Adventure · colosseum · Europe · family · Family Travel · Italy · Itinerary · photography · Roma · Rome · travel · Trip Ideas · Trip Planning · wine

TrippinTwins: Day 1- Rome with the Parents 

Ever since someone said to us, “Italy is my country and Rome is my city”, we had an interest in visiting Rome!  We had been looking for flight deals for close to a year so we could afford to take our parents along to a city they had also dreamed about visiting. After nearly a year of not having any luck, Tara found an airfare sale to Europe that fit within our budget and date range. We were both thrilled our plans worked out and we were all able to jointly experience this magical place.

We grew up Catholic and our father is still practicing.  Since Rome contains so many places that are historically important to the Catholic faith,  we spent much of our time exploring them. We talked to locals, took tours given by archeologists and history professors, walked and walked some more -Oh & Yes! We ate!  If you’re planning to visit Rome in the future, which we highly encourage, we hope our itinerary provides you with some inspiration.

Day 1:

After a not so fun flight on a cramped Delta/KLM plane, we landed bright and early in the morning – around 6:00 AM in Amsterdam.  We only had an hour layover, so we spent most of our time standing in line at customs.  It was inconvenient at the time, but it was nice once we landed in Rome 2 hours later. All we had to do once we landed was grab our checked baggage and walk through the non-declare door.

Our host had offered to arrange transportation from the airport to the apartment, but we declined and decided to get our own.  We were so tired though that instead of waiting in line,  we went with the first ride offer we received, which was a non-official taxi.  After a super fast ride, that we were told would be twice as long, we arrived intact at our apartment where we had arranged to stay the week.  Since we arrived so early in Rome, it was hours before our official check in time.  Our host was gracious enough to meet us at the apartment and assist us with our luggage up to the apartment. We paid the city tax and he gave us a short overview of the apartment and neighborhood, recommendations and answered our questions.

Our dad wanted to attend a mass in Italian, so our host suggested we visit the church he grew up in that was in very close to the apartment.  The church we attended is named Basilica of San Clemente. It’s a minor Basilica dedicated to Pope Clement I (d.99 AD).


Front Entrance of Basilica di San Clemente

We were greeted warmly at the door even though mass had already began and quickly found seats in the back. Although the service was in Italian, my parents familiarity with Latin, found it easy to follow along. After it concluded, we stayed with a few other curious ones to explore the main sanctuary.

There was a sign that said no pictures, so I just sneaked this photo of the area we were sitting in just for our own memories. And although Tara and I hadn’t attended mass since we were teens, we found it to be a fascinating experience.


A peek into the courtyard from the street

We all wished  we had planned for a return visit to explore the Bascilica more in depth.  For just 10 Euro, one can tour both the 4th Century church the current Basilica was built on top of and the 1st Century shrine of Mithras.

After exploring some, were hungry and ready to find somewhere to eat. After asking for suggestions, we walked down the street and were immediately seated at a table at Valore Ristorante Pizzeria.

It was my first time trying an Italian pizza. What can I say? I was a bit shocked at their enormous size!! It’s the size of a normal American medium size pizza that I usually share with 2 or 3 other people. Evidently, Tara knew this but didn’t think to say anything before we both ordered. So, we both had huge pizzas to attempt to tackle.  If you’re looking for good sausage pizza though, this is one of the places to come.

Obviously Tara’s mind was not so much on the food,  as she was overtaken by her excitement of being able to drink some good Italian wine.

I mean she just looks so happy with that glass on wine. Just not sure she could look more sleepy…haha!

We even got to enjoy some entertainment for a few minutes when a traveling musician stopped in. He was really accommodating when I wanted to take his picture. He saw my camera and immediately came to our table. We stayed for probably 20-30 minutes in the restaurant playing for tips before moving on.

Once we finished our lunch, we decided to walk some calories off by going to find place to purchase a metro pass . We took the advice we received from our VRBO host and walked to the Colosseum metro station (Colosseo) where we found a tabaccoist stand. We purchased a 7 day pass for each of us for €24 each. the metro in Rome is very easy to use, comes often,  and is efficient for most places we needed to go.

The area around Colosseo station is very busy. There are vendors vying for the attention of every tourists to buy visitor passes and other trinkets. It was also the first time we would walk by the Colosseum. We saw 2 armed military officers (anti-terrorism forces) with heavy machinery outside. At the time we were unfamiliar with these people and their role so we didn’t take any pictures. We were unaware at the time that we would see them virtually at every other site we visited during our stay.

On our walk back to our apartment on Via Labicana, we saw a site that caught our attention. We stopped to look around and found out it was Ludus Magnus, or the Great Gladitorial Training School. The school had 2 levels, one an arena.  The part visible on Via Labicana are the partially excavated gladiator cells that use to be in the northeast part of the training arena.

After spending a few minutes looking at the ruins, we continued the few blocks back to our apartment for the night.

We spent the rest of the night unpacking, talking about what our first day was like -oh, & discovering the unexpected-my dad’s backpack was missing. His backpack had his medications in it, so that was quite a shock. We figured he lost it at some point between getting out of the taxi we took to the apartment and waiting to be let in. It served as a reminder for everyone to remind each other to stay aware at all times, especially in crowded places.

Lessons Learned from Day 1:

Official Taxi’s should only charge 48 Euro from Fiumicino Airport to the city center and 30 Euro from Ciampino airport.  Here’s a list of official taxi fares in Rome.  The hassle of haggling for that price though, that’s another story!

