Space Center Houston

I was born the day Gemini VII launched, so I grew up at a time when fascination with the space program was at its peak. I had Major Matt Mason toys and I watched every Apollo mission on TV. So, when we decided to spend the winter in Galveston, Texas— only about 40 miles from Space Center Houston— I knew there was one place we had to visit.

Space Center Houston is a large complex that has been the home of manned space flight mission control since the Gemini program. They offer a tour of the newly renovated Apollo Mission Control, a tour to see a Saturn V rocket up close and a very good museum devoted to manned spaceflight. Unfortunately, because of Covid 19, visitors are not allowed in the building to visit Mission Control. That’s because there are active missions underway and the ground crew need to be protected. It just means I’ll have to visit again in the future. I was disappointed not to see Mission Control, but there are still so many things to see and do that it was a full day.

The different Space Centers around the country reflect the different parts they played in the Space Program, which means they are unique and each is worth a visit. If you get hungry while visiting Space Center Houston, my recommendation is to skip the food at the Space Center and drive a short distance down the road to Frenchie’s Italian Restaurant to eat where the astronauts eat. The food is excellent and the walls are covered with Nasa memorabilia.

A Winter Stay in Galveston, Texas

At the end of November, as cold weather was beginning to take hold of Tennessee, we headed south to Galveston to take part in the Xscapers Winter Basecamp. Hoping to avoid cold weather and meet other full time travelers like us. We connected with a bunch of travelers and had a wonderful time getting to know them and while the weather wasn’t perfect, we had plenty of beautiful days to explore and learn that Galveston has a lot to offer.

Galveston Island has a long and colorful history that begins when pirates built the first permanent structures on the island. It was the capitol of the Republic of Texas, and a major port city. Then it was almost completely destroyed by a hurricane in 1900, only to be reborn as a paradise of drinking and gambling during Prohibition. All of these layers of history make Galveston Island, and the city of Galveston, on the island’s eastern end, an interesting place to visit even if it didn’t also have the long stretch of beach along the Gulf Coast.

You get to Galveston by driving across the causeway from Texas City, or you can arrive by ferry from the Bolivar Peninsula, a route on and off the island that avoids Houston traffic. Once on the island you’ll find the city is laid out in a grid with numbered streets running north to south and named streets running east to west which makes it very easy to navigate.

The downtown includes Galveston Seaport and The Strand Historic District. Named for Strand Street, the district includes a large swath of the city. There are lots of shops to explore and restaurants to try. Since we don’t have room for anything we avoided going into a lot of the shops, but, we were tempted in by The Kitchen Chick, on Market Street, which features a really well curated collection of gourmet kitchen gadgets, olive oils and vinegars. I had to exercise real self control but I did leave with a little something. The other place we were tempted to visit is La King’s Confectionery. The store began in Houston in 1927, then moved to Galveston in the 70’s to recreate an old fashioned confectionery. They make about fifty different candies from old time recipes from salt water taffy to hand dipped chocolates and the store features a 1920’s soda fountain as well. It was hard to choose, but we left with several chocolate candies including rum cordials and chocolate covered peanut butter caramel cups. These were not your typical peanut butter cups, either. They had a layer of peanut butter covered with a layer of buttery caramel surrounded by a layer of chocolate.

A few blocks away on Market Street is Maceo Spice and Import Company. The store features jars of just about every herb and spice, plus a number of spice blends to go with local seafood, barbecue or brisket (this IS Texas, after all). The rest of the store features Italian food staples from pasta and sauce (including their own excellent tomato gravy) to pannatone and good olive oil. At the back of the store is a deli counter where you can order lunch to go or to eat at one of the tables outside. If you want a good muffuletta, this is the place to go.

The historic district includes a neighborhood of gorgeous Victorian houses with lots of tropical flair, survivors of the 1900 Hurricane that devastated the island. Since it was Christmas time, many of the houses were dressed up for a Christmas decorating contest. It’s well worth your time to wander the tree-lined streets. Wandering the neighborhood is also a great way to spend your time as you wait for a table at one of the many restaurants.

It’s short walk from the Strand to the Seaport where you will find the Ocean Star Drilling Rig and Museum. If you’ve ever been curious how a drilling rig operates, this museum is worth a visit. There is an indoor museum to help orient you before you go outside to walk the decks and look at all the heavy equipment up close. Much of the museum, though, is an advertisement for the oil industry.

On the Gulf side of the island are the beaches and the famed Seawall built to better protect the city after the 1900 hurricane. Here you’ll find the beach town vibe with lots of gift shops, restaurants, bars and hotels. Standing amid the garish newcomers is the Hotel Galvez and Spa which has been facing the Gulf since 1911. Just a short walk down the Seawall is Pleasure Pier (pictured at the start of this article), an amusement park on a pier extending into the Gulf. The Seawall is worth a visit to stroll along or to ride your bike, though there is no guard rail to keep you from falling on to the beach. It’s great for an early morning stroll to watch sunrise over the gulf, or to watch lights come on on the piers as daylight fades into night at sunset.

The Hotel Galvez.

Driving west on San Luis Pass Road soon takes you out of the city and you find yourself surrounded by bright colored beach houses for several miles until you cross through the Galveston Island State Park which covers the island from the Gulf beach to Galveston Bay. Beyond the state park is the town of Jamaica Beach which has churches, a police and fire station and several stores. Beyond the town there are clusters of beach houses along both sides of the road all the way to the end of the island. On the bay side of the island there are some very nice residential communities with boat access to the bay.

Galveston island offers quite a few RV campgrounds. Sandpiper RV Resort at Stewart Beach is the closest to The Strand area, but is little more than a parking lot for RV’s. On the west end of the Seawall is Dellanera RV Park which is a small campground located right on the beach. If you want to see the ocean from your RV, this is the place to stay. Next is Stella Mare RV Resort a large campground across the road from the beach. Jamaica Beach RV Resort is a very busy campground that offers a lot of amenities including a mini golf course. The last one is Galveston Island RV Resort where we stayed. It’s the furthest west on the island which has the advantage of being far from the noise of town. I will have more to say about them in a future post. Spoiler alert: we loved it.

Galveston Island may not have tropical weather— most days were in the 60’s and there were a few cold and rainy days—but it still has a lot to offer for a winter stay. The city is home to UTMB hospital complex for any medical needs, there is a Home Depot, Target, Kroger and most other stores you might need. Anything you can’t find on the island is just across the causeway in the Houston area. After two months we only scratched the surface. We skipped many of the museums and the Moody Gardens because of Covid 19 activity in the area. But, we will be back to explore more.

