Get out – now!

By Jeanne Reynolds

A couple years ago, my husband hosted an awards trip for people from his department at work and their spouses. If you’ve read many of my previous posts, you know we’ve built our someday-retirement home in Beaufort and have fallen in love with the area, so he decided to hold the conference there. The group stayed at a charming bed-and-breakfast inn in the historic area, dined one night in a wonderful waterfront restaurant and another in the moss-draped backyard of a century-plus-year-old home. Throw in some carriage rides, art galleries and strolls along the river walk, and a great time was had by all.

No, I’m not working for the chamber of commerce or visitors’ bureau on the side, so why am I telling you this? Because of the three dozen people on the trip, my husband and I were the only ones who had ever been to Beaufort before.

Big deal, you say, but wait: His company is based in South Carolina, with headquarters in Columbia. In fact, nearly everyone on the trip has lived in this state their whole lives. Yet they had never ventured the relatively short distance to check out a town Southern Living magazine and who knows how many other lifestyle publications can’t stop gushing over.

Admittedly, Beaufort isn’t exactly on the way to anywhere (except maybe Parris Island, and I doubt many Marines are reading this anyway). You pretty much have to mean to go there. But this is my point: South Carolina is full of wonderful places you have to mean to go to – beautiful, quirky, unexpected places you’ll never see unless you get up and go. And it’s so worth it.

Let’s take Yemassee, for example (it’s near Beaufort, by the way – giving you a two-fer here). Population 966, it’s home to:

  • A company that makes incredible (and expensive) granite-type countertops with oyster shells embedded in them.
  • The hauntingly beautiful ruins of the mid-1700s Old Sheldon Church, burned down in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
  • A golf club so private it makes August National look like a neighborhood open house.
  • A dive bar that serves weekly standing-room only steak dinners.
  • A farm that raises monkeys for pharmaceutical research.
  • An antique store that doubles as a deli and catering company.

 

Show of hands: How many of you have been to Yemassee? Or even heard of it? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m guilty, too. I’ve lived in this state for almost 30 years and I’ve yet to hear a performance at the Newberry Opera House or eat at Yoder’s Dutch Kitchen in Abbeville. And until just a few years ago, I’d never stepped inside the State House.avenue of oaks

Yes, I’ve seen homes decorated for Christmas in Camden, trod the trails at Historic Brattonsville and Congaree National Park, kayaked to Shell Island near Edisto and bought boiled peanuts at Snider’s Crossroads – but that’s barely scratching the surface of the oh-so-many places to see in our state.

Need ideas? (After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.) Find inspiration on the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism website, or Google “places to visit in South Carolina.” Or just get in the car and head to the next town over – the one you never go to because, well, it’s really not on the way to anywhere. Be sure to take the back roads, and stop anywhere that looks interesting.

Take a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon or a long weekend. Whatever you do, just get out and go. There’s so much more out there than you – or I – can imagine.

My Day at Magic Kingdom

by Tina M. Cameron

I have always been independent and not wanting to miss out on things because of being single. I attend NASCAR races alone, rock concerts, college football games and today, Magic Kingdom. I had friends say that I was crazy, and some said I was brave to travel from Columbia, SC to Orlando by myself. The trip to the Magic Kingdom came out of wanting to go to Orlando for The University of Alabama’s season opener on September 1st. You see, I am a huge college football fan-moreover the Crimson Tide. This is where I am presently a student in the RN to BSN Distance Learning Program and the university that my oldest son earned his Mechanical Engineering degree from- so, it holds a special place in my heart. So last year when they announced that the season opener would be in Orlando I decided I had to attend. I also decided I wanted to go to Magic Kingdom. I arrived at Disney’s All Stars Sports Resort at 1:45 p.m. today and stepped into the Magic Kingdom at 2:30 p.m. I felt like a kid in a candy store. 20180830_203132

With the help of friends who have recently gone and my cousin Christy, I planned my rides carefully using my three Fast Passes. I was also able to make a reservation nine days before arriving at The Crystal Palace Restaurant which is a buffet style restaurant with the Winnie the Pooh and friends’ characters.

