Monday, October 14, 2013

Sabbatical Wrapup

It's hard to believe that it has been over 4 months since I posted about looking forward to my sabbatical, and even harder to believe that it is now almost over. In just 7 days I must return to the working world. During the past 7 weeks I spent 35 days travelling and 14 days at home. I visited 5 countries, spanned 16 time zones, and traveled over 40,000 miles including more than 4,000 by car. It sounds like Phil's wrap up statement to the winners of The Amazing Race, and although I wasn't racing every minute was truly amazing. Good weather followed me everywhere, planes trains and automobiles all cooperated, and except for a short period of sniffles I stayed healthy the whole time. I enjoyed good food, good times, and spectacular sights. According to the scale, I maybe enjoyed a little too much good food, but I'm confident that resuming my weight management program will return me to my pre-sabbatical weight. It has all been a great and rewarding experience. I wish everyone could do something like this.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Road Trip Day 10

Thursday was a travel day. We left Big Cedar at check out time and headed north on our way back home. We stopped for an hour of shoe shopping at the Tanger Outlet Mall in Branson. The ride to St Louis was only a few hours and we got checked in before dinner time. Dinner was at a Houlihan's restaurant walking distance from the hotel. This is the last entry for the Road Trip log. Friday we will arrive home after a 4½ hour drive north on I-55.
Gas Price Survey:
    Branson MO, $3.05
    Sullivan MO, $3.15

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Road Trip Day 9

Most of us took advantage of a chance to sleep in a bit Wednesday, but mom said she was up at 6 am and enjoyed an early coffee on her balcony as the sun came up. After an early lunch we drove about 20 minutes to nearby Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. We booked a 2 hour wildlife tram tour that rode us all over the park where we saw waterfalls, streams full of rainbow trout, a fawn deer, and even got up close to elk and bison. It was a really great way to enjoy the park. Back at Big Cedar we looked for some souvenirs in the gift shop and had an early dinner before returning to our room in time to watch another sunset. We wrapped up our day with another visit to the Buzzard Bar for an evening of musical entertainment.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Road Trip Day 8

Tuesday we left the hotel and visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial which was established to honor those killed or otherwise affected by the 1995 bombing attack on the Murrah Federal Building. The memorial contains a lot of symbolism and is a solemn reminder of the impact of the violent act.

After leaving the memorial we drove about 300 miles to our next stop at Big Cedar Lodge near Branson Missouri. We checked in early enough to enjoy the beautiful view from our room and watch the sunset. Later, we went to the Devil's Pool restaurant for a nice dinner, and finished out the evening being entertained by a talented singer/guitarist in the Buzzard Bar. We're staying here 2 nights so there's no travel on Wednesday.

Gas Price Survey:
    Tulsa OK, $2.93

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Road Trip Day 7

Not a lot to say about Monday. We checked out of the hotel in Albuquerque about 10 am Mountain Time and drove about 550 miles straight east to Oklahoma City. We arrived around 7:30 pm Central time with only 2 short gas & rest stops. After resolving a little electronic confusion finding the hotel we went to dinner at a nearby Chili's restaurant.
Gas Price Survey:
    Tucumcari NM, $3.28
    Clinton OK, $3.19

Monday, October 7, 2013

Road Trip Day 6

Today (10/6) we got in the car and took mom on a self guided Breaking Bad tour. Mom is a fan of the recently ended TV show that was set and filmed here in Albuquerque. I found a website with a map of filming locations that appeared in the show and we drove around looking for them. Mom definitely recognized a couple of them, particularly the car wash.

Our plan for the rest of the day was to attend the Balloon Fiesta for the evening balloon glow activities. We arrived at the park extra early and got a good parking place close to the balloon field. There was plenty of time to do some shopping, grab a bite to eat from one of the many food vendors, and stake out a good location to sit for the glow and fireworks.

As the sun set the balloons began inflating all around us. We were able to walk among the balloons while they periodically fired their burners, illuminating the balloons against the darkening sky. The best part was when they would coordinate the timing and all fire their burners at the same time. The balloon glow activity was concluded by a spectacular fireworks display that was as good as any I've ever seen.

Our weather charm continues to be working for us. We had good driving conditions getting here, and great weather each of the days we've spent touring.