All photos by Lee Rowe

Aztec Ruins and Chimney Rock: Two Ancestral Puebloan Sites You Need to Visit

Puebloan culture spread across the Four Corners region of the southwest. Ancestral Puebloan peoples built structures of stone and wood, studied the skies and left behind an incredible legacy. Though many of their structures were abandoned about the 1300 AD, they didn’t disappear, they migrated to other areas and blended into other puebloan groups who still claim them as ancestors. Though best known for the dramatic cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, there are many sites where you can see the remnants of this culture and some them don’t require any climbing at all! These are two that we visited.

Aztec Ruins National Monument, Aztec New Mexico

The tour of Aztec Ruins begins with this reconstructed kiva.

Along the banks of the Animas River in northern New Mexico, white settlers encountered stone ruins and mistakenly attributed them to the Aztecs so they named the town after them. Archaeologists now know the site is an ancient Pueblo built nearly a thousand years ago. What makes this site unique is that it sits on a river bank and several of the structures still retain their original wood beams and some have their original roofs in tact.

The tour begins in a reconstructed Great Kiva then you proceed on a trail through the ruins and finally inside a series of rooms with original, intact wooden roofs. But, tread carefully! Signs at the entrance let you know that the roof is home to bats and they encourage visitors to stay low and stay quiet so the bats don’t wake up.

Unfortunately, the visitor center was closed due to Covid. This made Aztec Ruins a short, but memorable, stop. We walked the trail through the ruins, took pictures and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings which almost make you forget that you are on the edge of a city neighborhood. I would, still, strongly recommend stopping to see it. I don’t know of any other ancient sites where you can see complete ancient puebloan structures.

Getting There: Aztec Ruins National Monument is located in the middle of Aztec, New Mexico; about forty-five minutes south of Durango, Colorado. Traveling South of US Highway 550, turn right on Ruins Road immediately after you cross the bridge over the Animas River. Watch out for prairie dogs running alongside the road as you get close to the ruins parking area.

Chimney Rock National Monument, near Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Chimney Rock catches the warm morning light.

Driving east on 160 from Durango, Colorado your first sight is the dramatic rock columns perched on a mountain top. Chimney Rock National Monument is the highest elevation Ancestral Puebloan site at a little over 7000 feet.

You begin your visit to the site at a parking area at the base of the mountain where you pay admission and get oriented for your visit. Then, you can either hike up the mountain or you can drive to the top on a winding dirt road. The parking area at the top is small and very tight to maneuver around in. From the parking area you can climb a short distance to the great house near the rock pillars or you can walk downhill to the remnants of an ancient village.

The great house at the end of the upper trail is perched on the ridge near the rock columns leading archaeologists to believe they were built for ceremonial purpose. Lending support to this idea, archeologists have found that periods of construction occurred at the same time as an event called the Major Lunar Standstill.

What is the Major Lunar Standstill? As the Earth wobbles through its orbit, the moon appears to rise at different points on the horizon through the years. Every 18.6 years it reaches its northernmost point and pauses before beginning to move south. That pause is called the Major Lunar Standstill. Seen from the Great House on the ridge, the moon rises directly between the rock pillars during the Standstill.

The mountain top also affords an incredible, unbroken, 360 degree view of the surroundings. To the south you can clearly see mesas in Northern New Mexico, which would have made Chimney Rock an excellent place to send signals via bonfires.

Getting There: The monument is open May 15th – September 30th. Chimney Rock is visible from US Highway 160 just west of Pagosa Springs. Turn south on CO 151 and drive for 3.2 miles. The entrance on the right. There is RV parking in the parking area at the base of the mountain. That’s also where you purchase your ticket and get oriented before you climb or drive up to the top.

All photos by Lee Rowe

Our First Harvest Host Experiences

If you aren’t familiar with Harvest Hosts, let me tell you a little bit about them. Harvest Hosts is a membership organization for RVer’s. Members get access to a network of thousands of farms, wineries, breweries, distilleries, museums and most recently, golf courses across the country that let fully self contained RV’s park overnight. In exchange, members make a purchase or otherwise participate in the host’s business. Thanks to our membership we had the opportunity to stay at two incredible wineries in New Mexico and a brewery in Southern Colorado with great beer and a unique backstory. All three experiences were unique and absolutely magical.

Black Mesa Winery

Our first stop was Black Mesa Winery in Velarde, New Mexico; about halfway between Santa Fe and Taos. The winery sits at the base of a sandy, rock strewn hill just across the road from the Rio Grande River. The river valley is green and full of life in contrast to the dry rocky hills on both sides.

The winery is a set of adobe buildings with the vineyard out front beside the parking area and a green lawn with shade trees and tables where you can enjoy your wine tasting while watching the many hummingbirds stopping at feeders hung in the trees. Alex, the person working behind the counter was charming and accommodating and the owner chatted with us briefly. We were even greeted by one of the winery’s cats as we went to take a seat.

The wines were wonderful and we spent time chatting with some other guests from a safe distance. We bought bottles of our favorites and as the sun set, we returned to the RV parked beside the vineyard. After a quiet night, despite being close to the road, we finished our visit by following the trail behind the winery to see ancient petroglyphs.

Wines of the San Juan

After a day of visiting Taos and driving west across New Mexico we came to Wines of the San Juan in Blanco, New Mexico. The drive in makes this place all the more surprising. We drove through desert landscapes, then turned off the main road toward a stand of trees. Once we reached the trees everything changed. The winery sits on the banks of the San Juan River. Huge shade trees covered us from the sun and we were greeted like friends at the outdoor tasting bar. After talking through the menu we each got a glass (or two) and were invited to go sit by the pond.

The pond had tables with umbrellas and the grounds were populated by a menagerie of animals. Two geese weren’t happy that we sat at the table closest to them and they yelled at us for a bit before wandering away in a huff. Then, a family of peacocks walked up to greet us. Finally one of the cats came to say hello.

We sat in the shade enjoying our wine until they closed then we wandered back to Belvedere to make dinner. They were unusual in that they had electric and water hookups and we were the only guests there so we had a very quiet night. In the morning we were stopped on the road by a young cow that had escaped and was standing in the middle of the one lane road. We weren’t stopped for very long and we called the winery to let them know they had an escapee.

Colorado Farm Brewery

A week later, on our way to Great Sand Dunes National Park, we stopped for a night at Colorado Farm Brewery outside Alamosa, Colorado. We thought our GPS was taking us completely the wrong way when we left paved road behind and proceeded down a dirt road for a couple miles, however, we eventually came to another paved road and subsequently learned that we didn’t have to take the dirt road to get there. Anyhoo! We finally made it to their incredibly beautiful location.

The brewery is on the grounds of a family farm. The parking area was alongside a huge field of golden barley that was being harvested the day we visited. We received a very warm, friendly welcome and once we were set up for the night we wandered over to try the beer and get dinner from the food truck they had onsite for the night.

