This began as a letter to my niece and nephew, but I soon realized that it’s really a letter to all children everywhere, with just a few specific details directed specifically at these particular kids. The relevant information is that they live in Baltimore, their parents work for Johns Hopkins University, and they have traveled more than most adults. Without further ado, here is the exact text (hyperlinks and pictures added) of my letter to them:
Dear I. & P.,
McKenzie and I are at the tail end of our road trip through Montana, and I am compelled to share some powerful thoughts from this experience with the young people in my life. So compelled that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on proper stationery, and I am writing on the only blank paper in my car — the back of my system notes with my bridge partner
Anyway, Montana is AWESOME. You are two of the most well-traveled kids I know, and I’ve seen a lot of the world myself. There are a lot of places I’ve loved and would love to visit over and over, but the unique thought that strikes me here in Montana is “This is where I should have spent my college years.” University of Montana in Missoula doesn’t have the reputation of an Ivy League institution or JHU or Stanford or whatever, but those are all fine places to go for a graduate degree, and I know, I know, you’re only 11 and 8, why am I yammering on about college? I’m just trying to plant the seed of an idea, and both of you are so gifted and intelligent that it won’t be long until college recruiters are beating down your doors anyhow.
Consider this: college is really the only time in your life that you will have such a wide open choice of where to live. After that, your choices are limited to where your careers take you, and I’m confident that you both will have ample choices and opportunities, but it’s still unlikely that Montana would have much to offer you beyond your 20′s. I’m not trying to say that U of M should definitely be your top choice — I don’t know enough about it to really make a strong recommendation, but I am saying that it’s worth strong consideration. If I could have my college years back, I would spend them here.
I love Portland and am settled into my life there, so I won’t be relocating to MT, but I am very lucky to have lots of opportunities to spend time in the gorgeous Treasure State. Maybe I’m totally off-base and you would hate it here, but I really doubt that. Maybe there’s a cool summer camp you could try to get a taste of MT. Or you could nag your parents to take a vacation here sometime.
McKenzie points out that for all my gushing, I’ve thus far failed to mention any specifics of why I love it so much. Here goes…
Things that Make Montana Wonderful
- Scarce population means so much of the area’s natural beauty is undisturbed and thriving
- cities like Bozeman, Billings, and Missoula are populated enough that there’s plenty to see and do, and yet small enough that you can walk or bike everywhere, and everyone is friendly and it’s very safe
- FANTASTIC outdoor activities. This morning, we hiked up to the M on the mountainside overlooking Missoula. A river runs through town, and canoeing, kayaking, rafting, and even river surfing (!!!) are popular. Tons of bike paths and trails, and lots of skiing nearby.
- amazing beer and wine (for when you turn 21:) )
- MT may be a red state, but the college towns are very progressive and blue
- proximity to two of my favorite parks — Yellowstone and Bannack State Park (and Glacier, which Z says will be my favorite once I’ve been)
- the geography is stunning. Mountains, rivers, plateaus, valleys, lakes…
If you check it out and decide Montana’s not for you, that’s cool and I understand. But I tell you all this because I sure wish someone had told me about Montana when I was younger. I hope you get the chance to check it out soon.
So that’s what I wrote. I should mention that I love Bozeman and the feel at MSU just as much as I do Missoula, and I guess I’m glad I don’t have to choose between them. I focused on Missoula in this letter because that’s where I was when I wrote it. Feel free to add to my list of things that make Montana wonderful — I’ll share your tips with I. & P.
I’ve been following flight attendant and author Heather Poole on the internet since 2008, and I’ve been looking forward to the release of her book ever since I learned she was working on it way back then. Even after four years of anticipation and buildup, Cruising Attitude was interesting, fresh, and exciting in every page.
Heather Poole has been a flight attendant for a major US carrier for 15 years, and her book explores every aspect of that exotic lifestyle that most people can never really imagine. World travel, celebrities, family life, dating, all those rules, and of course, problem passengers.
It’s a riveting memoir full of hilarious and outrageous stories, but it’s also an enlightening read for anyone who travels by air. A big part of a flight attendant’s job is smiling all the time, so most passengers probably assume they’re happy and never think twice about the fact that these are people with regular emotions. They’ve heard all the flirting and sweet talk before, and that’s not going to score you a free drink. You know what might work? Eye contact. Please and thank you. Regular human decency. Chocolate helps, too. Maybe it should be common sense, but from Poole’s experiences, it’s clear that many people are clueless when it comes to how to behave on a plane, and the stories that result are hilarious.
This book is not just an entertaining read — it will make you a better passenger. And it’s the perfect way to pass the time on your next cross-country flight.