The last time I was at Disney was 20 years ago with my children and parents. My, how things have changed. There are Magic-bands that you are given to use as your ticket, your hotel key at the resorts and to use as your Fast Pass to skip the traditional waiting lines. It is fascinating to me the way that technology has changed even a trip to Disney.

In writing this blog post today, it was not my intent to promote Disney, or college football, but, to inspire people – including women – in getting out and doing things. It doesn’t matter if you are single, if there is something you love to do or dream of doing, then do it. You only get one life and I am trying to make the most out of mine. I do get tired somedays and I don’t get out of my pajama’s. But, fifty years have now gone by and my life is half over. I think that is why I am trying to do as much as I can while I still can. I am finally getting my four-year degree. So, go live your best life. Do things you are interested in and don’t be afraid to travel alone or be the only one in a restaurant surrounded by Winnie the Pooh characters and families. As tired as I am while I am typing this, it was one of the best days of my life. And, tomorrow, I’m off to Animal Kingdom!

Ultimate Mother of All Bonding Experiences

By Stacy Thompson

So I’m sitting in a hotel room near Lake Bled, Slovenia (more on that later), getting ready to begin another awesome hike with Mom.  Whenever I start one of these, I always spend a little time reminiscing about past hikes and some of the incredible experiences we’ve had—one stands out, and fortunately I have the video journal to give you some of the high points of the journey.

As with many of the crazy, challenging things I’ve attempted in life, the Ultimate Hike was Mom’s idea.  It is a solid enough premise—raise money to help fund children’s cancer research—with an unbelievable physical challenge—27.3 miles on the Foothills Trail in one day.  Yes, 27.3 miles. In. One. Day.  Though I thought my mother had truly lost her mind, I once again reminded her of my words to live by “I will never say no” to any experience she offers up.

So we began months of hiking with our Midlands SC team at Harbison State Park—our hikes became longer and longer as the day of the CureSearch Ultimate Hike drew near.  The night before the Hike we were in bed by 7 a.m. for our 2 a.m. wake-up call (to be safe, I called in a wake-up call, set the alarm in the room as well as alarms on my phone,  Mom’s phone and my iPad—sounded like a maniacal clock factory explosion the next morning).  We were on the trail by 4:45 a.m.–hiking in the dark for the first leg and then continuing on through until around 7 p.m. that evening—and here, for your amusement, are three excerpts from our video journal:

Part I

Part II

Part III

In all, an exhausting but exhilarating day—and one we plan to repeat in the future for sure!

Mama Mia!

By Jeanne Reynolds

Abba fans, sit back down — this isn’t about their song or the movie (and now a sequel) by the same name. But it does sum up my recent trip to Italy.

You know what it’s like when you look forward to something so much for so long, it can’t possibly live up to your expectations?

This trip was nothing like that. It. Was. Amazing.Tuscan countryside

What did I like best: the scenery, the art and architecture, the mind-warping antiquity, the food, the wine?

Yes.

A quick overview of our itinerary: Direct flight from Charlotte to Rome, 3 nights there including a private day-long tour with a guide, drive to Tuscany for 4 nights in Siena, drive to Sorrento for 2 nights there, and finally back to Rome for our flight back the next day.

We didn’t come close to seeing it all, but we saw a lot: the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, catacombs. And that was just in Rome. In and around Siena we climbed winding staircases up towers (400 steps in one case), marveled at museums full of priceless treasures, visited towering cathedrals and walked ancient medieval streets. Near Sorrento, we traveled up and down an impossibly narrow cliffside road with hair-raising turns, and then in a chairlift to the top of the Isle of Capri (yes, while wearing capri pants!). On the way back to Rome we visited Pompeii near the foot of Mt. Vesuvius and were overcome with wonder and sadness at a lost civilization.

