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Touring America’s Safest Cities . . .

Posted: October 20th, 2010 by


New York City's Brooklyn Bridge - Flickr photo by Francisco Diez

An article, recently published by Forbes appeared on Yahoo, citing America’s safest ‘top 10’ cities.  Criteria used to formulate this list included stats from 2008 and 2009, and was based on population (250,000+); violent crimes per 100,000 residents and traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents.  If you missed the article, you can read all about it here: http://www.forbes.com/2010/10/11/safest-cities-america-crime-accidents-lifestyle-real-estate-danger.html

Here are three of those cities; beginning in the far Northwest  with #2, Portland, Oregon; then in the heartland of America, #5, Omaha, Nebraska and ending up on the East coast is New York City, ranked #6.

Your travels begin in Pioneer Square - Flickr photo by phillie casablanca

According to www.travelportland.com, Portland is “big on livability, big on visit-ability, and is very accessible.”  One of Portland’s key attractions is the Pioneer Courthouse Square, considered the “4th Best Public Space in the World.”  At one time a school was located on the square as well as a hotel.  Located in downtown Portland, Pioneer Courthouse Square is ‘affectionately known as the city’s living room,” and boasts of more than 300 events a year.

Waterfall in Pioneer Square - Flickr photo by anne.oeldorfhirsch

Another key attraction in Portland is the Portland Art Museum, which was founded in the 1890’s, and “houses permanent collections that include Northwest Coastal Indian art, Chinese artifacts and European and Classical art.”   

While in Portland you might also want to visit the International Rose Test Gardens and the Pittock Mansion, built in 1914.  To get details and check ou the top 10 attractions in Portland, click on this link: http://www.10best.com/destinations/oregon/portland/attractions/best-attractions-activities/

Cousin Joe can be found at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha - Flickr photo by jan-tik

Traveling further east we visit Omaha, Nebraska, the 5th safest city on Forbes list.   After touring the 31-acre “Heartland of America Park,”located in downtown Omaha, you won’t want to miss taking a fun boat ride on the General Marion Boat for only a quarter! Before you climb on board though, be sure to take in the natural beauty of the lake and their two fountains (shooting water more than 300 feet into the air) as part of this phenomenal downtown attraction.  The whole family will also enjoy the Henry Doorly Zoo, considered one of America’s best (where you can visit Cousin Joe), and the Strategic Air & Space Museum.  Why not check out their great attractions here: http://www.omaha.world-guides.com/omaha_attractions.html.

Heartland of America Park is a key attraction in Omaha - Flickr photo by connermajik

New York City with 8.4 million residents came in at #6 on America’s Safest Cities list.  Wow, where does one start?  After all, New York City “has it all,” including historic landmarks, Broadway, theaters, hundreds of museums and too many attractions to list.  Visiting this website might be a good place to start.  http://www.mustseenewyork.com/attractions.html

New York City skyline - Flickr photo by vtravelled

A few key attractions that you don’t want to miss include the Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building, Madame Tussaud’s, Radio City Music Hall, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Statue of Liberty, Times Square and the World Trade Center site and more than 60 other great places to visit.

Schools out, now what?

Posted: May 4th, 2010 by


Niagara Falls, photo by Day Trips Canada - www.day-trips.ca/

It’s always a challenge to figure out something to do for summer vacation that will please the entire family. In my case that would be me and my nine year old son.  As a mom I want to instill an appreciation for the finer things in life- art and architecture, good food and a sense of history, not to mention awesome natural scenery. As a kid he has his own ideas of the finer things in life…Water parks and video arcades, corn dogs and lemonade. Natural scenery is good too as long as he is not required to hike, bike or otherwise engage said scenery. What can I say, despite my best efforts he is natural born couch potato techno-geek. I am thinking Niagara Falls. 

Skylon Tower, Flickr Photo by shidairyproduct

As I begin my research I think this looks promising. The official website, www.niagarafallstourism.com, touts “water parks inside hotels, Ferris wheels and kid-friendly restaurants” Well, that sounds good, and we have the non-engagable awesome scenery covered. But what about the art and architecture and history?  Skyscrapers don’t count although I am sure he will love the 775 ft. high Skylon Tower with the revolving restaurant; and it even has a game arcade!  I think this may require a little more research.