Pay attention to the taxi company you take in case you leave things in the taxi.  It’s true of anywhere, but especially in a foreign company when you’re not familiar with the companies.

There is no minimum drinking age in Italy, though 16 is the age one can drink wine/beer in public.

Restaurant tipping: Our host told us that if the bill is 113 Euro to round up to 117 Euro and it served us well.








California · Day Trips · Family Travel · Ferry Ride · Holiday Travel · Itinerary · Memorial Day · San Diego · Uncategorized · Water Adventures

TrippinTwins: San Diego: Adventures of Day 1

San Diego had long been on our wish lists, so we were beyond excited to get the chance to visit this past Memorial Day weekend.  Initially, we had dreamed of a relaxing beach vacation spending our days sunning on the beach, drinking cocktails & soaking up those rays of sunshine California is so famous for.

However, when we began packing for the trip, we ruled out beach time when we learned the temperatures were only going reach the low 70’s. If you are thinking that’s a bit strange, you’re probably not from the Deep South where it’s not considered the perfect beach day unless the temperatures are at least in the mid-80’s! So, we revamped our itinerary and packing list.

Upon arriving in San Diego, it was nearly midnight. We wearily grabbed our bags from baggage claim and found our way to the exit where we took a taxi to our downtown hotel. We commented to our driver about the chill in the air and were promptly told that the forecasted temperatures and overcast skies were completely  normal for the May/June time frame. We even learned the weather pattern had names  – “May Gray and June Gloom”.

Where We Stayed:

While many people choose to stay in the Gaslamp district, we decided to stay in the downtown area also known as the “Centre City” at the Westin San Diego. It was the perfect location because it put us within easy walking distance to Little Italy, the Gaslamp district,  Broadway Pier and public transportation.

Day 1: Shopping, Food and a Ferry Ride!

We began our first full day a little late as we had a late arrival the night before. When we were ready to leave the hotel, we headed to a nearby coffee shop to grab a cup of coffee and a quick snack. We figured this would hold us over until our lunch we had planned for later. We needed to make a stop in a nearby CVS in Westfield Horton Plaza to pick up a few things we had forgotten to bring. As we arrived, the bold colors and architecture of the indoor/outdoor mall, amazed us.  We had not planned to spend much time there,  but once we realized there were over 100 stores on various levels set up like a maze, we spent a few hours window shopping and taking in the scenery.

When we decided our bank accounts were done with the mall. Since we were already in the trendy Gaslamp Quarter, we set off to find the 94 restored Victorian era buildings the area is famous for.  When it was founded in the 1850’s, it was well known for gambling halls and brothels before cleaning up its act during the 1980’s. It is now a thriving district offering eclectic dining and shopping options.  After spending some time window shopping, the smells coming from the surrounding restaurants had made it impossible to ignore our hunger. We headed to Little Italy, where we found the restaurant that had been recommended to us,  Filippi’s Pizza.

We were advised to check out this location   because it is the original and operates as both a grocery and a restaurant. Even if you aren’t hungry, it is worth stopping by to check out the ceiling covered with wine bottles. Our waitress told us we should not miss their famous homemade meatballs, so we choose to put her recommendation to the test. We agree, it was delicious!


Wine Bottles that adorn the ceiling at Filippi’s Pizza

After we finished lunch, we headed to Broadway Pier. We bought ferry passes for $4.75 , and took the 15 minute Coronado Ferry to Coronado Island. We choose to take the ferry because it gave us time to take water pictures of the picturesque area and was the first US ferry  we had the chance to take since we were children.

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Broadway Pier waiting on Ferry to Coronado Island

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Tara enjoying the view on the ferry
Once we landed on Coronado Island, we walked to the Coronado Ferry Landing. This is the view you will see when you land and walk towards the island. We were tired after a long day of shopping and walking, so we decided to hang around this area to browse the shops, grab a bite to eat and watch the sunset.

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Shops on Coronado Ferry Landing

We enjoyed some time relaxing on the beach. It was too cold to get in, but the views were great.

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View from Centennial Park looking back at San Diego
After enjoying the views, we decided to check out the restaurant options. We settled on Candelas on the Bay for a quick bite to eat. We enjoyed the views and the food. The service could have been better, but it didn’t bother us because the scenery was great.

It had been really cloudy for most of the day, so we did not have high hopes for a good sunset. However,  we got lucky  because the sun made an appearance as it got later and cleared the fog to reveal a stunning sunset. This was a great way to end our evening on Coronado Island.

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Sunset on Coronado Island Ferry Landing

After the sunset, we took the return ferry back to Broadway Pier where we walked the few blocks back to our hotel. We had an early activity planned for day 2 -a Whale and Dolphin tour that we were really looking forward to and decided called it a night.




Exhibits · Family Travel · Museums · Seattle · Tours · travel · Trip Ideas · Washington

Seattle Center-Chihuly Garden & Glass Exhibit

On a recent trip to Seattle, we had the opportunity to  visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass. The exhibition opened at the Seattle Center in 2012. A Washington native, Dale Chihuly is a world renowned glass artist with current displays all over the world. We have both been lucky enough to see his works at a few other exhibits and have been blown away each time, so this was high on our list of places to visit.

The Exhibit is divided into three main areas: The Interior Exhibits, the Glasshouse  and the Gardens.

