Our service was adequate, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it exceptional. Staff were courteous, and our food was delivered quickly.

The Food

I wanted everything with goat cheese, but eventually settled on the Mango Mahi Wrap with seasoned fries. Jimmie had the Citrus Glazed Salmon, which came with mashed potatoes and fried green beans.

Mango Mahi Wrap with seasoned fries at Crawdaddy’s

The wrap was stuffed full of grilled mahi mahi. So much so, in fact, that I couldn’t finish it. The mango added a nice flavor. The wrap was your standard wrap, though it ended up getting a little soggy. I’m not sure how that could be avoided unless they grilled it. The fries were good, and reminded me of Arby’s curly fries.

I forgot to get a picture of Jimmie’s salmon. The portion was a little on the small size – 4 ounces, which is great for lunch. Not sure if it’d be enough for dinner. The citrus glaze was reminiscent of an Asian marinade, but the goat cheese threw it off a little. Here’s where I have to admit that goat cheese does not, in fact, go with everything. His mashed potatoes were cold, and the fried green beans were actually roasted. Despite all this, he enjoyed it quite immensely.

Tree at Crawdaddy’s

My favorite thing about Crawdaddy’s was the atmosphere. I loved the patio’s New Orleans vibe. The downside was the number of flies relentlessly attacking our food, but I suppose that happens when you dine al fresco.

I’d like to go back and try more of the menu, but there are a couple other Cookeville restaurants I might try first. But, if you’re a fan of Creole or Cajun food, definitely add Crawdaddy’s to the list of restaurants to consider when making the drive between Knoxville and Nashville!