Ignoring well-meaning advice from family members, we didn’t even consider a prepackaged, city-a-day group bus tour. That kind of trip has some advantages, but it wasn’t the experience I craved for my Italian adventure. Instead we stayed in very small bed-and-breakfasts I found online (I highly recommend Booking.com) and found our own way around using maps, GPS, phone apps and helpful locals. A couple of our accommodations were wonderful, one was mostly convenient, but all were clean, affordable and safe.

When we wanted to eat — and did we ever! — we asked our B&B hosts for First pizzarecommendations or just walked until something looked good. The results ranged from good to extraordinary, usually accompanied by the local house wine (or vino della casa, as we like to say). We tried wood-fired pizza with a thin, crisp crust, fried artichokes, Tuscan-style steak with rosemary and olive oil, grilled squid, crusty bread and of course, pasta. It’s hard to describe what was so wonderful about it, but fresh, local ingredients using old family recipes and al fresco dining are hard to beat. And the gelato … one of us had it every day (sometimes twice). It’s that good. And no, sadly no, nothing in the grocery store freezer case can possibly replicate it.

And guess what? Neither of us gained an ounce. Because first, the meals impress with flavor rather than size, and second, we walked an average of 5 miles a day, up and down hills and stairs. (Remember that tower? 400 steps up means 400 down, too.)

Of course, wonderful doesn’t necessarily mean perfect. Trying to figure out when we could park where in Siena without a ticket or a tow was challenging, and let’s just say Americans have a different standard when it comes to public bathroom facilities. And despite the GPS, maps and road signs, we frequently got turned around trying to find our destinations.

So, now that I’m a wily veteran of la dolce vita (that’s a joke, of course — we could go to Italy every year for the next decade and not experience all its wonders), here’s some advice:

Go.

Yep, that’s it. I was going to include a 7-point list of tips about protecting your passport and cash from pickpockets, how to tell if the gelato is homemade and which shop in Anacapri is best for handmade Italian leather shoes (surprisingly affordable, by the way). But there are dozens of guidebooks that can tell you that and a whole lot more.

And really, this isn’t about Italy. It’s about finding a way to visit the places and do the things you dream of. Life is too short not to.

That’s the advice I hope I remember myself.

 

 

The storm before the calm: getting ready for vacay

By Jeanne Reynolds

“Why do I have to do everything myself?”

I’ve been silently screaming those words in my head for several days as we – or more to the point, I – get ready for our upcoming vacation.

Vacay image

I’ve been planning this dream trip for at least 8 months, and thinking about it long before that. Plane tickets, B&B reservations, car rental, passport renewal, international driving permit, shopping for necessities, obtaining local currency, coordinating with the cat sitter and what feels like a million other details are being checked off my to-do list.

My husband bought electric adapters.

Now, you should understand we’re both planners and list-makers. When he gets excited about a project, he’s a one-man army: researching options, talking to experts, calling and visiting vendors, scheduling work and following up like crazy. He recently fell in love with the idea of planting a palmetto tree to fill a hurricane-decimated spot in our yard. That sucker was in the ground before you could say Bob’s your uncle.

But for our upcoming adventure, he’s been content to let me make nearly all the arrangements. One the one hand, this has meant I’ve been able to plan the trip exactly the way I want. On the other hand, it’s meant I’ve done all the work.

I’m a little stressed about that. For one thing, if there’s a screw-up, it’s my fault. What if the accommodations that look so charming and conveniently located on the booking website are on the icky side? Can we really navigate the roads in a foreign country without bodily injury? What if I’ve forgotten something really important?

And for another, I’m worried he’s not really looking forward to this trip, although he readily agreed to go when I first broached the topic. If he’s as excited as I am, he’d be more involved, right?