While our beers were being poured we chatted with the owners and learned that the farm has been in the family for four generations. With debt piling up and the barley business dwindling they turned to making barley into malt and became the largest international producer of craft malt. The brewery was founded on the property in 2018. Of course, we had to try the Wheatverly, their estate beer. Every ingredient of which; water, yeast, hops and malt all come from their property. It didn’t disappoint, it tasted fresh and slightly fruity.

The tap room, a former storage shed, was busy and the atmosphere was friendly and casual. The owners told us a lot of the customers are their neighbors from surrounding farms as well as people from town and other Harvest Host guests. Tables are all on a patio, under awnings, looking out over the fields. There was also a large children’s play area with things to climb. We ordered tacos filled with chicken and chorizo and enjoyed the food and the friendly atmosphere until the sunset.

Once the sun started to go down it was time for me to grab my camera and capture one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The night was quiet and the skies were so dark I was able to do some astrophotography. We were both a little sad when morning came it was time to pack up and leave. But, we may find ourselves making excuses to travel through Alamosa so we can visit them again and again.

The skies were dark and the stars were bright.

So, those were our first experiences. When we became Harvest Host members we were excited to visit these places. Covid got in the way but we finally got to make use of our membership and have been absolutely blown away by how wonderful our first experiences were. We’re looking forward to many more experiences on our travels. If you have a self-contained RV, check out Harvest Hosts and you can have these experiences, too.


Minor Mini Rant – Staying at a Harvest Host is not about a free place to stay; there are Walmarts and Cracker Barrels aplenty if all one needs is a patch of reasonably level ground upon which to park. Harvest Hosts stays are experiences; a chance to see and participate in someone else‘s dream for a little while. There have been reports of RVers abusing this experience which frustrates us, as we get a lot out of and actively seek these kinds of experiences. We want hosts to be glad they are hosts so that we can keep staying with them. The expectation, clearly communicated by the Harvest Host organization, is that guests should follow rules set by the host and expect to support the Host with a purchase. Our rule of thumb is to spend as much as we would on a night of camping at an RV park (okay, sometimes it’s the same as a REALLY NICE RV Park!) If what they have on offer does not appeal to us— which is rarely the case because we are the ones choosing where we stay— it becomes a gift for others. Additionally, we show our appreciation during our visit by trying to be easy guests and afterwards by liking them on social media and writing about our experience in our blog. The hosts get nothing from Harvest Host in payment, and especially in these COVID times, success is a struggle, so we feel it is important to do our part to support these organizations as best we can.


Disclaimer: We are not sponsored by Harvest Hosts. We purchased our membership not long after we took delivery of our RV.

Home Turf Tourist: Tomato Art Fest in Nashville, Tennessee

Since before we placed the order for our RV we have been dreaming of all the places we want to explore, but as we get closer to actually having the RV it has occurred to both of us that we have taken our home town for granted. Like a lot of locals in an area popular with tourists, we tend to stay away from the most popular areas and when we do go explore Nashville attractions it’s because we are taking friends and family from out of town. So, with our RV delayed we decided to change that and get out to explore Nashville. This post is the first of our Home Turf Tourist series where we will highlight places and events in the Nashville area and, hopefully, entice you to look beyond the Grand Ole Opry and the honky-tonks on Lower Broadway when you visit.

For the first entry in this series we visited Tomato Art Fest in East Nashville. The festival began in 2004 when a pair of gallery owners held a series of events to publicize an upcoming tomato themed art show. Since then it has grown into a wacky yearly event that draws tens of thousands to the Five Points area of East Nashville to celebrate the uniting qualities of the fruit that’s also a vegetable. The festival features contests, tomato themed art, food trucks, contests and live music, a Bloody Mary garden party and it highlights the vibrant East Nashville community.

The opening event on Saturday is the Push, Pull & Wear parade that features people dressed in tomato inspired attire pushing or pulling homemade tomato-themed parade floats surrounded by marching bands and lots of revelers. When we arrived the parade was already in full swing and it’s quite a sight! It’s like a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans except everyone was in red and green and the floats were a whole lot smaller! But, folks pull out all the stops to create their costumes and construct their floats. The streets were jammed with revelers as the parade went by making it hard to tell who was a spectator and who was in the parade! I guess it didn’t really matter because everyone was having so much fun.

Small vendor tents lined the streets radiating in every direction featuring local artists and lots of organizations from dental offices to car insurance. About a block away the street was lined with food trucks featuring gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and other delights. There was even a tent offering a place for your dog to cool down in a kiddie pool full of ice! A valuable thing to have on a very hot August day. There were also farm stands selling tomatoes and other produce where we bought a slice of watermelon to nibble on as we walked around enjoying the music on three different stages.

The stages featured something for everyone, from a New Orleans style brass band to acoustic harmonies to rock. There was also a cooking stage featuring local chefs and the contest stage where they held competitions and announced winners. Some of the contests this year included a pet fashion show, a tomato 5K, tomato haiku, a cornhole competition, a biggest littlest ugliest contest and a home decorating contest for neighborhood homeowners to get in on the fun. Other activities included a Giant Ice Cream Sundae extravaganza, a kids art show, a tomato toss and bobbing for tomatoes.

If you wanted to escape the heat you could duck into one of the many fine local eateries located in Five Points. The area features Five Points Pizza which has incredible New York style pies, I Dream of Weenie, a creative hot dog stand and local institution based in a converted Volkswagen bus and a host of other great options.

I Dream of Weenie was doing a brisk business.

Despite all the great options, we decided to leave the festival and go find another local highlight about 10 minutes away. Mas Tacos Por Favor began as a food truck making incredible $3 tacos before settling into its home on McFerrin Avenue in the Greenwood neighborhood. There we had the chicken tortilla soup, a couple of sweet potato and quinoa vegan tacos, and chilequiles, a dish we knew nothing about beyond the description on the sign that said “breakfast nachos”. That description didn’t begin to describe the bowl of sheer awesome that we experienced. Chips covered in a thick, slow cooked tomato sauce and shredded chicken, literally exploding with flavor, topped with a perfectly cooked fried egg. It was large enough that we split it and had to get the soup to go. We washed down lunch with a pair of refreshing agua frescas in flavors of pineapple, orange and carrot.

Chilequiles topped with a fried egg. Come really hungry or be prepared to split it.

Before I finish talking about lunch I have to talk about the tortilla soup that we carried home and ate for dinner. Most tortilla soups are thick and stew-like and usually have a decent quantity of cheese on top. Their tortilla soup is nothing like that. It’s a slow cooked, deeply flavored chicken broth with a little lime juice, corn, cilantro and perfectly sliced avocado in the soup. A small bag of tortilla strips came on the side to add.

