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25
Sep

St Charles, Missouri

Early American history is everywhere in this charming and somewhat eclectic community on the banks of the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark passed through shortly after setting out on their historic journey west, recording that;
Upon entering the Village of St. Charles, a crowd of spectators welcomed the party. Exploring the French village, they found the community of 450 living harmoniously. Last minute adjustments were made to the vessels cargo and …With three cheers (Bon Voyage) the Corps proceeded up-stream into unknown territories. (16-21 May 1804)

 

Boone's Lick Trail Inn - Just 50 yards from where Lewis & Clark Camped. Trailhead Brewing is in the background, located in an old Grist Mill.

Thereafter, early American settlers would leave St Charles on to the Santé Fe and Oregon Trails. While the early trappers and traders found this an ideal place for commerce, discovery and adventure, the same can be said for modern day visitors to the region.  You can stroll along the brick paved streets and shop in the largest designated historic district in Missouri, discover some boutique dining atmosphere in one of the many patio setting restaurants, or if you’ve got some time on your hands – take an excursion on the water, bike/walking trail, or check out the event calendar for something special that’s going on.  Those who are inclined can visit the casino, although I found it more invigorating to be outside and soaking up the 8-10 blocks of South Main Street.

Most people know about the Gateway Arch in St Louis, just a 30 minute drive east, and many people have heard of Branson, Missouri, four hours to the southwest; but I found St Charles is a hidden gem that I’m glad to have visited, and would love to have stayed longer.  The family friendly ambience was unmistakable, and the town had character that is deeply rooted in a rich history of adventure.  Even Daniel Boone lived here later in his life, serving as Judge and Commandant for five years prior to the Louisiana Purchase.  Remnants and replicas of the early settlers’ lifestyle help keep their inspiring stories alive.

16
Sep

See Rock City

Red barns have proclaimed the “See Rock City” message across the Southeastern United States since the 1930’s.  However, although the number of visitors is quite high, I suspect that a relatively small percentage of people who have driven past one of these iconic and inventive early billboards, have actually paid a visit.  Even I lived just six miles away for 3-4 years in the early 1990s, and never once visited.  All that changed this past autumn when I took my wife and daughter for a weekend away – something that’s nice to do when the boys are off camping with the Scouts.

"See Rock City" You'll want to go back again.

The Rock City Gardens were a surprise to me.  Having lived nearby I was familiar with the “See Seven States” location, but I didn’t realize everything else that was contained within the 14 acre gardens (it seemed so much bigger).  The massive rock formations were like a giant playground with panoramic views from 1,700 ft above the Chattanooga Valley.  Over 400 types of wildflowers, shrubs and trees are contained in this unique and fantastic place

Our daughter just loved the Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village, although the 1,000 ton balanced rock, swing-bridge, 100 ft waterfall, and “Fat mans squeeze” were also favourite stops along the way.  The attention to detail was reflective of the eight decades which have been invested into the original mission of “creating memories worth repeating”.  The official website, www.seerockcity.com says it best in a portion of their vision statement, “Rock City remains a national treasure of botanical, geological, and entrepreneurial significance”.

Dad’s Recommendation:
There is a lot to see, so don’t rush.  Allow yourself at least a couple of hours to enjoy the sights along the various walking paths. 

15
Sep

TSA security pat-downs

There’s a news ripple about the Transportation Security Administration changing their policy with regard to pat-downs on children.  Their website provides the policy guidance at:  http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/pat_downs.shtm

It appears to me that parents should have the primary responsibility for resolving any alarms set off by a child going through a metal detector.  However, it would seem much more efficient to have a secondary level of screening for passengers who set off an alarm on their first pass, and not delay everybody else who is in line behind the offending party.  Clearly the secondary level of screening will take extra time, and this will quickly encourage people to make sure they have everything sorted out ahead of time – thus rewarding frequent and prepared passengers with an expedited screening process.  (A similar concept to how Customs operates for passengers arriving from overseas)  Irrespective of what layers of security are in place, pat-downs of children must be a last resort for when parental efforts fail to resolve an alarm during secondary screening.

I can’t remember the last time I set off an alarm at an airport, primarily because I start the process of moving metal items into my bag or coat as soon as I enter the line.  Thereafter, it’s simply a matter of dealing with my laptop, liquids (if I have any), shoes (if required), and coat.  When traveling with my family, I make sure they are similarly ready to scoot through the screening without undue alarm. 