Gas Price Survey:
    Albuquerque NM, $3.05

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Road Trip Day 5

Early Saturday morning we made a last minute decision to try and go to the Balloon Fiesta Park in time for the Mass Ascension. We were advised by the hotel staff that although we were fairly close to the Fiesta grounds, we should allow an hour to get there in traffic. The ascension was scheduled to begin at 7 am and we left the hotel about 5:30 am. About two miles from the exit we hit stopped traffic and waited in line to exit and make our way to the parking area. By the time we were parked and got to the fiesta grounds it was 7:30, but early morning winds had delayed the mass ascension and we were there in time to witness it. It is quite wonderful to watch the huge balloons being inflated on the ground and slowly fill to their full height, then lift off to a cheer from the surrounding crowd to join the scores of balloons already aloft. We watched until most of the balloons had launched then walked among the concessions for a little souvenir shopping. The park was beginning to empty as we found our way back to the car and headed back to the hotel. After a short rest we drove into old town Albuquerque for some more souvenir hunting. We wandered in and out of the many shops and were entertained by a Mariachi band in the town square and an Incan pan-pipe band in a nearby plaza.

We were ready to eat when we finished shopping but we all agreed we were ready for something besides southwestern food. A local resident recommended a nearby winery restaurant so we gave it a try. We give it mixed reviews on the food, but the bottle of Gewurztraminer we shared was very good.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Road Trip Day 4

Friday we took some time to tour Old Town Santa Fe. We parked near the center of the Old Town area and did a walking tour of several historical church buildings. Our first stop was the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Then we went to the Loretto chapel to see the famous staircase which is impressive even if perhaps not miraculous. Thousands of visitors come to see for themselves. After Loretto we went to see the San Miguel Mission chapel which is the oldest still functioning church structure in the U.S. The original mission bell is on display inside the building and visitors are allowed to ring it with a nylon mallet. I rang the bell and was informed that it meant I would return to Santa Fe someday. From San Miguel we walked to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe which houses the large oil painting "Our Lady of Guadalupe" by Jose de Alzibar.

We were hungry after all of our walking so we stopped at the Blue Corn Cafe for an early dinner of southwestern cuisine. Finally we got back on the road for the short drive to Albuquerque and checked into our hotel there. Saturday we may go to the Balloon Fiesta.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Road Trip Day 3

Thursday we drove 328 miles down I-25 to Santa Fe New Mexico. If you've been following the GPS tracker you'll notice we forgot to turn it on for the first 160 miles. We took our time about checking out of the hotel since we knew the day's drive would be relatively short. The land mostly flattens out as you leave Colorado Springs although there are a few smaller ranges (compared to the Rockies) of mountains you pass by or over. Of particular note was crossing the Raton Pass. The view as you cross into New Mexico is impressive from the top. We arrived in Santa Fe early and found a nearby restaurant featuring New Mexico cuisine which seems to be essentially Tex-Mex although the inclusion of sopapillas with every dish seems to be a local feature.
Gas price survey:
    Las Vegas NM,  $3.59

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Road Trip Day 2

Wednesday we drove to Colorado with only a couple of quick rest stops. There isn't much to see except corn along I-80 through Nebraska. The views improved as we approached Denver along I-76. We could begin to make out the silhouette of the Rocky Mountains from about 50 miles away. We made pretty good time with the 75 mph speed limit and gained an hour when we changed time zones so we chose to bypass our hotel in Denver and continue on to Colorado Springs instead for a total of 548 miles. We are staying at a nice Marriott that has views of Pike's Peak. Dinner & wine at the hotel restaurant was nice.

Gas price survey:
    Lexington NE, $3.56
    Colorado I-76 $3.49

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Road Trip Day 1

This was intended to be just a driving day with the objective being to make it to Lincoln Nebraska in time for dinner. We got out of town at 10:30 which is later than I'd have liked but still early enough to make our goal. Around midday we stopped for gas and lunch at the "Iowa 80 World's Largest Truckstop". If like me you've never stopped here on a trip west on I-80, it's worth seeing if for nothing else but the entire semi truck & trailer inside the store.

A ways farther west we came upon signs advertising the Amana Colonies which my mom remembered visiting many years ago. We decided to take the detour and stop for a visit. We didn't tour all of the Amana villages but we stopped at the visitor center and walked to a couple of shops including a bakery and chocolate shop.

With our couple of extra stops it was apparent that we weren't going to make Lincoln in time for dinner so we stopped at a Village Inn restaurant near Council Bluffs. I've never been to a Village Inn before. It's comparable to a Perkins/Denny's/Bakers Square, and the food was pretty good even if the service wasn't. Finally after 560 miles and 11.5 hours (including 3 stops) we made it to the hotel.

Gas price survey:
   Iowa 80 Truckstop, $3.19
   Council Bluffs IA, $3.19