Mas Tacos Por Favor made a fine finish to our morning of exploration and it’s definitely worth a visit if you are ever in Nashville. Just make sure to bring cash because they don’t take credit cards, however, they do have an ATM in the back in case of taco emergency.

If you happen to visit Nashville during the second week of August, the Tomato Art Fest is a must see. It’s been called one of the best festivals in the south. Admission to the festival is free and activities kick off with a concert on Friday night, then go all day Saturday. Since August in the south is usually hot enough to roast a tomato, bring water, sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat… preferably in a particular shade of red.

Going to see about an RV

So last weekend, we said goodbye to the working majority of our furniture.  NOW we see a difference.  My sister and her husband rented a truck, I contracted with a moving company to have 2 movers assist with loading (best. decision. ever.) and away went our furniture, some kitchen goods and assorted odds and ends to help my nephew set up his first post-college place.  A note about the moving company; At Your Service movers is the name of the company, and they were truly exceptional. I paid for 2 hours of their time and they took the big stuff out of my house and into the truck.  They arrived on time, they were friendly, courteous, they took care of both our furniture and house and I could not have been happier (my back agrees).  Best money I have spent in a long time.  We moved so much furniture out that we had to break out the camp chairs afterwards so everyone had a seat. 

As a reward for making such huge progress on downsizing last weekend, we are taking a quick weekender to St. Louis for the 49th anniversary celebration at Van City.  As all 3 of our readers know, we are purchasing our RV through Van City.  Last year at this time, we went and saw the new Wonder RTB prototype they were testing prior to launching.  This year, they will have the Unity Rear Lounge, which we are dying to see.  On the surface, that unit is smoking hot, with loads of windows, including ones at cat height, which is the equivalent of super luxe cable tv to our furry little tyrants.  The recliner seating is also appealing to us, as is the kitchen. It is on the 2019 Mercedes chassis, which is the same as our FX will have. The only real negative is that the Murphy bed is just not big enough for us.  For one, we are not small people, and for another, someone who shall remain nameless likes to sleep dead center in the bed, leaving someone else (me) clinging to the side.  As in every successful relationship, give and take is key to our marriage, so while I give him that extra space, I take away all of the covers and wrap myself like a human burrito, leaving him with mostly nothing.  Hey, it works for us. 

We love St Louis, and both are feeling the itch for a road trip, so this cannot come soon enough.  Since we know we will be sporting two mortgages (house and RV) for a bit after we get the RV, we are saving all of our pennies to tide us over, which means no major international trips….grrrrrrr.  Now, this is the part where I could go wax rhapsodic about deferred gratification and how it leads to being able to live your dreams (which is true).  I could discuss with a hint of self righteous pride the intrinsic rewards of internal discipline (not feeling it) but right now it is just plain sucks, so I am going to focus on the things I am looking forward to in St. Louis.  1. New RV to explore. ( Aiyeee!).  2. Breakfast at the MudHouse. 3) Insomnia Cookies. 4. Seeing our friends Rich and Lana and at least 1 new thing, yet to be discovered, which is the entire reason we like to travel.  Insatiable curiosity. 

Eye on the prize, dang it!

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky

This week we decided to skip the fireworks and instead ran away for a few days to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, located near Lexington, Kentucky for some rest and relaxation.  Shaker Village is about 30 minutes away from Lexington but is truly worlds apart.  Set in the rolling hills near Harrodsburg, Pleasant Hill is a beautifully preserved Shaker settlement dating to 1805.  You can visit for the day or like us, stay overnight.  We stayed three nights in the East Family Dwelling, one of the residences that housed 40-60 shaker men and women,  and we ate at the Trustee’s Table, the onsite restaurant located in the Trustee’s building.  In addition to visiting Pleasant Hill, we also went hiking on a small portion of the 40 miles of trails around the village, took in a bourbon distillery tour with a tasting and because we just could not get enough, on the way home, we visited the South Union Shaker settlement outside of Bowling Green, KY.  We had a wonderful time, learned a lot, ate well and recharged.  For Lee, Pleasant Hill is a wonderful place for photography, in particular, for studies in symmetry.  There is more to tell than will fit in a single post, so today I will focus on our time at Shaker Village and what makes it a great place to visit.

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The Meeting House was the center of worship for the community and it’s where the two elders and two eldresses lived separate from the rest of the community.

A Paper Thin Slice of Shaker History

Why were they called Shakers?  They danced, swayed and spoke in tongues during services, so they were referred to as the “Shaking Quakers” which then was shortened to Shakers.  While the name started as an insult, the Shakers adopted the name for themselves.

The three cornerstones of Shaker faith were Confession (members confessed to their Elders and Eldresses), Communalism (all property was community property) and Celibacy (all members signed a pledge of celibacy upon joining). Simplicity was woven into all facets of their lives and was a living practice of their faith that ran through their work, their cooking and their worship.  They were early conservationists, reusing and re-purposing their materials.  The Shakers were also pacifists, which caused difficulties during the Civil War as both the North and South distrusted them.

The Shakers were progressive innovators and scientific farmers.  They were skilled artisans and ran thriving business selling seeds, brooms and other goods.  They had running water before the White House did and had one of the first water towers in Kentucky.  They believed in racial equality and accepted African American members as early as 1811. They also believed in the duality of God and the absolute equality of men and women.  Each settlement was led by two men and two women equally.  Within each settlement, the community was separated into “families” of 40 – 60 men and women who lived together (yet separately) in a “family dwelling” where they lived and worshipped together.  Each house had an Elder and an Eldress who led the family.  The Community leaders were composed of two male and two female trustees who lived and worked separately from the rest of the community.  At its height, Pleasant Hill had over 500 members before eventually dwindling down.

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One of the Shakers most profitable businesses was selling seeds. They pioneered selling seeds in envelopes which made them easy to ship and to stock in stores all over the country.

The information above is just the tiniest sliver of background, and it leaves out huge swaths of Shaker history and belief, so while there is simply no way to do justice to the history of the Shakers here, I have added a couple of links below for anyone who would like to explore more about them.  The Maine Shakers site in particular has free ebooks written by and about Shakers, so that you can experience their history from their perspective.

www.shakervillageky.org

http://www.southunionshakervillage.com/

http://maineshakers.com/free-shaker-school/

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East Family Dwelling, built in 1817. Men entered through the East door and women through the West door. Notice our cat guardian sitting in front of the west door.