I have more road trip goodness to share, and I’m really looking forward to doing so, but for now I’m just stopping in to share a gripe about hotels. First of all, unless the hotel is specifically billed as a rustic escape, there should be an internet connection in the room. Not in the lobby — well, yes, in the lobby, too — but in my room. If I can’t surf the web in my birthday suit, the experience loses all its magic. (Given that tidbit, feel free to use your imagination as to how this website is produced.)
An internet connection in the room is really a no-brainer. But one thing pisses me off even more than no connection (or an expensive one): the wired connection. It poses as convenient, when really it’s just as inconvenient as having to go to the lobby or the Starbucks across the street. Only one computer can hook up at a time. I’m usually traveling with at least one other person who needs to be online for a good chunk of the night. You’re stuck to the desk, because the wire is always anchored, allowing you a whole six inches of wire. The one I’m plugged into right now is so short that it can barely reach the port on the side of my computer. I actually have my computer angled to the side, because if I try to square it on the desk, the stupid wire can’t reach the port. This chafes like a picture that won’t stay straight on the wall no matter how many times you adjust it.
It’s bad enough that I can’t surf the web from bed, or even one of the comfy chairs (they’re too big to pull up to the desk and still be able to reach the keyboard), but the icing on the poo-flavored cake that is wired internet is that the desk is always right next to the room’s A/C unit. So you have to choose between letting the room and everyone in it cook, or trying to work in a constant gust of chilly wind.
I don’t care how nice every other amenity in the hotel may be — if the internet connection is wired, your hotel sucks.
I get why I get that reaction. To be honest, my main goal in visiting Montana was to cross off one of the few states on my yet-to-be-visited list. Like many others, I figured not many people live there, there must not be much to it. Hooboy, was I wrong.
My week in Montana was a lot like falling in love with a soul mate. I was wide-eyed and giddy, and also shocked that this thing of beauty was available to me and not already taken by an earlier suitor…or, you know, millions of other tourists. I have no logical explanation for why the place isn’t swarming with tourists. I guess too many people just write it off because it seems like the middle of nowhere — but that vast openness, the Big Sky, is part of Montana’s appeal. And the only way to see it is on a road trip, because if you confine your vacation to a small radius of one of the few airports or cities, you’re going to miss a lot. I’m already scanning the calendar for the right time to go back and check out a lot of the things I didn’t see this time around, like Glacier National Park. But let me tell you about what I did see and do, because it was one of the best trips of my life.
My route was a little wacky, because my trip was broken up by a weekend bridge tournament in Idaho, so you may not want to follow my exact path, but I definitely wouldn’t want to miss any of the stops I made.
Day One: Red Lodge, Montana
A road trip is what brings most travelers to Red Lodge, home to the Beartooth Highway, “the most beautiful drive in America.” This scenic road to Yellowstone celebrates its 75th anniversary this summer, and quiet Red Lodge will be rocking throughout the summer. Because the pass is snowed under most of the year, Red Lodge really only sees tourists in the summertime, but most of the local hotels, restaurants, and shops stay open all year, so don’t feel like you have to go when the crowds go. Red Lodge is the kind of place you’d want to come and turn off your cell phone, laptop, and anything else that pulls you away from the moment and just be in the town.
The main street is lined with old-timey saloons that really welcome you to the West. It’s easy to get a feel for how the miners and prospectors of the 19th century lived — the spirit of the old west is thick throughout.
I stayed at The Pollard, a beautiful historic hotel in the heart of the town. I loved this boutique hotel, and I’ll be reviewing it in depth for About.com, so be sure to check out About Hotels to learn more about some of the historic hotels along your Montana road trip route.
Day Two: Red Lodge to Bozeman, Montana
Along the way to Bozeman is a small town called Absarokee, and a can’t-miss Montana road trip stop: Paintbrush Adventures. This can be a two-hour stop on your road trip for a quick horseback riding experience, or you can make a whole vacation of your visit. Paintbrush Adventures offers ranch vacations where you live, work, and play on the ranch, custom mountain pack trips including horseback riding, fishing, and camping, and drop camps, where they’ll drop you off with your supplies and pick you up when it’s time to go. I only had time for the two-hour trail ride, and having never ridden a horse before, that was about all I could take for my first time. Our guide was one of the ranch owners, and in addition to making sure we were comfortable on our horses, he told us all about the history of the area as we trekked along the Stillwater River and up a mountain for spectacular views of Montana’s highest peaks.
Here I am with my husband with the snowcaps behind us. Can you tell neither one of us has been on a horse before?