Interior Exhibit

Glass Forest: 

This room is subdued, but eye catching as its only piece is designed with neon colors. For those that are unfamiliar with Chihuly, it is here you will be introduced to the size and scale of some of his designs as well as to the black plexiglass base that is used to display many of his works.

For the Glass House piece, he teamed up with Mr. James Carpenter, a colleague of his at the Rhode Island School of design. They were interested to see what designs could come from their differing backgrounds-combining Carpenter’s background of architecture, light and sculpture with Chihuly’s background in textile and sculpture. These forms were made from standing atop a ladder and letting the glass drop down while inducing neon into the pieces.

The Northwest Room:

Cylinders, Baskets & Soft Cylinders 

Chihuly’s goal here was to make Indian Baskets out of glass. He discovered that he could push the boundaries of glass forms using fire and gravity.  Pushing the ability to form glass to the edge, just short of collapse, he was able to get the glass thin enough to  create new forms that mimic the patterns and designs from Native American culture.

Sealife Room

This room reflects Mr. Chihuly’s love of the sea. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, he always had a love of the water. He saw a lot of similarity between the movement of water and movement of molten glass. Although sea life is only occasionally featured in chandeliers and towers, he designed this 20 ft tower to show how important water was to his work.

This is a room where we spent quite a lot of time just staring in awe at this magnificent tower.


Persian Ceiling:

Created and sculpted by Dale Chihuly and Martin Blank. Walking into the walkway with this eye-popping ceiling sort of catches one off guard. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the top of the room.

You will be surprised at how long you will stand around with your eyes glued to the plethora of remarkable Persian glass designs erected in the ceiling. Although you will recognize many of the designs, you will stand in amazement at others contemplating just who were those geniuses who dreamed such a thing.


Mille Fiori:

Inspired by glass blowing processes and places he’d visited over the years, this piece combines common shapes found routinely in nature with bright primary colors.

Ikebana and Float Boats:

The inspiration for this one came while in Nuutajarvi, Finland while he was working for his exhibition Chihuly Over Venice. He stood  on a bridge and threw glass into the water to experiment with its reaction to the glass.  Local teens would pick up the glass pieces and place them in row boats. Chihuly liked how his glass looked in the boats which led to the creation of these these pieces.

Chandelier Room:

The concept was inspired  by a chandelier he had seen at a restaurant in Barcelona, which was the first time he had seen one at eye level. It was then he got the idea that chandeliers could be made without being functional, just serving as a decoration. A chandelier was first displayed for an exhibit in 1992 at the opening exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum. His chandeliers can be anywhere from three to 30 feet long and can contain as many as 1,000 pieces.

Macchiato Forest:

Chihuly was very excited when an expanded color palate was available to him through use of the German colors. Originally, only available for the stained glass industry, he was determined to use all the 300-400 colors that were newly available to him in this exhibit. Macchiato means spotted in Italian.

Glass House:

The glasshouse is the centerpiece of the center.  It is 4,500 sq ft and 40 ft tall.  It holds a red, orange. amber and yellow 100 ft sculpture , which is one of Chihuly’s biggest.

The Garden:

The garden surrounds the glass house and was our favorite part of the exhibit. On a nice day, allow time for walking along the lined paths between the sculptures. We spent about an hour roaming around the gardens, but could have easily spent longer if time had permitted.

Tips before you go:

Depending when you visit, consider bringing your own snacks.  There is a cafe on site, but is usually very busy.

No selfie sticks are allowed, but they do have employees stationed in the various galleries that are eager to take your picture for you.

The exhibit is open Monday-Thursday 9:00 am -9:00 pm and Friday and Saturday 9:00 am – 10:00 pm.

Admission is considered pricey at $27 for ages 13-above with reduced admission for Seniors, Youth and Locals. Costs can be reduced by buying a  Seattle CityPass or by buying admission to the Space Needle at the counter.



Adventure · Beach Towns · California · Day Trips · dolphins · favorites · RIB · San Diego · sealife · Tours · Trip Ideas · Water Adventures · whales

TrippinTwins: San Diego RIB Dolphin & Whale Tour 

Everyone has that one thing they must do when they get the chance to visit a certain place.  For us, in San Diego,  we knew it would finally be our chance to, just maybe, see a whale in the open water. We have experienced many dolphin cruises over the years in the Gulf of Mexico and were looking for something that would be a bit different for this experience. After briefly looking over a few tour options, we registered for a dolphin and whale tour with Adventure RIB Rides. This would be a switch from the usual boat rides in that we would be taking this dolphin and whale excursion in a small rigid-inflatable boat. Erica thought this was a totally crazy idea, but I convinced her that it would be a blast.


When is the best time to see whales in San Diego?

 Thousands migrate from Alaska every year to give birth and give their young time to gain the strength necessary for the journey home.  It is said the best times to view whales are between  mid-June through December.  However, we saw a grey whale on our tour at the end of May and we were told several were spotted the day before. If you’re going in the off peak season, just ask around, people will tell you if they have been seen recently.

Meeting Point – Dolphin and Whale Tour


We arrived at the meeting point (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina) dock around 8:45 am to meet our tour guide. After initial introductions with our small group of 6 which included us, we were escorted into a small office by the dock where we had to sign a liability release. At this time, we were also each given a pair of waterproof coveralls that although were not mandatory, were highly recommended. No one was exactly thrilled to dress in such heavy, ill-fitting attire, but everyone agreed it was best to heed the guide’s advice.  And yes, they were totally worth wearing because they kept us warm.