 I let my fingers do the walking and end up on www.wrightnowinbuffalo.com. This is more like it. Buffalo Niagara- a Great American Road Trip “Does great American architecture fascinate you? Are you a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan and H.H. ? Does the American Arts & Crafts Movement and the work of the Roycrofters have a place in your home and heart? Do you enjoy botanical gardens and the parks of Frederick Law Olmsted? Does African American heritage and the Underground Railroad arouse your curiosity? Are you interested in American originals like artist Charles Burchfield? …Do you savor road food and hard-to-find regional dishes? “Wow, seems like I hit pay-dirt. The website offers a tour for every special interest, from cultural and history itineraries to family getaways and nature lovers. Looks like I am off and running and no matter what we decide to do, I know I will be able to find comfortable affordable lodging in the area…

Frank Lloyd Wright Greycliff, Buffalo,NY, Flickr photo by bobistraveling

A Weekend in New Orleans:Family Fun in the Big Easy

Posted: April 21st, 2010 by

Vintage Postcard Blue Room Roosevelt Hotel, Flickr Photo by howieluvzus

I recently visited New Orleans with my 9 year old son. My Mother who was attending a conference there invited us to join her and we gladly accepted. We were three generations, each viewing this landmark city from a different perspective. My mother, who grew up in rural Mississippi has memories of a post war era boom when the Fairmont Hotel was host to the likes of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. For her, a trip to New Orleans represented glamour and glitz, shopping at the big department stores on Canal Street and shows at the Saengar Theater. We stayed in the newly renovated Roosevelt Hotel, formerly the Fairmont Hotel. After an extensive renovation, the hotel re-opened last year. The ubiquitous Sazerac Bar, restored to its former grandeur still boasts the bullet hole from a failed assassination attempt on famed Louisiana Politician, Huey P. Long. 

My memories of this great city are somewhat different. As a young woman, I remember the 1984 World’s fair and the revitalization that came with it. New luxury hotels were constructed alongside the former Grand Dames and the Riverwalk became a new center for tourism. Of course the famous Vieux Carre remains constant, with its mysterious courtyards and secret alleyways, world-class restaurants and street performers; it remains an ever-changing panorama. Having lived for several years, later in my life, in the Riverbend district of New Orleans, I wanted to share my memories of walks in Audubon Park, rides on the St. Charles Streetcar and breakfast at the Camellia Grill with my son. 

St. Charles Streetcar, Flickr Photo by Mr. Littlehand

He had opposing ideas. New Orleans from a child’s perspective is a little different. As a product of the technology era, he sulked the entire streetcar ride from Canal Street to Audubon Park because I wouldn’t let him bring his Nintendo DS. Even though the Spring weather was as perfect as it gets in sultry New Orleans, he complained about the noise and having the windows down. “Why we can’t we have air conditioning?” he lamented.We persevered to the Audubon Zoo and Botanical Gardens which, despite a few of the exhibits being closed for renovation, seems to have rebounded quite nicely post-Katrina. 

Later as we enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the French Quarter the allure of the Big Easy began to gradually creep in. As the noise and inconvenience of public transportation receded, the ambiance of New Orleans began to take over. From the freshly baked French bread to the alligator sausage gumbo, to the jazz music humming in the background, my son began to feel the unmistakable magic. Although, the secret alleyways sometimes seemed more frightening than mysterious, and he had to avert his gaze from some of the more risqué establishments on Bourbon Street, a new generation discovered the overwhelming allure of the Big Easy. On our last day he pleaded for just one more night, and another chance to ride the St. Charles Streetcar! 

Beignets at Cafe Du Monde, Flickr Photo by chuckyeager

Here are some tips for traveling with children. It you are on a budget there are affordable options for lodging. Be sure to include a streetcar ride, you can take the Greenline down St. Charles Avenue to Audubon Park and catch the free Zoo Shuttle to the Zoo. Also, not to be missed are the Aquarium of the Americas and the IMAX theatre located near the Riverwalk. There is a new Insectarium in this complex as well. Tickets are available which cover all four attractions. Just a few blocks from Canal Street, accessible from the Greenline, is the new Children’s Museum which provides hands on exploration and interesting exhibits for the kids. Dining out need not be difficult, there are so many options in all price ranges and  I found most restaurants offer children’s menus to please even the pickiest eaters. Don’t miss the Cafe DuMonde for beignets, a delicious fried doughnut drenched in powdered sugar. With all this activity remember to include plenty of down time for swimming and relaxing by the pool.

Natchez Pilgrimage…A Mississippi Tradition

Posted: March 8th, 2010 by


Spring comes early to the Deep South.  Mid-February usually brings daffodils and the budding of flowering trees. By early March, the dogwoods and redbuds are bursting into bloom followed closely by flowering bulbs and azaleas.  While Northern neighbors are busy shoveling snow from the latest blizzard, Southern gardeners greet the arrival of spring with joy and exuberance. My father always has his vegetable garden well underway by Good Friday; which traditionally signals the threat of frost has passed and it is time to plant tomato seedlings. Although spring is a bit later this year due to some unusually cold weather, the typical rites of spring are well under way.  