The views are absolutely worth the sore legs. You wouldn’t expect to get sore from basically just sitting, but it’s not as easy as the cowboys make it look. Even though I had no idea how to handle a horse, my pony knew how to handle me, and it was a great, relaxing ride.
In Bozeman, we had time for two main stops: The Museum of the Rockies was first. The rich history of this region starts long before cowboys and Indians — dinosaurs once roamed this territory, and you’ll find a great dino exhibit here. They also have a planetarium and exhibits on Yellowstone, Native Americans, early American history, and my favorite, the frog exhibit. Definitely a kid-friendly museum with lots to interest the grownups, too.
The second stop on our brief tour of Bozeman was Montana Ale Works, a hip brewpub where McKenzie had his first bison burger — he recommends it! From here, we walked around downtown and I wished I could go back in time and apply to college at MSU. It was one of the larger towns on our road trip, and I loved everything about it — large enough for an airport, all the major shopping and dining choices you’d expect in a city, and still small enough to feel cozy and friendly.
On the way to West Yellowstone, there’s a short hike in Big Sky to Ousel Falls. There’s no shortage of fantastic hikes in Montana, but this one is perfect for breaking up your time in the car. It’s just under a mile to the falls, with only a small elevation gain on your walk, so this scenic hike should take no more than an hour, but you may want to stop and bask for a while at the falls.
In West Yellowstone, check out the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. A trip to the Rockies wouldn’t be complete without a bear sighting, and this is a safe place to see them up close.
From there, the road took us to Virginia City. ”City” is a little misleading — it’s more like a one-horse town, definitely worth a visit. The historic main street is set up like a museum of the town that was much busier a hundred years ago. Peek in the windows of the old shops and businesses, preserved as they were a century back. You won’t find many options for food here, but Cousin’s Candy Shop is a great place to stock up on sweets for the road. I stayed at another historic hotel here, the Fairweather Inn, which, as the name suggests, is open mid-May through mid-September.
Day Four: Bannack State Park to Butte, Montana
Bannack State Park was probably my favorite stop on the road trip. This is a must see, and you’re not allowed to come to my website anymore if you skip this attraction. A gold rush town, Bannack was the first Territorial Capital of Montana. The town thrived in the late 1800′s, but by the 1950′s, it was all but deserted. The state then turned the ghost town into a park, and today, over 60 buildings from the gold rush days still stand, most of which are open for exploration. Here’s a view of the town from the hillside cemetery:
From Bannack, there’s a great roadside stop on the way to Butte called Crystal Park. For a small fee, you can dig for quartz crystals here, and you’re sure to find plenty.
The best attraction in Butte is the Dumas Brothel. Active as a house of prostitution in Butte’s once-bustling red light district from 1890 to 1982, the Dumas Brothel is America’s longest-running whorehouse. And now it’s a museum! An allegedly haunted one!
Day Five: Philipsburg to Missoula, Montana
Philipsburg is where you’ll find the best souvenirs of your Montana road trip, so you don’t want to skip this stop. First, visit the Sapphire Gallery, where you can purchase a bag of Montana mine rocks for $25 and pan for sapphires. Don’t worry — they’ll show you how to find them, and if you come up empty, they’ll give you another bag. I collected over eight carats of cuttable sapphires in my bag. For an extra fee, they’ll heat treat your gems (to bring out the color) and cut them for you so they sparkle and you can have them put in jewelry. Mine just came in the mail yesterday and I can’t wait to make a ring out of the half-carat blue sapphire I had cut.
Next door to the Sapphire Gallery is the Sweet Palace. Get your fill of every kind of candy imaginable here before you hit the road again.
On the way to Missoula, you can take a drive through the National Bison Range to check out the wildlife. Get a good night’s sleep, because Missoula is a place for adventure.
Day Six: Missoula, Montana
Before you leave on your trip, secure a reservation with 10,000 Waves for a whitewater rafting trip in Missoula. I had one…but the floods had other plans for me, and it wasn’t safe to go out on the river while I was there. So I spent the day with the guys who would’ve guided me on the raft — instead, they gave me a tour of the town. Again, I found myself wishing I could go back in time to apply to college at the University of Montana. What a cool place. Kienan and Ben, our guides, took us to Out to Lunch, Downtown Missoula’s weekly performing arts festival, where we saw a local legend of sorts. I can’t find anything online about them, but apparently the Particle Movers are local celebrities. They believe it’s their duty to, well, move particles…something about the balance of nature or something…they apparently believe that music can wreak havoc with the particles, and so they go to wherever music is happening and help rearrange the particles…or something like that. Ask a local — they can probably tell the story better than I can. But sure enough, they were there, hard at work moving some invisible somethings while a live band played and local vendors sold food at the park by the river.