Then it suddenly occurred to me I’ve been judging his feelings through my own filter, based on what it would mean if I acted that way. But that’s me, not him. I enjoy the anticipation of an event almost as much as the reality. Truth be told, all this planning has been fun, filled with what-ifs and ooh-how-about-thats. He’s given me free reign to create my dream trip. And if past experience is anything to go by, he’ll be an enthusiastic and unflappable traveling companion no matter what happens.

Oh, and that car rental agreement? It has only one named driver: him. I’m going to sit back, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

 

A Toe-Sucking Experience in Cozumel

By Chaunte McClure

When I go on vacation, I’ve vowed to try something I’ve never done before, be it an adventurous excursion or some other out-of-the-box activity. This time, while in Cozumel I got my toes sucked.

Pic 1

My entire feet, actually, and around my ankles, as my husband sat beside me, watched and enjoyed the same treatment. It was a brief escape from the sun after swimming in the turquoise Caribbean ocean at Mr. Sancho’s Beach Club where we could enjoy everything from kayaking to horseback riding to massages and fish pedicures. I opted for a fish pedicure after my cousins raved about their experience. (They snuck away while my body finally got used to the ocean’s cool temperature.)

Pic 2

To the Islander Fish Spa I headed to get a feel for what it was all about. After getting my feet cleaned of the beach sand, it was time to simultaneously and slowly put my feet in the spa tank. Then the tickling began! A school of fish nibbled away at the bottom, top and sides of my feet. The bottom was the most ticklish but after a few minutes, I got used to the nibbling and kissing which lasted for about 15 minutes. It’s like a micro massage but from Garra Ruffa fish to help remove dead skin cells. Once the treatment was over, a technician (I guess that’s what they’re called) rubbed our feet with a cream that started out smooth and creamy then slightly dried before he wiped it off with a towel. The result: soft, smooth feet and a story to tell.

Pic 3

In hindsight, I should have taken sanitation into consideration, but had I done so, you wouldn’t be reading this post because the germaphobe in me would’ve forgone the opportunity. No regrets, though, and three days later my feet are just fine. Kissable, indeed.

Have you had a fish pedicure? How did you like it? If you haven’t, would you try it?

 

From the mountain to the Valley

By Stacy Thompson

So how to follow up climbing to the Rooftop of Africa? Head to the lowest dry point in North America!  When my mom first suggested a hiking and camping trip to Death Valley, I of course had to wisecrack “the one in Clemson or Baton Rouge?” (for my non-sports-obsessed readers, the football stadiums at LSU and Clemson are nicknamed ‘Death Valley’)  She responded with a well-deserved eye-roll, and then said she was serious…she wanted to hike in Death Valley.  With very little knowledge of the region, but, as ever, trusting my mom’s keen sense of adventure, I repeated the words I respond with whenever she suggests a hike…”I’ll never say no!”

So last month we hit the trail again, but this time in the confines of a 3.4 million-acre US National Park that is the largest in the contiguous US.  Not only is Death Valley the driest (about 2 inches of rain…annually!) and the hottest (record high of 134 degrees) place in North America, it also has the lowest dry elevation of -282 feet in Badwater Basin.  Legend has it that the Valley was named by gold-rushers who spent several miserable months trying to get through to California –after suffering dehydration and near starvation, when they finally reached the edge of the desert, one turned and looked back to exclaim “Goodbye Death Valley.”

I’ve visited deserts in my travels, and have spent numerous weeks inside of and around the Grand Canyon.  My past experiences in no way prepared me for the diversity of Death Valley.

From mudstone hills and canyons…

To serene, magnificent sand dunes…

To the salt pan surrounded by distant peaks…

Every day, and even several times in a day, we were experiencing inspiring vistas and dramatically varied terrains.  As always, Mom kept on hikin’…

Pic 11

And although we didn’t get to see much wildlife (did you read the part above about the lack of rain and extreme heat…don’t blame them!), we did manage to spy on this little guy on one of our treks…

pic 12

In all, it was another amazing adventure to one of the more unusually beautiful places in our country – I’d highly recommend it, but may want to avoid the summer months!!!

pic 13