Stanton Hall, Natchez MS Flickr photo by Paul V8

In my hometown of Natchez, Mississippi, local garden clubs have been preparing for the annual Spring Pilgrimage for months.  In this five-week event beginning in March, twenty-four antebellum mansions, many of them private residences, open their doors to visitors.  Since 1932, when the tradition of  Pilgrimage first began,  Hostesses attired in lavish antebellum costumes have welcomed visitors to tour these homes. In addition, Spring Pilgrimage offers special entertainment. The Historic Natchez Pageant, presented by over 200 local performers of all ages in elaborate costumes, recreates the romanticized eras of old.  Southern Road to Freedom is a stirring musical tribute by the Holy Family Choir to the African-American experience in Natchez from the Colonial period to the present-day; and Southern Exposure is a hilarious spoof on the homes, homeowners, and tourists of Pilgrimage.

It is this shared history of diverse cultures; American Indian, Afro-American and European, which brings history to life, and makes Spring Pilgrimage in Natchez such a unique and memorable experience.

Remembering Black History Month

Posted: February 24th, 2010 by

February is the birthday month for many famous people including four Presidents (George Washington, William Harrison, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan).  February is also Black History Month, an annual observance in the United States honoring African-Americans.  

What began as Negro History Week, in 1926 by Historian Garter G. Woodsen, evolved into Black History Month. In 1976, under the presidency of Jimmy Carter, Negro History Week was expanded to the entire month of February and was designated Black History Month.   

Booker T. Washington

There are a number of National Parks & Historic Sites dedicated to preserving African-American history. These sites are located throughout the United States from Massachusetts to Mississippi and celebrate the achievements of notable African-Americans such as Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and Martin Luther King Jr. Although most are familiar with these famous Black Americans , there are also sites commemorating less well-known figures.  

William Johnson House, Natchez, Mississippi

Once such site is the Natchez National Historic Park, in Natchez, Mississippi. The William Johnson House was a home and business owned by William Johnson, a free black man, whose diary tells the story of everyday life in antebellum Natchez.  

Armchair travelers may make a virtual visit to Historic Sites dedicated to preserving African-American History here.  

February: Not Just the Shortest Month of the Year

Posted: February 24th, 2010 by

 A lot of great things happen in the month of February, even though it is the shortest month of the year. Although this is not a Leap Year, when we think of February that thought often does come to mind. A few other notable events that occur this month are Black History Month, Valentines Day, the beginning of Lent, Presidents Day, and American Heart Month. Although not always in February, this is the Year of the Tiger, and the Chinese New Year Day is on February 14th.

 While some were hoping for an early spring this year, it appeared that February 1st was not a good start for many because weather prognosticator Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and therefore a prediction of six more weeks of winter was made. Were you aware however that there are more (prognosticator) ground hogs out there? Did they too predict six more weeks of winter? General Beauregard Lee, who resides at the Yellow River Game Ranch located near Atlanta, Georgia, did not see his shadow. We presume this means the Daffodils will be blooming a little earlier this year. So who are those other groundhogs, and how did this all start? The tradition began in Germany where it was said if a hibernating animal (such as a groundhog) saw its shadow, the Christian holiday of Candlemas, winter would last for another six weeks. By the way, Buckeye Chuck and Staten Island Chuck (Buckeye is a cousin of Punxsutawney Phil), did not see their shadows, so the folks in Ohio and New York (respectively) are jumping for joy. Folks in Wisconsin say that Jimmy the Ground hog is usually 80% right, so his predication of an early spring in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin is good news!

500 Miles of Excitement and More

Posted: February 11th, 2010 by

Since 1959, fans have gone along on the wild 500 mile ride during The Daytona 500!  No matter if you are sitting in the stands, in the middle of the infield, or glued to your TV set, if you are a NASCAR fan, the month of February signals kick off for a year of car racing competition.

For many, The Daytona 500 is considered the most important and prestigious race of the NASCAR calendar, and unlike most sports, the best is not saved for last.  The Super Bowl of stock car racing is usually held the second or third Sunday in February, the culmination of numerous activities and events held during ‘Speedweek’.

This is one of the busiest weekends for Daytona Beach.  If you are unable to find lodging near the Daytona International Speedway, you might consider nearby Ormond Beach where you can tour the Harley Davidson Showroom, or a short drive north is the oldest city in America, St. Augustine, with numerous family-type attractions, like Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.  Many attractions are located within walking distance of one another in St. Augustine.

For more information on activities and events in the Daytona Beach area, You may want to visit the Daytona Beach Chamber of Commerce and view their calendar of events.