In the evening, take a hike up to the M overlooking the university for a breathtaking sunset. ”Hiking the M” is one of the main tourist (and local) activities in the town.
Between river running, mountain biking, hiking, and checking out the local breweries, you’re going to need to spend a couple of days in Missoula at least. It’s on the top of my list of places to revisit as soon as I can.
Next up, a week in Wyoming!
It’s the first day of summer, so it’s the perfect time to start thinking about road trips. Whether you have a weekend for exploring, or a whole month to see the sights, all great road trips have the same key components:
- Great music — the road trip is one of the great themes in American music. It’s easy to create your own vacation soundtrack.
- Great company — road trips solidify relationships. You’ll be creating memories that will warm your heart for a lifetime.
- Funky roadside stops — it’s not a successful road trip until you’ve seen the World’s Largest Something.
- Beautiful scenery — go someplace you’ve never been before. See the parts of the country that few people have seen. Explore the unfamiliar.
My most recent road trip took me on a journey through America’s wild west. I started in Montana, then went down into Wyoming through Yellowstone National Park. Road trips are the only way to see this part of the country, because it’s so vast, and you’re doing yourself a major disservice if you just fly to Yellowstone, spend a week in the park, and head home without seeing what the surrounding areas have to offer — ghost towns, college towns, rodeo, old west saloons, breweries, haunted hotels, dinosaurs, white water adventures, and views you have to see to believe.
I’m not going to try to cram two weeks of adventure into one blog post. I will do my best to virtually recreate my wild west road trip over my next few installments. For now, I will share a song that should be on every road trip playlist:
When people learn that I’m a travel writer, they always ask me the same question: Where’s your favorite place to travel? I really can’t ever answer that with just one destination, but one that I always mention is the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas. Gorgeous beaches, gorgeous weather, luxury accommodations, exciting recreation, and some of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted — there’s nothing I don’t love about this resort.
2011 marks the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas’ 15th anniversary, and the resort’s Crystal Anniversary Celebration package is available now through December 15, 2011. Starting at $2500 per night, the package includes the following:
- Overnight accommodations in the Presidential Suite or the Ritz-Carlton Suite (this Presidential suite is as presidential as it gets — President Obama and his family have stayed here!)
- Daily breakfast for two
- 80-minute Seaside Cabana couples massage
- Sunset sail on the Lady Lynsey
- Dinner on the Beach
- Magic Moments boat trip
- Crystal Rain therapy treatment
- Engraved Waterford flutes and a bottle of Cristal champagne
A couple nights or a long escape, this is the perfect romantic getaway. As part of the US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas does not require a passport for US citizens to visit — though you will feel like you are worlds away from home in this Caribbean paradise. My favorite activities in St. Thomas were snorkeling, where I got to swim with sea turtles, and wind surfing with Island Sol on the hotel’s beach. I was terrible at it, but it was a great experience, and my teacher was incredible — a few more lessons and I would’ve been surfing in style.
Remember, you’re on vacation, so ORDER DESSERT. The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas has an award-winning pastry chef who will blow your mind. Order two desserts, in fact. With each meal. Seriously.
Ever since I was a little kid, airplanes have fascinated me. I still get great joy out of simply watching them take off and land, or comparing them to each other when they’re all parked at an airport. I love how in small planes, you can really feel the flight, and I love how in jumbo jets, you feel almost nothing. Airplanes are just rad; that’s the bottom line.
When I visited the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon (not far from Portland), I was like a kid in a candy shop. Except I didn’t taste any of the planes. There are four major parts of the aviation museum: the main building, which houses pre-1955 aircraft, including the Spruce Goose, which dwarfs everything else in the collection; a second building with the modern aircraft including military jets and spacecraft (rumor has it that one of the recently retired space shuttles will soon be on display here); the IMAX theater; and lastly, the aviation-themed water park, where you can slide down from a Boeing 747 that sits on the roof of the building!
A good visit to the Evergreen Aviation Museum will take all day, but there’s so much to see and do that even little ones won’t get bored. The docents here are some of the best museum guides I’ve ever met. Each one is bursting with knowledge and stories about the planes and their history, and they’re so enthusiastic to share their passion — it’s contagious. I met one volunteer at the museum who had flown P-40′s in the Second World War. Then when he came home, his parents wouldn’t let him drive the family car!