 Where to sit on the RIB Boat

 Erica and I were placed up front because we were the last in line and the smallest, which meant for an overall more rocky experience.  Therefore, if you can, sit in the back.  The views are fantastic from any seat and you will also be able to move around when stopped looking at wildlife.

U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP)

The ride started off initially as just a normal leisurely boat ride. We slowly drifted past the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP) where we got passing views of the trainers at work.  NMMP is based in San Diego and is where dolphins and sea lions are trained for things such as mine detection, equipment recovery and harbor and ship protection.  We were aware of the program’s existence, so were fascinated by the glimpses we got as we slowly drifted by.


We also got a glimpse of other Navy boats.


 It’s a rough ride!

After we made our way further out into the Pacific Ocean, our guide picked up speed. This is where the ride started to get rough.  It literally felt like riding a mechanical bull!  It is when you will either feel exhilaration or want nothing more than for it to be over. Both of us felt as though we might fall out at any moment, but of course we managed to stay in.

Wildlife sightings

After only a few minutes out on the water,  we sighted a few sea lions sunning themselves on a buoy. We were excited because this was the first time we had ever seen them in their natural habitat. The guide stopped the boat to give us a chance to snap some pictures before continuing the tour in search of dolphins and whales.



Another thirty minutes went by speeding through the open ocean at a high speeds, bouncing our seats in the boat before a fellow passenger alerted our guide of a possible dolphin sighting.  The guide stopped the boat to give everyone a chance to see what turned out to be a megapod of dolphins and a few nursing pods. Everyone was encouraged to get up and walk to the very front of the boat for the best possible viewing opportunities. The ones that did, got an amazing show.  It was a truly a magical sight to experience!  See that  here or down below.

3 dolphins_99

After spending about an hour watching the dolphins, we left to head back in in our final opportunity for a whale sighting. Our guide explained to us that even though whale season was technically over, chances were good we would spot a few because the water had been warmer than usual.  We spotted a grey whale after few minutes in an area of an earlier sighting . However, we had already been out in the water over two hours, so we watched it from a distance for about ten minutes before heading back in for the day. When we were safely back to our docking point,  Erica was more than ready to get off the boat while I felt like I could have continued the trip all day.

Things to know before you go:

  • If you have any type of back/neck issue, think twice before booking.  Erica has a slipped disk and had trouble walking the next day.
  • Consider taking Dramamine beforehand.  Even if the ocean looks calm at first glance, the swells are bigger than you might think.  In addition, the ride is rough at times and there are a few long stops where the boat rocks along with the swell of the water which made some sick.
  • Do not leave your camera at home because you’ll want theses memories to last a long time.
  • Tip money.  The guide will be instrumental to your tour and you will want to reward them for their hard work.

















Prepare to be Wowed: Space Center Houston


Growing up in Huntsville, AL, nicknamed the “Rocket City” and having family and friends that work(ed) for NASA, the space program has always been of interest to us. Our schools were named after astronauts and we were always excited when our schools managed to snag one to come speak to us. So, when planning this year’s trips, we decided to add Houston to the list primarily for the chance to visit Space Center Houston

The Space Center Houston is vital for the space program.  It covers a lot of ground, approximately 1600 acres.  It serves as the home of mission control for the International Space Program (ISS) and human space missions. In addition, it is the facility where astronauts train for future missions.

Since there is a lot of ground to cover, we recommend arriving when the Center opens. It is  located a 20+ miles outside of downtown, so you will need to plan for commute time. We found that covering the museum with all the available activities takes most of a day.

We decided to purchase a CityPass ($56/person) which allowed us to save time by skipping the admission ticket line. We also preregistered for the Tram and Shuttle Tours (included with admission), which allowed us to begin our day exploring right away. General museum admission is $24.95/adult or $19.95/child.

We began our visit by making our way to Independence Plaza to tour the historic Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), NASA 905, and the Shuttle replica Independence, which opened in January 2016. Once making our way there, we were surprised to find there was no wait. In fact, we were only surrounded by about 10-15 other people the entire time we were on the shuttle. This is the only SCR and shuttle replica to be open to the public for touring. It is a completely self guided tour, but there are staff members around the exhibit available to answer questions. It is a fantastic educational tool available to those who are interested in learning about the shuttle program, the contributions the program has made, the impact the program has on current and future missions. In addition, much time is spent on the people that contributed directly and indirectly and are ultimately responsible for the failures and successes of the program. It was a moving experience to actually be inside the replica and be able to get a sense of what life was like for many astronauts chosen for missions. We were in awe of the ingenuity and what many of our nations heroes were able to accomplish for our country that will forever be remembered.

Afterwards, we made our way to the Tram tour line. The day we were there, the line was not long and it did not seem to matter if one had a timed ticket because both lines moved relatively quickly. We were able to make the next tram that came,  which seemed to run in 10-15 minute intervals. We are told that lines do get longer in the summer months, so securing tickets is recommended. Be prepared as they fill the tram with as many people as possible, which we honestly found a bit uncomfortable. Thankfully, guests are not on them long as they are just used to move guests between sites.