Our Stay

Pleasant Hill Shaker Village is the best preserved of the Shaker settlements, with over 2800 acres of land and 30 buildings remaining.  They offer accommodations in the very buildings that the Shakers lived and worked which appealed mightily to us.  On this trip, Lee and I stayed in the East Family Dwelling, which was the first of the family houses built by the Pleasant Hill Shakers.  Our spacious and very comfortable room would have once slept three or four Shakers, but we had a king sized bed all to ourselves.  Most of the furnishings are Shaker in design.  Many people who have never heard of the Shakers themselves, have heard of Shaker furniture, where form and function meet in perfect harmony creating simple, yet elegant furnishings.  The floors are hard wood, with area rugs, and the room had plenty of natural light with windows that overlooked the working farm.  We had a private bath with all of the amenities you would expect including nice toiletries and thick fluffy towels. Our building was open to visitors during the day, then limited to overnight guests in the evenings. At night you are well guarded by the two resident cats, who are friendly and who appreciate bacon the way God intended.  Prices are very reasonable overall and rooms are priced by size and bed configuration.  There are discounts in the restaurant and shops for overnight visitors.

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Distinctive Shaker oval boxes in the Welcome Center gift shop.

The shops are well curated with a variety of shaker and shaker inspired items.  In addition to hats, scarves, hurricane lamp shades, spices, tea, seeds, pictures, skincare products (the same as are in your room), books, toys and more, you can also buy some shaker furniture pieces.

Things to Do

The main activities revolve around the history of Shaker Village, and include tours, educational programs, horseback riding, wagon rides, boat rides and hiking.  At 4:30 each day, you can watch the ducks parade off to bed, which is adorable.  There is live music on weekends and plenty of special events throughout the year including a juried craft show, trail runs and food festivals.  There are 40 miles of trails, ranging from moderate to strenuous in difficulty and from 3 – 6 miles long.  There is also a waterfall that is a short hike from the west lot and totally worth the effort.  We stayed there for a long time just soaking in the beauty and serenity.

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Fulling Mill waterfall

Once you have had enough peace and serenity, head to Lexington.  The drive alone is worth it for scenery.  You are also within striking distance of several distilleries on the bourbon trail and if you like horses, they are everywhere, and there is even a horse theme park.  On your way into Lexington, take a quick side jaunt towards Versailles (sounds like vir – sales, not like vir-sigh) and drive by the ginormous castle.

Food

There are two on-site options for food, the restaurant in the Trustee’s house, and the take-out selection in the craft shop.

The Trustees house contains The Trustee’s Table a farm to table restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Breakfast is of the hearty country sort, a buffet with eggs, bacon, sausage, grits, sausage gravy, fried apples and an assortment of healthier items including fruit from the farm.  With breakfast, a basket of biscuits and pumpkin muffins were served.  Hearty is the descriptor here.

Lunch is completely different.  An assortment of sandwiches, salads and some shaker dishes, including fried chicken, make their appearance, along with a bowl of coleslaw and a basket of corn muffins. A variety of deserts are available, but the one you want to try at least once is the Shaker lemon pie.  It is a shaker dish that perfectly encapsulates the Shaker ethos of wasting nothing while being exceptionally delicious.

Dinner.…oh my…such happy memories.  Our first night there they debuted their summer menu and it was mouthwatering.  We had such a good experience the first night that we changed our plans and came back the second night to try more dishes.  The stand outs were: cold cucumber and buttermilk soup; bourbon peach barbecued chicken with warm fingerling potato salad; seared Idaho trout with lemon butter over a warm sorghum salad (scrumptious) with garden vegetables; and the pork chop with polenta, braised red cabbage and a miso maple pan sauce.  All dinners included a relish bowl from the garden and yeast rolls, as if you needed to eat anything else.  A stand out in desert was the sour cream panna cotta with a butter rum sauce served in a jelly jar.  I may have licked the jar.

If you are looking for picnic supplies for your hike, stop by the craft shop, where there are sandwiches, side salads and baked goods that you can pick up and take on the trail.  The cucumber, tomato and corn salad with a light vinaigrette was a standout, as was the super fudgy brownie.

Who should visit?

I think this is a great place for everyone to explore at least once, but in particular,

  • Families – This is a great day trip place for children, with many programs related to the farm animals. They bring out animals during the day for some of the programs, and the parade of ducks heading off to bed is simply adorable.
  • Photographers –Good shots are everywhere. Just before dawn is magic time.
  • Couples – This is a great place to reconnect as a couple. It is peaceful and gentle and oddly romantic.
  • Family reunions – There is plenty of room for large groups, and the family houses have comfortable common spaces with couches and chairs.
  • Church or business retreats – There are plenty of meeting facilities, and no one will go away hungry. There are many room configurations for all kinds of groups.
  • History lovers – This is the mother-load of historical experiences. Stay overnight, take all of the program tours and then go to South Union Shaker village for a completely different experience.
  • Architecture Lovers – The buildings will make you happy. Explore them all, especially the Trustees house and the Meeting House.  Take the Preservation tour. Stay overnight and walk the village after dark for a whole new experience.
  • Horse Lovers – They have stables, horses and riding paths. Horses have the right of way over pedestrians and cars.
  • Nature Lovers – You will be very happy here. The rolling hills are stunning.  The hikes are enjoyable and the water fall is lovely.  A full grown deer leapt out of the woods right in front of us on our hike, and we are pretty sure we spotted a really big mink plus bunnies, squirrels and a huge variety of singing birds.

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This bowl of lemons is always on the agenda for a yearly photography workshop.

Conclusion

If I sound like we are a bit in love with Shaker village, it is because we are.  The scenery, food, activities and history combine to make a place that is absolutely worth seeking out for a day for a long weekend.  If you have family that go to University of Kentucky, consider ditching the big box hotels and stay a bit further out.  The character and experience are like no other we have found.

Cheers!

Long-Delayed Gratification – Exploring Saint Louis

St Louis is often called a fly-over city.  People fly over it on their way to one coast or another.  For us, it was more of a drive through state.  For years we have driven past it on our way to other places with no time to stop and explore. Sadly, we had no idea what to see beyond the arch which stands in front of the city as you cross the Mississippi. To our credit, we did try, but our first attempt to explore the city was cut short by an emergency back in Nashville.  But, that trip gave us our first tantalizing glimpse of what St. Louis has to offer and we knew we wanted to see more.  Finally, we have had the opportunity to explore this wonderful city full of beautiful architecture, incredible history, great food and welcoming people.

What drew us to St. Louis this time was Van City’s 48th Anniversary celebration which was an opportunity for us to talk to a representative from the Leisure Travel Van factory and ask them the questions we’ve been writing down since the Florida RV Super Show which was our only opportunity to see the entire line of RV’s in person. It was also a chance to ask the dealer specific questions about the order process.  Once we were done there, it was time to explore.