The older planes were my favorite part of the experience. Most of the aircraft in the collection are the original planes that flew as long as a full century ago. In addition to original aircraft, the museum has reconstructions of historic planes like the Wright brothers’ Wright Flyer. I really loved the 1925 Ford Tin Goose, one of the earliest commercial airplanes. Flight attendants were required to spend one month at a four-star resort (tough job!) to learn how to treat their passengers like royalty. Oh, the good old days.
I loved how close I could get to so many of the planes in the collection. Docents offered peeks inside some of the military planes, and visitors are welcome to step inside the Spruce Goose. This largest plane ever built flew only one time, in 1947, for approximately one minute. It was kept flight-ready at a great cost for many years after, but eventually retired to its display in the Evergreen Aviation Museum, hulking over the hundreds of other planes in the collection.
A visit to the IMAX theater is a great way to rest your feet in the middle of your day at the museum. I enjoyed the Legends of Flight 3D film, which took me on a ride through aviation history. It’s a first class ticket to ride lots of historic aircraft, as well as an up-close look at the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has been getting a lot of hype as it nears its first delivery date. The Dreamliner has already completed several successful test flights, and is expected to enter into commercial service sometime within the next few months.
The brand new water park at the Evergreen Aviation Museum opens in June 2011 — a great way to combine some educational tourism with good summer fun.
When I was a kid, my family used to vacation in Florida all the time. I loved the warm weather, the beaches, and of course the amusement parks. But as I got older, Florida lost its magic for me. Because it’s a hotbed of bridge activity, I spend a lot of time in the Sunshine State, and most places I’ve been lately just feel so uninspired. Over-manicured and cookie-cutter. Soulless.
Florida will always be a great place to enjoy warm weather and work on a tan, but there are few resorts in the state that bring anything new to the table. One of them is in Fort Lauderdale, and it’s called B Ocean. It’s the first in a brand new chain called B Hotels and Resorts, and this company looks like a game-changer — in Florida and around the globe.
Why “B?” Because these hotels are about the whole vacation experience. Not just where or what, but how. How do you want your vacation to be? Nearly every aspect of your stay at B Ocean is customizable. You tell them how you want your trip to be, they make it happen. The best example of this approach is the B Indulged Spa Suite. You can rent the suite as an individual, a couple, or a group, and everything about your spa experience is customized for you. You determine exactly how you want to spend your time, combining treatments and services in any way you desire.
I visited B Ocean for its grand opening last month, and it was one of the best Florida vacations I’ve had since I was a little kid at Disney World. My favorite parts of my visit were:
- The Location – Every room at B Ocean has a spectacular ocean view. Step outside and you’re on the Ft. Lauderdale Beach boardwalk, perfect for an early morning jog or stroll down the beach. Just don’t make the same mistake I did and remember to take your sunglasses. At night from October through March, go down to the beach to witness sea turtles nesting, and watch the hatchlings dash to the sea for the first time.
- B Sensitive & B Humane Programs – B Ocean is a green hotel, with proactive environmental policies in place. When you arrive in your room, you’ll be greeted by a plush sea turtle, the unofficial mascot of this hotel. If you choose to adopt the turtle, a portion of your purchase goes to the Sea Turtle Foundation.
- The Cheese Plate at B’stro on the Beach – Who goes to Florida for cheese? This girl. You cannot go wrong with any of the featured cheeses at B’stro. Artfully paired with delicious fresh fruits and nuts, you could make a meal out of these cheeses alone. But save some room, because everything on the menu is outstanding. My other favorite nosh was Chef Holli’s Hand-Made Sweet Potato Gnocchi.
From the design to the approach, B Ocean really is a different kind of Florida vacation experience. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about this hotel. When you’re there, you call all the shots — how can you not love it?
They’re not in Belgium. They’re in Denver, Colorado, at a little joint called Waffle Brothers. I don’t even care that the two waffles I just ate are going to cost me about 30 miles on the treadmill. They were worth it. Just look at these:
I had one with marshmallow cream cheese and another with Nutella. And now I’m ruined for all food.
Waffle engineers John and Rod spent over a year developing their perfect waffle recipe — using a special imported Belgian sugar that melts into each waffle as it cooks, while some caramelizes on the outside, giving each waffle a kick of sweetness and just the right texture. You can get your waffle dressed up with fruits or sauces, either in preselected combinations on the menu, or you may build your own from a long list of yummy extras.
These waffles are seriously my new favorite thing. If you’re not lucky enough to check out Waffle Brothers in Denver, you can order Waffle Brothers waffles online. Need a Father’s Day gift idea? Send a bag of waffles. Seriously, it’s way better than golf clubs.