Normally, there are two tour options known as the “red” or “blue” Tours that either take guests to Historic Mission Control, or Building 9 to see mock-ups of ISS and Orion. The day we were there, we did not have an option as there were special events taking place. Instead, we were taken to building 16 to see a simulation of the Shuttle Avianotics Integration Laboratory (SAIL), where the flight software is checked and verified before takeoff. The steps were steep and there are wires everywhere. The number of exposed wires is surreal in person. It really makes one appreciate the workers responsible for this part of the shuttle program and leaves you in awe of their accomplishment. It contains a mock up of a Shuttle titled OV-095 (Orbiting Vehicle, 95-mockup). For those that go on a Level 9 tour, they get a behind the scenes tour of the OV-095.

After spending roughly 20 minutes in the SAIL building, we were taken to Rocket Park. The highlight of the four rockets is the Saturn V, which was restored in 2007 and is only one of 3 still left in the world. The 30 story rocket is stored in a warehouse, where guests are allowed  access. If this is your first time viewing one, be prepared to be blown away. This is a popular picture taking place and where you will be sure to see many selfie sticks.

Guests may stay at the park for as long as they need and may return to the Space Center on any tram at the tram station. We stayed for 45 minutes to view the rockets and take photos.

Once we retuned to the Space Center, we made our way to a few of the other exhibits (Skylab, ISS)  before calling it a day.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day at the Space Center. The ticket price includes movies, the tours we took and astronaut talks. There are several designated kid areas, which makes this place a great treat for the entire family.

For true space geeks, we recommend signing up early for the more  in depth/behind the scenes tour available, known as the Level 9 tour. Unfortunately, tickets were not available the day we were there, but this is something we would probably make the trip back for.


TrippinTwins: Tour the White House

The White House, the symbol of American leadership, is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. It has served as the official residence for every President of the United States since 1800.  When we were made aware the White House would be allowing photos on tours, we decided to put this experience at the top of our list.   We decided to request Veterans Day weekend because it is one of our favorite times to visit the city. We thoroughly enjoyed our experience, but being aware of a few things prior would have helped us to have an even better experience. We hope this post encourages those interested to apply and go see this great American symbol for yourself.

How/When to Apply for White House Tour:

There are several ways to apply and for obvious reasons, it is easiest if you have a connection in the White House. If you are one of those connected individuals though, you probably are not seeking advice from a blog. On the other hand, if you are like us in that you are just a regular folk with no inside connections , you  must apply through your state Congressman’s/Senator’s office.   Non-US citizens should apply through their embassy or can contact a Congressional representative and inform them of their citizenship.

Request Forms:

When filling out the request form, you are given a chance to select tours for the following places of interest: White House, Capitol, Supreme Court, Library of Congress, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. We selected White House and received an inquiry from our Congressman’s office to see if we would be interested in a Capitol Tour as well.

Once your Congressman’s office processes the request, you will most likely receive a follow-on e-mail asking you to provide clearance information and to confirm your travel dates.  Once you have submitted the required paperwork, your representative’s office will notify you if your requested dates were approved/ disapproved.

When to Apply:

The suggested time frame to apply is 3-6 months in advance. We applied 15 weeks in advance of our planned trip date and it worked out.  We received confirmation our tour was approved 12 weeks after submission and 3 weeks before our trip date, but the average notification time is 2 weeks in advance of the trip date.  When we talked to a member of our Congressman’s office we were told the most difficult time to get approved for a tour is during the late November through the end of the year for Christmas season.  If you must visit during the holiday, apply as far as possible in advance.

Notification of Approval:

With your notice of approval from your Congressman’s office, you will receive a White House pass that lists tour date and time, required documentation, list of permitted items and list of prohibited items.

Before You Go:

Ensure you stick to your original travel dates. Rescheduling tours are a hassle and can not always be accommodated.

Ensure you bring your White House Pass with you or have access to a printer at your travel location.

Comply with the list of approved/prohibited items:

  1. You can bring a coat/jacket even though they not listed on the pass.
  2. Secret Service has the right to confiscate any item that is not specifically listed. We saw school groups have earphones/earbuds taken away from kids; small razor blades, lighters and vapor cigarettes all confiscated from adults.


Security levels can be different depending on the current threat level.  At the very least, there will be be 5 security checks.  You are requested to meet at the check in point 15 minutes in advance.  If you arrive early, stop in at the White House Visitor’s Center because that is where the guards will direct you.  We arrived a few minutes late, but it was not an issue because there is a 2 1/2 hour grace period.

The 5 levels of security are:  Gate Guard at meeting point checking tickets and times, 2  ID check points by secret service agents, dog sniffer and  metal detectors. Security is surprisingly quick, but can be daunting for kids and for people not aware of the procedures.

East Wing Tour:

The East Wing is the wing that is open for public tours.  Once you enter the first building,  you’ll be greeted by the Obama’s on TV reminding you the tour is a self guided and to utilize secret service agents stationed in the rooms to answer any questions.  You will also see a notice saying that you can take pictures and to use the hashtag #AtTheWH to share your experience.IMG_5307

Gift Shop:

The gift shop is like a kiosk stand.  It offers some unique items for purchase.  If interested, you must buy then because you will not be allowed to return later. There are plenty of gift shops in the surrounding area if you prefer to shop after the tour.


Cameras are restricted to a three inch lens, so cell phone cameras were by far the most popular camera on the tour. Spend time taking in where you are and not obsessing about getting the “right” picture because it’s not always possible. Patience is a virtue if you are wanting to take a picture without strangers in the photo. Tours are one right after the next, so it is rare to have a moment to yourself or with just your group.