I’m amazed at how many people are “surprised” to find that their pockets are littered with metal … but not until they’ve passed through the metal detector several times.  These people should be shunted off to a thorough secondary screening line the first time they fail to follow the clearly displayed guidelines – and everybody else will applaud the TSA for some common sense.

14
Sep

Panama City Beach, Florida – Sugar white sand & emerald water

Spring Break or early summer is when we like to pack up the family and take a trip to the beach … before it gets too hot, or too crowded. This April we went to Panama City Beach (PCB), a six hour car ride from Atlanta (or one hour flight).  We stayed in Laguna Beach – one of the numerous areas adjacent to PCB and which lays claim to some portion of the beachfront on the Gulf of Mexico.  We have driven to several beaches from our home – but this has been our favorite!

 

My kids on Spring Break at PCB

The 27 miles of pure sugary white sand beach was easily accessible from a number of well posted boardwalks.  While the modest emerald green waves could easily lull you to sleep, be watchful of your children who might try to bury you in sand (ours probably would given the chance).  The beach has plenty of space to swim, splash and relax, although the riptide can be quite strong at certain times of the year – so please observe the flags and any warning signs prior to entering the water.

Restaurants and shopping options are diverse, as are options for outdoor activity and attractions.  We found the Spring Break crowd kept the central shops and restaurants too crowded for our liking, but we were able to find quieter options nearby. Rather than fill our days with too much activity, this trip was about looking for some quiet relaxation … and ‘accidentally’ found some sub-tropical paradise on a gorgeous beach.

This was our Spring Break beach-on-a-budget trip because we were saving up for our big summer trip to New Zealand.  We saved money by staying across the street from the beach instead of directly on the beach; and we prepared many of our meals in the comfortable 2 bedroom cabin instead of dining out all the time.  We stayed at the family friendly Laguna Beach Christian Retreat, which had multiple swimming pools to provide a great diversion from spending endless days on the sand.  We left the PCB area with the distinct feeling that we need to go back and explore some of the many things we discovered – we got a taste, and want some more.

Dad’s Recommendation:
The sunsets can be truly captivating, so take time to walk down to the beach and enjoy the sensation … make sure you take your shoes off. Consider renting a place with a kitchen and with a view of the beach … it makes for lovely mealtimes together as a family.

 

More information can be found online at: www.VisitPanamaCityBeach.com , www.ChristianCamp.com, plus whatever your search engine comes up with.

 

 

13
Sep

Chi Air Digital Luggage Scale Review

Those who have travelled with me over the last three decades will generally know that I like my gadgets.  Certainly I’ve been through various phases with certain items, and have a veritable collection of useful things that I seldom take on trips any longer.  Having just recently returned from a one month family trip to Tahiti, New Zealand, and Australia, I am compelled to make my first review about the most recent gadget in my drawer … the Chi Air Digital Luggage Scale.

Digital Luggage Scale

I cannot imagine going on a family trip without taking this valuable gadget.  This hand-size unit enables you to measure the weight of your luggage from the comfort of your home, hotel, or hosts accommodation.  This means  it’s much more convenient to redistribute your rock samples (or souvenir books) from one bag to another, thus avoiding overweight bag fees at the airport check-in counter  (they know most people would rather pay the fee than struggle with their dirty laundry on the terminal floor). 

The scale provides measurement in either metric or English units, and has a stated capacity of 50kg/110lb, far more than any airline will allow.  The unit takes one CR2032 3V battery, and easily lasted through rigorous uses over a one month trip – and is still going strong.  I see these units listed online for about US$20, and is well worth it if you’re ever going to travel heavy.

Dad’s Recommendation:
I try to pack relatively light when travelling by myself, irrespective of whether it’s for a few days or for a few weeks.  After all, it’s usually not the end of the world to be missing an item – and most travel items can be replaced if essential.  However, when travelling with a family it’s a really good idea to be as prepared as possible, meaning it’s a good idea to have a little extra stuff on hand … just-in-case!  As such, the weight limits imposed by airlines are much more meaningful when I’m travelling with my family.  A small digital scale such as the Chi Air Digital Luggage Scale could easily save the purchase cost in avoided airline fees.  Of course, don’t forget to check the airline luggage weight limits prior to travel.