Where we Stayed

Our AirBnB was located in a neighborhood called Tower Park South, named for Tower Grove Park a huge green space that forms its northern boundary. The park and the adjacent Missouri Botanical Gardens were originally part of a much larger estate. The owner gave these two tracts of land to the city specifying that they remain parks and to this day Tower Grove Park remains the only park in the city with an independent board.  The neighborhood south of the park is full of brick homes that were mostly constructed after the street car lines were expanded from downtown in the mid-19th century. The main thoroughfare, Grand Avenue, is a broad street lined with an enticing, multicultural mix of restaurants and shops.  We absolutely LOVE this neighborhood.  the architecture of the homes on the tree lined streets made for an interesting driving conundrum, as all we wanted to do was look at the houses and not the street.  Pro tip – walk the neighborhood, don’t drive.  Also, pack your parallel parking skills.

Where We Ate

You cannot go wrong eating on Grand Avenue.  Since it was dinnertime Friday when we arrived, we made our way to a vegetarian restaurant on the corner of Grand Avenue and Connecticut Street, called The Treehouse, where we had what I can only describe as vegetarian comfort food. This was not rabbit food.  I had a very rich mushroom risotto finished with olive oil and goat cheese (vegetarian doesn’t mean light) along with a glass of Rosé and Carolyn had a mushroom ravioli also finished with goat cheese. Dessert was olive oil cake with a rosewater glaze that was like pound cake with the texture of cornbread with hints of olive oil and roses. It was a perfect late spring dinner, though we both needed an after-dinner walk!

Ikea – Don’t judge.  Swedish Meatballs are a requirement. Vegetarian ones, not so much. The salmon, however, is always a good choice.

Mango on Washington Avenue – Mango is a Peruvian restaurant a few blocks away from the City Museum. And, while the City Museum has a restaurant on the roof, once we learned their specialty was nachos we decided to look for something different. A decision that paid off in spades.

Because we didn’t have a reservation we sat at the bar where our server was incredibly friendly and helpful. She guided us through the menus and answered our questions along the way. In fact, everyone we talked to was wonderful and the restaurant is in a beautiful space.

After a Grapefruit Crush, a couple of Pisco Sours and plantain chips with fresh bright green salsa we ordered Anticuchos; a trio of skewers, one chicken, one beef, and one beef heart. They were delicious and the tangy sauce with them was an amazing accompaniment. We followed that by splitting the main course, Pescado a lo Macho, a hearty dish of roasted fish with mussels, calamari, octopus and shrimp in a rich and spicy red aji rocoto (a type of pepper) sauce served over rice and potatoes. It was amazingly flavorful with just the right amount of spicy heat. We were really glad we had split the entrée because it would have been too much for one.

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Anticuchos

Sunday Brunch at Rooster. Also located on Grand Avenue, they specialize in crepes, sandwiches, and breakfast/brunch items. I guess we should have thought about it being Father’s Day. We waited close to an hour for a table and once we were seated service was incredibly slow. Overall, it felt like the restaurant should have had half the number of tables it did. Coffee arrived lukewarm, the food took a very long time and the restroom facilities were totally inadequate to the number of guests. The food, however, was absolutely delicious. Carolyn had an egg white scramble with marinated chicken served over roasted potatoes and I had a spiced black bean crepe filled with egg whites, a little white cheddar and salsa. Basically, a quesadilla in a crepe instead of a tortilla. We finished by having a crepe filled with Nutella and topped with bananas because we cannot go to a crepe place without getting a Nutella crepe. I don’t make the rules, just sayin… We were both very happy with the food and we didn’t mind the leisurely experience because we didn’t have a deadline to meet. But, it’s something to keep in mind if you go.

What We Did

Ikea – After we spent Saturday morning at Van City, we made our requisite pilgrimage to IKEA, something we always do if we are in a city that has one. Ikea broke our hearts recently by first announcing they were coming to Nashville and then announcing they weren’t, but it is simply impossible to stay mad at moderately priced home furnishings with that dash of Swedish awesomeness. Having just climbed around the insides of our dream RVs with a tape measure, I really wanted to see what kinds of storage container options I could find.  There is no such thing as a quick trip to Ikea. Park in the garage to keep your car cool.

Photo Safari – After dinner at Mango on Saturday, the sun was just beginning to set and I wanted to get a photo of the arch before the light was gone so we walked to Keiner Plaza Park for the view of the Old Courthouse with the arch directly behind it. There was a festival going on in the park which made getting photos a bit of a challenge as I had to shoot in between groups of people taking selfies with the arch behind them. After getting a few photos and listening to music we made our way back up Washington utterly in love with the architecture.

The City Museum!!!!! – We learned that the City Museum is open until midnight on Saturdays.  This seemed odd for what we were told was a children’s museum.  Let me state for the record, the City museum is great for children, but it is even better for adults.

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The City Museum

Arriving at the City Museum we paid the admission and went straight to the 10th floor so we could be on the roof for sunset. It was our first taste of the magical wonderland (on acid) that is the City museum. The roof is a garden with water tanks, strings of lights, a school bus perched precariously over the corner of the building, a pond and lots of places for children (and some adults) to climb and explore built from recycled materials. The center of the roof is dominated by the ten story slide that starts on top of the building’s cupola then disappears through the roof into the building. There is a long spiral walkway around the cupola dome that takes you to the entrance of the slide and also gives you a phenomenal view of downtown and the roof-top ferris wheel! After the sun set we made our way back to the first floor to begin exploring the museum.

I honestly have no words that can do the City Museum justice. You HAVE to see it and spend time exploring everything it has to offer. It’s a post-apocalyptic Willie Wonka landscape built with the same glee I used to have as a kid building forts in the backyard out of my family’s discarded items. We explored caves, visited an aquarium that you exit through the mouth of a whale and even went to the circus at nine o’clock at night! Every place you look there is something magical to see. Even the floors are covered in colorful and imaginative mosaics and the occasional sculpture.

The entire museum makes extensive use of recycled materials including buses, airplanes, construction equipment, metal printing plates, building materials and even whole buildings! All put together in imaginative ways. There are restaurants and bars for the adults, and there are galleries displaying monumental salvaged architectural details some of which are rented out for events like the wedding reception that was going on during our visit. The gallery graphic panels celebrate architects like Louis Sullivan, who designed the first skyscraper and mentored a young Frank Lloyd Wright, while the labels remind you that the magical surroundings come at the cost of beautiful old buildings that have been demolished.