The East Wing consists of 9 rooms, some you are able to walk through and some you can only peek into.  There is no specific order you have to follow and you can re-enter rooms you have already seen.  The secret service agents posted in rooms were friendly, but do not know every detail about the room they are posted in because they rotate frequently.  These are some of our favorite rooms we viewed.

 Vermeil Room

This room is located on the ground floor of the White House.  We were not allowed to go into this room, only look in through the open door.  When the house was first built, this room was used as a storage and staff work room.  In 1902, during Roosevelt’s Presidency, it was renovated and turned into a public use room.   The room is sometimes referred to as the “Gold Room” and serves as a display room and a sitting room for formal occasions.  The walls are yellow paneled to compliment the gold-plated silver given to the White House by Mrs. Margaret Thompson Biddle in 1956. The carpet is a Turkish Hereke circa 1860.  The circular mahogany table, in the middle of the room, is Empire revival style, has a tilt top with gold stars in each of the 12 sections.  The chandelier, hanging above, has ten arms and was made in England around 1785.

The mahogany table in the middle of the room is made in the Empire revival style from the 19th century.  The cut glass chandelier hanging above the table was made in England around 1785.


The library is located on the ground floor of the White House.  This space has served a wide variety of  purposes over the years, most recently turned into a library in 1935. The library only has room for two thousand and seven hundred volumes, so the selections are very limited.   The collection was last updated in 2005; Most selections have been there since the early 1960’s when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy asked a committee to chose books for the library.   The selections chosen represent the culture and history of the United States.  The room is less formal than the state rooms and is often used for media taping.


East Room

November is Native American Heritage Month, so there were a few exhibits celebrating Native American heritage in the East Room when we visited.  It is the largest room in White House, often used for large gatherings such as bill signings, dinners and concerts.  It is the place where presidents are often inaugurated in private before the public ceremony at the Capitol and where former heads of state and other dignitaries are lain in honor before their funerals.

The room was renovated in 1902.  This is when the Bohemian cut-glass chandeliers were added and the paneling on the walls was painted white.  The quilts are part of the Native American exhibit.
George Washington
This full length picture of George Washington was painted by Gilbert Stuart and has hung there since 1800.

 Blue Room

The blue room is located in the center of the State floor of White House.  It is one of three state rooms on the state floor of the residence and is known for it’s oval shape.  The room where the President receives many of his guests and receptions and small dinners take place.  The room has been renovated and redecorated several times, but has always kept its blue color scheme.  During the holidays, it is the room where the official White House Christmas Tree is located.



Red Room

The red room is another of the state parlors of the White House and received its name from the red decor of the room.  The style of the room today is influenced by the American Empire style originally chosen in 1962 during Kennedy’s Administration. The furniture in the room is from the years 1810-1830.  The walls are adorned with fabric woven  in the United States from French Empire designs. The furniture, such as the American Empire sofa, is upholstered in a silk of the same shade of red. The room has been used for a wide variety of activities, in recent administrations for small gatherings and dinner parties.  In 1876, This room also served as a secret swearing-in of President Rutherford B. Hayes after his contested defeat of Samuel J. Tilden in the election.

    Old Family Dining Room

This room is located on the State Floor and is the smaller of two dining rooms on the floor.  It has been renovated several times and was just renovated again recently.  First Lady Obama unveiled the newly refurbished State Dining Room on 10 February 2015.  It is used for private events, presidential working lunches and a over flow room for State dinners.  The latest refurbished room has a modern touch, but retained many of the Kennedy era antiques and a chandelier from 1780.

White House Old Family Dining Room
The Old Family Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 9, 2015.  (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon) 45
Closing Comments: Spend time studying the rooms you will see on the tour before you go. The official suggestion is to visit the Visitors Center, but you can also look online.  Wear comfortable shoes that are good for walking and standing. Expect to spend 45 about minutes viewing and taking photos of the rooms and 15 minutes walking to the exit gate. It was an honor to have this opportunity and we encourage all to apply.

Have you been to the White House, or experienced a White House Tour?  If so, we would enjoy hearing about your experience.

Day Trips · Everglades National Park · Fall · Florida · National Parks · Tours · Trip Ideas · Trip Planning · Water Adventures

Florida Everglades: In a Day 

What do you do when you only have 24 hours to see a place you have longed dreamed of?  This is the quandary we found ourselves in recently after attending TBEX in Fort Lauderdale, FL.   We really did not want to leave the Ft. Lauderdale area once again without seeing the Everglades, but knew we had to find a way to do so in 24 hours. After doing some research, we decided to book a tour through Viator with a company that offers small group day tours with hotel pickup.

The tour operator we took the tour with is called  Eco-Adventures  and the official tour name is “Everglades Day Tour”.  The tour covers a wide area of the Everglades along Hwy 41 and allows one to see a variety of ecosystems quickly. Our guide, Alex, picked us up from our hotel in downtown Ft. Lauderdale  in a 13 passenger van.  There were several last minute cancellations, so there were only two others on the tour with us which worked out great.  As a guide, Alex, was much more than your average tour guide. He is a wildlife naturalist and kept us engaged during our hour drive to our first stop in Davie, FL by describing the significant landscape changes, the Indian tribes that live in the area, the native and invasive plants and the animals that we are most likely to see.

Our first stop of the day was at Pond Apple Swamp to take an airboat ride through the Sawgrass Prairie.   This was an entertaining and educational 40 minute ride in the Pond Apple Swamp where we saw alligators, birds, turtles, flowers and vegetation. The boat went slow enough to allow discussion about the animals and to allow people to take photos. We also learned what looked like intentional defined paths across the prairie, are actually formed by repeated use of airboats in the same areas.



Defined paths across the sawgrass prairie made by repeated airboat use



Baby alligator spotted on the airboat ride



White Ibis flying across the sawgrass prairie



At the conclusion of the boat ride, our tour mates told Alex, our guide, they wished to see more alligators.  He was more than happy to accommodate their request by driving us to a boardwalk area where he had recently seen a few hanging out. We viewed wildlife and relaxed there for 15 minutes before continuing on along Hwy 41 to our next official stop at Kirby Skorter Roadside Park. 


Alligator viewed at boardwalk area



White Ibis spotted at boardwalk area


The Kirby Skorter Roadside Park, named after one of the area’s pioneering families, is a great place to see Cypress trees and offers many possibilities for wildlife sightings.  Most importantly, it allows people to stay dry while doing so.  Our guide told us the best time to do this is in October – March.  We took a leisurely stroll on the boardwalk, which is a 1 mile round trip, while Alex described everything that we were looking at to us.  This was a fun activity appropriate for all ages and activity levels.


Osprey nest in a tree



Florida State Pine Tree



Cypress Trees



Late blooming bromeliad


Following our walk, we were taken to the Oyster House Restaurant in Everglades, FL for lunch.  We were all really hungry at this point in the day and were ready to eat.  Thankfully Alex had called in our order earlier in the day, so we did not have to wait long for our food and drinks to arrive.  The cost of lunch was included in the tour price, so that meant the food selection was somewhat limited, but good.  As part of our lunch, we were given fried alligator bites to try as an appetizer.



Tara & Alligator
Tara eating alligator


After lunch we got ready for our last activity of the day.  We went on a 90 minute boat ride to Ten Thousand Islands cruise with the Everglades National Park Boat Tours.  On this boat ride, we explored the saltwater gulf and the Mangrove forests.  Our boat captain did a great job of spotting wildlife, slowing down for us to get a good glimpse and mentioned that we were a super lucky group because we saw a plethora of wildlife. We saw several dolphins playing, a bald eagle, a few manatees, flamingos and various other birds.  When the ride was over, our group did not want it to end because we all had such a great time.  However, it was time for us to head  back to Ft. Lauderdale so we could go to dinner and our guide could watch his football game!

We had an amazing day in the everglades and cannot wait until our next trip there.  Have you been?  If so, what did you see that we didn’t?



Day Trippin’ Pumpkinfest: Franklin, TN 

You would have to living completely off the grid to have not heard of Nashville, TN by now. It is possible that you have not been to Frankin, a suburb just 20 mins south though. If you have been, it is most likely a place you love. If not, it should be on your Nashville list.  It’s a town that hosts several festivals throughout the year and has plenty of eating and shopping options to satisfy just about anyone. 

The most popular festival is the Pumpkinfest, which is held annually each October. The Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County holds it  in the downtown district, which is nationally recognized as a “Great American Main Street”. This year we took the advice we have been hearing and went to check the festival for ourselves.

Who should come? 

Anyone and everyone looking to experience a fun fall festival in a quintessential American small town.  Whether you are a few hours or a few minutes away, this is a fun day. Folks come dressed in regular clothes or Halloween costumes. You may even bring your dogs dressed in their Halloween best!
How to get there: 

By car. Either your own, rental, or Uber. The closest airport is located in Nashville, TN. If you are coming from Nashville, Franklin is located 25 miles south of Nashville. If you are coming from Huntsville, AL, it’s 140 miles North. Franklin is a fantastic day trip option for either location.

Where to Park:

The festival is held downtown, so you will want to park within a few blocks of Main St. This site offers areas where free parking is available. There are other paid lots available in church parking lots and various businesses in the area during high visitor times.

Where to eat:

There are food trucks available as well as coffee houses and restaurants within walking distance. We chose to eat lunch at Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant, which offers fantastic reasonably priced dining options for the entire family.

IMG_4660 IMG_4662

If you do not feel like waiting for a table at one of the sit down restaurants, food trucks are great options. One popular truck for drinks was Wild Bill’s Soda General Store

Strolling, Shopping and Show Watching

For families with kids, there are many options to keep the  kids engaged. There are costume contests, face painting, and arts and craft tents.

For adults, there are tents with local craftsmen selling jewelry, pottery and art. There are also stores in the area with high end retail to browse, do some shopping and take a break from outside elements. It is after all early Fall, which in the South, could either mean it is bitter cold or summer is still hanging around.

Be sure to make your way to the stage area in the square to listen to the local talent which includes singers, bands and local champion square dancers and cloggers. The enthusiasm this community has for their talent is contagious, making for a fun experience.

If you want a break from Main St and the Square, we recommend a stroll to nearby historical neighborhoods and admire the grand beautiful historical homes.


Have you been to Franklin, TN? Have you been to a festival there?  If so, tell us about your experience.

Beer · Chattanooga · Tennessee · Tours · travel · Uncategorized · Water Adventures

Exploring Chattanooga: Chocolate, Beer, Boats and Walking Tours! Oh my! 

Do you usually travel over holiday weekends?  We do if the holiday falls on a Friday or Monday because it works out great with our schedule and we’re able to go places without having to take a day off work.  Columbus Day is celebrated on a Monday, so we decided to visit Chattanooga, Tennessee over the holiday weekend.   It is currently the “IT” city of the South and draws more than 3 million visitors a year.