In addition to the roof there is also an outdoor area on the 3rd floor featuring a jet and elevated walkways that kids of any age can climb around in. There is also an art space where anyone can do craft projects. After several hours, we lifted our jaws off the floor, where they’d been since we entered, and hobbled out to the car, happy and exhausted. My advice is, when you go, be prepared to be there for hours and wear comfortable shoes! You will not believe the amount of things to see and do! Pro Tip:  After 5PM on Friday and Saturday, the price of admission goes down to $12 per person.  Since it is open to Midnight, you will get plenty of value for your money.

We have just barely scratched the surface of St Louis. There are loads of public art, festivals, the Budweiser factory (with the Clydesdales!) a stellar botanical garden and, of course, a zoo. They also have a wonderful farmer’s market and good food is all around.

Leaving a place after having so much fun is always a bit difficult and we were simply blown away by our visit. If we were looking for a city to settle down in, St. Louis would be high on our list. It has a long and interesting history and friendly people. Our list of things to see on our next trip is incredibly long, now. We will definitely go again. And, you should, too.

Cava Sangria, Feral Chickens and the Hunt for the Best Grouper Sandwich: Exploring Tampa, Florida

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Downtown Tampa just after sunset. The River Walk lights change color every few minutes. Here they are purple and green.

Our hunt for the best grouper sandwich began last summer at a restaurant in Panama City Beach, Florida called J. Michael’s. It was so good that it became an obsession that led us to visit three straight days during our weeklong stay. Heading back to the Gulf coast we found out we weren’t alone in our quest when we Googled “best grouper sandwich” and found many recommendations all over the Tampa Bay Area. But, we also discovered that the Tampa Bay area offers a lot of fun things to see and do, and a surprisingly rich history.

After we landed and dropped our bags at our AirBnB we were in need of lunch. I had read about Ulele, a restaurant that features creatively prepared local ingredients in a park-like setting. It was the first and, by far, best grouper sandwich of the trip. It was also a perfect start to our Florida adventure. If you go, do not miss the Key West Key Lime stack for dessert. Trust me on this one.

After two days at the rv show we were excited to see something other than an rv. We began our first full day of exploration by driving to the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach. Hundreds of manatees gather there in the warm water near a power station when the water in Tampa Bay gets cold. No one was very active and they reminded me of potatoes in a pot of water except that the occasional head would surface for air. However, the nature trail next to the center offers a nice trail through the wetlands to a tower where you can get a good view of Tampa Bay. After spending the morning there dodging school bus loads of kids, we drove off in search of gulf beaches and another grouper sandwich. The drive took us to Clearwater Beach and a grouper Reuben sandwich. The cold air kept us from exploring the beach on foot so we drove south along the beaches eventually crossed back to St. Petersburg and made our way to downtown Tampa on a path that took us along Bayshore Boulevard. The long curving boulevard on the edge of Tampa Bay boasts the world’s longest continuous sidewalk and offers a stunning view backed by the beautiful homes of the Hyde Park neighborhood.

I love photographing cityscapes as the sun sets and the River Walk in downtown Tampa was a great place to get views of the city and the old Tampa Bay Hotel, a Moorish Revival building across the river that is now the centerpiece of the University of Tampa. We spent time watching the lights come on as the sun went down and I took a lot of pictures until it was dark and we ventured off for another less than stellar grouper sandwich before heading back to our hotel.

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Plant Hall at the University of Tampa is the former Tampa Bay Hotel.

Our last day started with French crepes and Greek coffee at La Creperia Café in Ybor City just northeast of downtown Tampa, an area that was our favorite discovery of the trip. It was founded in the late nineteenth century as a factory town to house the Cuban workers for a cluster of cigar makers. Over the years, immigrants escaping pogroms in Eastern Europe and the violence and repression that accompanied Italy’s unification also came looking for work in the cigar factories and helped create an incredibly diverse and vibrant city that was soon swallowed by the growing city of Tampa. The Ybor City Museum State Park does an amazing job of telling the story. I work in museum exhibits and love to visit other museums either to see a specific exhibit or because the subject interests me. Every once in a while, though, I am surprised by a real gem with a compelling story told well through pictures and artifacts. This is one of those special places. Located in a former Italian bakery famous for its Cuban bread, it also tells the history of the building and its huge brick ovens. A particularly harrowing story is that of the man who specialized in repairing the ovens without cooling them off! The story in six words. Water. Burlap. Nerves of steel. Yikes! My advice is to visit the museum first then walk the neighborhood. There are restaurants, bars and cigar stores where they still roll cigars in the front window. There are also families of feral chickens wandering the streets – a link to the past when workers brought chickens with them from Key West. Now, they roam the streets protected by law and they have their own Facebook page.

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Ybor Museum State Park is located in the former La Joven Francesa Bakery the brick built in 1922 by Francisco Ferlita to replace the original wooden structure built in 1895.

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Some of the wild chickens that roam the streets of Ybor City

Ybor City’s mix of cultures also gave birth to the Cuban sandwich – roast pork from Cuba, salami from Italy, mustard and pickles from Eastern Europe. A restaurant that opened in 1905 to make Cuban sandwiches for the cigar workers has become a landmark that is still owned and operated by the same family. Columbia Restaurant is an experience you cannot miss. This “Gem of Spanish Restaurants” has a menu that features dishes dating back to its opening days. It reads like a history book. It’s full stories behind the dishes and it dishes a little gossip from the restaurant’s past. We went for dinner two nights in a row after exploring RV’s all day. Carolyn LOVES sangria so we were especially excited to try their signature Sangria de Cava which features champagne, brandy, orange liqueur and fresh fruit mixed in a pitcher tableside. It was so good we had it both nights. Dinner the first night was the incredible Grouper “Bilbao”. A generous piece of grouper on a bed of tomatoes, onions and potatoes roasted in a clay pot. It was perfectly cooked and it was simply perfect for the two of us. Dinner the second night was Mahi-mahi “Cayo Hueso” which featured a piece of marinated fish with “Good Rice” (a vast understatement), yucca and plantain. The rice really was absolutely addictive and made a perfect dish for a chilly night.

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Grouper “Bilbao” at Columbia Restaurant.

Our last stop was a quick trip to the Lowry Park Zoo before driving to the airport. It’s not large but it is worth a visit. It’s divided into geographical areas; Florida, Asia, Africa, and Australia. The animals all have roomy enclosures and they do an excellent job of telling visitors about the different animals on graphic panels throughout the park. Plus, they offer unique experiences like feeding a giraffe and running with wallabys. Unfortunately, the day we visited was fairly cold so most of the animals that are used to tropical climates were either inside or were huddled in their enclosure keeping warm.

Though we went for the Florida RV Super Show, we are both really glad we spent time exploring the Tampa Bay Area. We barely skimmed the surface and we can’t wait to go back. It also makes a great starting point for exploring the central gulf coast.

Seeing the Elephant: Our First RV Show Experience

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Carolyn standing in a Newmar motor home. One of the gazillion motor homes we toured.