Chattanooga offers a variety of options for a vacation destination; there is something for everyone. Although the Tennessee Aquarium  is an absolute must if you have not been, there are other great places to check out. These are some of the highlights over the weekend we spent there:

1. River Gorge Explorer

We did not visit the Tennessee Aquarium this trip, but we did ride the River Gorge Explorer that is guided by a Tennessee Aquarium naturalist.  It is a 2 hour boat ride in a climate controlled setting and offers fantastic views of the scenery and wildlife along the Tennessee River.  We spotted several species of birds including blue osprey, herons and a hawk.  It is appropriate for all age groups, there is plenty of room for kids to be kids and for adults to find some peace and quiet. You are initially seated in the inside cabin to ride to your destination. Once you reach destination, you are free to hang out on the viewing deck or the stern of the boat.  The boat has 4 engines and 35 mm horsepower, which the captains takes advantage of to ensure the passengers are safe while throwing in a bit of high speed and a maybe a few tricks when other boat traffic allows.


Pro Tips:

If your visit is going to coincide at a busy time of the year, buy your tickets in advance online and bring a printed copy with you.  Tickets can be bought at the Aquarium, but lines can be really long and tickets are quick to sell out.

No need to arrive at the docking location more than 10 min prior.  There is not a lot of waiting space and there is plenty of seating in the boat.


There are two ticket options: River Gorge Explorer (Adults: $32.00, Children 3-12- $24.50, Children under 3 – $18)  or Tennessee Aquarium/River Gorge Explorer Combo (Adults: $56.95, Children 3-12 – $39.95, Children under 3 – $18).

2.  Chattanooga Sidewalk Tours

We enjoy taking walking tours whether on the road or at home because they are a great way to see and learn about a city.  We usually take large group walking tours because they’re affordable and low hassle.  When we were looking for walking tours in Chattanooga, we found Chattanooga Sidewalk Tours and saw it was rated on TripAdvisor.   They are a local company that gives group and private tours for locals and tourists. It was really easy to book with them, we corresponded through email  a few times to find a time worked for all of us.

Chattanooga Sidewalk Tours offers two walking tours: Dynamo of Dixie and Bluffs and Bridges.  We decided to take the Bluffs and Bridges Tour because we wanted to learn more about the people that helped to influenced Chattanooga’s transformation, see their homes and see the world class bridges and bluffs in Chattanooga.  It was a 90 minute walk, perfect for anyone that enjoys a leisurely walk.  Our guide, Keith, was fantastic.  He was extremely knowledgeable about Chattanooga’s history and could answer practically any question pertaining to it and the Civil War.

Price: $15 per person, but it’s the south so be nice and tip too!

Walnut Street Bridge – one of the world’s largest pedestrian only bridges. It was built in 1890 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
                              Walking the Walnut Street Bridge
One of the many pieces of art in downtown Chattanooga. Tara’s hanging out with the horse found in the First Street Sculpture Garden.
Coolidge Park Antique Carousel located in Coolidge Park. Fifty two hand carved animals for your enjoyment.
3.  The Hot Chocolatier

All kinds of hot chocolate and other chocolate treats to take home!
What kind of hot chocolate do you like? I bet they have it available!
Who doesn’t like a good chocolate shop?  This locally owned artisan chocolate and pastry shop, located across from the Chattanooga Choo Choo, is a must visit while in Chattanooga.  They offer pastries that rival some of the best European ones, every kind of hot chocolate and coffee favor you can think of and excellent artisan chocolates.  There’s even a window in the shop where one can watch chocolatiers and pastry chefs working.  If you’re looking for an afternoon pick me up or an after dinner snack, this is your place.

4.  Terminal Brewery

This is a locally owned brewery that aims to be as green as possible.  The  brewery uses organic ingredients in their drinks and food and aims to be as environmentally friendly as possible in their business operations.  They offer several different kinds of beer on tap as well as organic wine and spirits.  For the people who cannot or do not like to drink alcohol, there is house made root beer available.  Their menu is great for meat eaters as well as vegetarians.  It’s a very laid back atmosphere, great place to hang out and watch a game.  If you’re looking for a locally owned place with great drinks and food, consider this next time you’re visiting Chattanooga.

What should we be sure not to miss next time we visit Chattanooga?  We’re always up for recommendations.


October Blogging Challenge-Thankful Friday-Day 16

I’m thankful this week for all the positive interactions I’ve experienced with random people over the last few days. Last Friday out for dinner,after a tough day/week at work, a random lady turned to Tara and I directly and said “Are you two twins? How old are you” I normally brush these people off after a few niceties. She kept on and said “Well, I just wanted to say that the two of you are just beautiful. You really are.” This was the first time I looked a random stranger in the face directly and said “Thank you. It means a lot”. 

Yesterday we were at a work lunch and it was taking Tara’s salad forever to come. Tara and I had told the staff that we would be on the same bill to consolidate checks. The manager came over, apologized, and gave us both free meals.

Today, we were at another place for lunch that normally makes us clear our own tables. Today, a manager came by and cleared our plates for us.

These were all random interactions after a particularly tough week. It’s nice to be reminded that people still value you as people and customers. 

And now, just a few minutes ago, we got super lucky again. We bought tix to London for half the price they had been selling them for the past few weeks. Seems to have been a system glitch that was on our side for once! 

What are you thankful for this week??