“And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!”
—Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

In 1796 an elephant arrived in New York and was put on display near the Bull’s Head Tavern. People came from far and wide to “see the elephant” and the phrase came to mean adventure and worldly experience. Though the phrase usually has negative connotations it perfectly sums up our adventure at the 2018 Florida RV Super Show in January. It’s billed as the largest RV show in the country, but we were simply not prepared for how big that really was. We spent two full days exploring and only saw a small part of the RV’s and related products that were on display.

Our adventure began with a VERY early morning flight. We had been up late packing and having to be ready for our 5AM pickup was made worse by the fact that it was only 3 degrees and snow was still on the ground. A dose of perspective, however, came in the form of our Uber driver who was on his way home to bed after working all night when he decided to make one last pick up. Us.

Despite the icy streets we arrived at the airport quickly and safely. The early hour meant a quick trip through security and other than having to wait for our plane to be de-iced we had an uneventful flight that I spent listening to a podcast called “Keep Your Daydream”. It’s about people who have made their travel dreams happen and how they did it. It’s also a great big dose of inspiration and advice that we both really need now. Soon we were over the waters of the gulf and a short time later we flew over the barrier islands near Clearwater and landed in Tampa.

We could see the RV show before we actually arrived. As we drove along the road I began to see glimpses of a vast field of rv’s. When we arrived, I realized that what I had seen was not the show but was the attendees campground, a sea of every make and model of motor home and trailer that completely surrounded a sea of every brand new make and model of  motor home and trailer that made up the rv show. We drove into the fairgrounds to a spot in one of several large fields of cars. A short walk later we were at a gate where we were convinced to board a shuttle to the closest entrance. Since they made it sound like the entrance was a long way away, we took our seats and waited while the shuttle finished loading passengers. It finally started to move and we got excited again until it came to a stop about 500 feet later and the driver announced, “Here we are!” Carolyn and I simply looked at each other feeling stupid. Mumbling darkly to ourselves we climbed down and made our way into the entrance past tables stacked high with show programs.

It turned out that we had entered through one of the side gates and found ourselves in an exhibition hall full of vendor booths selling products to rv owners. There were booths for RV resorts, cleaning products, foldable boats (I’m not kidding), tools, towing hardware, shoes, jeweled flip flops, sunglasses, and t-shirts with sparkly RV themed messages on them. The term ‘Happy Camper” started to become a bit oppressive after seeing it literally everywhere in tiny sequins on t-shirts, or on countless pieces of wall art. The array of items was absolutely stunning and finding our way out of the building was like trying to find a quick route through a Las Vegas casino. It took a while.

Once we emerged back in the sunlight we were on a street lined with trailers and motor homes. Our eyes had scarcely adapted to the brightness when we were nearly run over by a pipe and drum corps. We dove to the side of the street and I managed to grab a photo as the parade passed. Tampa RV Show-2Then we gathered ourselves and set off again. Nearby was a line of class B rv’s, the conversion vans. Most were built from Mercedes Sprinter vans and they are not what you would call roomy. They were definitely made to fit two people who really want to test the strength of their relationship. After climbing through a bunch of vans we made our way to see some class C’s which feature a box-like living area built on a van or truck chassis and usually have a sleeping area that hangs out over the cab in the the front. After climbing through them we moved on to travel trailers.  We spent a lot of time touring everything in the Airstream display. Both of us have always loved the silver trailers and this was our chance to see all the different configurations from the sublime to the Tommy Bahama editions with palm leaves carved into the paneling and, in one case, a bar whose surface lights up from underneath. It brought to mind the question every rv salesman asks,”what will you use it for?” Seeing the bar I thought, “what, indeed”. Day one was overwhelming, loud and offered enough walking to keep any Fitbit happy. It was also a real learning experience and we headed back to the car to go find dinner and make a better plan for tackling day two.

When we arrived the next morning, we came into a different parking area that led us to enter through the main building. Our first stop was to gawk at the multimillion dollar coaches made by Prevost and Newell. They were like a second floor walk-up and they were HUGE! We had to climb six to eight stairs to reach the living area. They had two bathrooms, giant tv’s, king sized beds, stone floors and an interior aesthetic that was a disco ball shy of Studio 54 but we never did find the switch that would turn on the flashing lights and smoke machines. Of course, they wouldn’t have allowed us to touch it if we had. Everything delivered the message that we were not worthy. Every drawer had a “do not open” sign, there was a velvet rope to keep everyone out of the bedroom and the bedroom carpet was shrink wrapped. There was even a stage built outside the front window so people could look inside without entering. They were fun to see but we were soon off to see our real options.

As we started thinking about a vehicle we could live in with the cats we began to look more and more at a Class A in the 30 foot range. From our research we made the decision to look at two manufacturers, Tiffin and Newmar because they seem to consistently offer great quality. We found the Newmar display first and went from coach to coach making comparisons. Specifically, we were there to see the “BayStar” line, but, that didn’t stop us from going through some of the much more expensive models as well. With the slides out the interior of the BayStars are very roomy. There are lots of seating options, lots of storage space as well as lots of places for the cats to perch and look out a window. We were very impressed though we began to notice in all the Newmars that the depth of the kitchen cabinets made it hard to use the counter surface. I felt like I would hit my head while trying to cut up vegetables or use the sink. After a fast couple hours touring their motorhomes we made our way to Tiffin’s display at the very back of the show. We wanted to look at a model called the Allegro. Again,  a very spacious interior with the slides out, more carved moldings, a much more useable kitchen counter and something different. Every Tiffin has a small window at floor level on the passenger side for a dog (or cat) to see out. After touring a few versions of the Allegro we made our way to the last manufacturer we came to see.

Leisure Travel Vans are built in Canada. They are 25 foot class C’s built on a Mercedes Sprinter chassis. Because they take so long to build dealerships rarely have them on their lot unless someone has not yet picked up the coach they ordered. This was our best chance to see all the models they make. We spent a long time going through each one, comparing floor plans and features. The interesting thing about them is how multifunctional the interior is. Two of the models feature a larger than queen size Murphy bed which folds down over a seating area that converts from a couch to a dinette when the bed is up. One model features a second couch in the rear with an ottoman that rolls out from underneath. No space is wasted and the quality of the fit and finish is outstanding.

By the end of day two we felt like we had seen everything we came to see and a lot we really didn’t expect. We learned a lot about the different manufacturers and the varying quality of the rv’s. We had also seen performing pirates, a cowboy in a wagon pulled by a mechanical armadillo, a pipe and drum marching band, a man on stilts and even more entertaining we had several experiences with rv salesmen. Dealing with them has been a learning experience and is worthy of its own future post.