Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Trip to Austin, TX

We go to Austin, Texas once a year for a family visit, so this post encompasses a couple of years. There are many things to do in Austin, of course. Here are the ones we've experienced so far. There aren't many, but with a toddler in tow we are a little restricted for now.

THINGS TO SEE

The bats! Each dusk between March and October, millions of bats take to the skies from their daily perch under the Congress Bridge. It's breathtaking! Because of the way the bridge is constructed, the underside is the perfect habitat for bats. They burst into the night every night from spring to fall in search of insects. In the fall they migrate south. You must see this.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Very lovely. A wonderful way to spend a day in nature. There are things for adults and children. Since we had a 3 year old with us, we especially enjoyed the children's activity area where kids could explore waterfalls, play in the sand, step in dinosaur footprints, and burn off energy. Wildflowers abounded even though autumn was approaching. There are benches where you can rest in the shade and also a reasonably priced cafe. Check out the photos.

Zilker Metropolitan Park

Be prepared for a lot of walking. There are places to sit as you wander through this year shaded wonder. A stream runs through the center...when the rain allows it. It's a nice place to take a baby in a stroller. You can move along at your own pace, simply enjoying nature.

PLACES TO EAT

Rudy's BBQ

This is always on our list of must-eat-at places. Order at the register, carry your meal to the indoor picnic tables in a milk crate, eat your food off butcher paper. Love it, love it, love it. I always order brisket. The meat is so tender you don't need a knife. I put it on bread and top it with pickles and thick creamed cream for my own special sandwich.

Phil's Icehouse

I never eat burgers...until I'm at Phil's. Once a year I indulge. The burgers are to die for. I think it's the bread that makes them so great. Served with a side of regular french fries and sweet potato fries. And Amy's Ice Cream is in the same building when you're ready for dessert.

Independence Fine Foods

The food was excellent and the staff very customer service oriented. You'll find a wide selection of meals and desserts. We went there twice during our visit and will return again the next time we're in Austin, Texas.

Galaxy Cafe

We went for dinner, but weren't so hungry because we'd had a late lunch. You order at the register, then sit down and it's brought to your table. You must have your order ready before you reach the register. It isn't easy choosing among all the dishes. I chose a club wrap. It was delicious and perfect for my limited appetite. I would have given them five stars, but I had a glass of chardonnay with dinner and it wasn't all that great.

PLACES TO STAY (or rather, one place to think twice about)

Microtel Inn and Suites, Austin Airport, Austin, TX

This was our fifth stay at this motel. I doubt we'll go back again. We don't ask for much, but we do ask to not be stressed out. Not so this time around. With the exception of desk clerk Patricia, and an older balding man whose name I didn't get, there was no customer service.

We arrived on a Thurs and were assigned Room 308. The next morning (Fri) we discovered the shower wasn't working. It shuddered and groaned unless it was on hot. We managed to find a way to make it work quietly by turning the water on hot, then engaging the shower and slowly moving the lever into cooler temps. It was still too hot, but we were able to shower that first morning. My husband reported the problem to the clerk at 0900 that same morning. The clerk looked blanked and confused, dashed from computer to computer and said, "Okay." When we returned to the motel that night, I stopped at the front desk to request an extra pillow and blanket from the male clerk on duty. He seem flustered and confused but said he would get them. I indicated I would wait. Then my husband came down from the room to report that not only had the shower not been fixed, the room had not been serviced. At that point another older balding man intervened. There was no report of the shower not working. Housekeeping indicated we had told them not to clean the room. We made no such request and had left at 9:30 that morning. The older man offered to move us to another room, but it was late and we were tired. He retrieved and delivered the pillow and blanket to me.

On Sat morning, my husband attempted to shower. In the middle of the shower, the lever dropped and he was scalded. I went down to the front desk and reported the incident to Patricia, who immediately moved us to the next room (306). She said she could hear the noise from the shower down in reception and couldn't figure out what it was. She thought it was something on the second floor. In any event, I was able to shower in 306. Unfortunately, it was a handicap room and not acceptable for us. Patricia subsequently moved us to another room (408) and put 308 out of service.

On Mon, we returned to our room to discover our key cards didn't work. My husband got new ones and we walked in to discover the room had not been serviced (again). I reported the problem to the clerk (Joseph) who said he'd report the incident to the manager and get back to us. I told him we didn't want housekeeping up here at this time of night. He said he still had to report it and would see if the manager would do something and he would call me. He never called. Never apologized. I wrote a full letter to the general manager and have yet to receive any response. As of the writing of this review, it is now Wed and we are home, having left the day before. Plenty of time for the general manager to have responded.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Strategic Air Command Museum

Two years ago I had the pleasure of visiting the Strategic Air Command Museum in Ashland, Nebraska. We were lucky enough to have a private tour arranged. (Three hours long!) Not only did we get to see all those fantastic aircraft, we got background information and history as well. Though the tour was fantastic, I knew I wanted to experience the museum on my own. I also knew I wanted my grandsons to see it. 

This June we were lucky to be able to go again, this time with all the family. Your first experience outside the museum is the Atlas rockets. Inside, your breath is taken away by the SR-71 Blackbird overhead. We were on our own this time. There were so many planes and in such a wide open space you never felt crowded. The boys (ages 9 and 10) loved it and can't wait to go back. Even our three-year-old granddaughter enjoyed herself. Why? Because there are a lot of interactive displays. There are planes and simulators you can sit inside. Placards explain the history. There's also a great section of science experiment for the kids. 

Whether or not you like aircraft, I'd definitely recommend checking it out. It's a wonderful museum where you can easily spend hours and not realize time has passed. Informative with lots of hands-on stuff for young and old. We'll be going back there again. No doubt about it. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Eugene Mahoney State Park

The Eugene Mahoney State Park in Ashland, Nebraska is a great place to visit for singles and family. We were there in June 2015. The park has oodles of things for people to do (water park, horseback riding, paddle boats, fishing, crafts, miniature golf, disc golf, theater). You can stay at the lodge or find a campsite for your mobile home or to pitch a tent. Minutes away, you'll also find the Strategic Air Command Museum and Wildlife Safari Park. This was our second visit and we stayed at the lodge.

I love the park for all it offers people to do in the general vicinity. I love being able to stay in the lodge and I generally love the loft rooms. I was particularly thrilled to discover the coffeepot, microwave, and refrigerator in the room during this trip. They were a great convenience for us and I hope they remain. We had two maintenance issues that were handled very quickly—a burned out light bulb and a refrigerator that wouldn’t close. It was hot in the loft bedroom unless we cranked the air conditioner on low. A minor inconvenience.

Housekeeping was very short staffed during the period we were there. As long as I had fresh towels every day, the trash emptied, and the bed was made, I was fairly happy. However, the coffee grounds were never emptied and on the last day housekeeping made the beds but left the pillows on the floor.

There was an issue with the Wi-Fi connection when we arrived. My husband reported it to the lady at the front desk, whose response was, “Well, mine works.” My husband said, “But mine doesn’t.” She said, “Sorry” and returned to her computer, essentially ignoring him. Later I went to the desk when two women and two rangers were there and asked if I needed to do something special to get the Wi-Fi to work. Again, a woman said hers worked. I showed her that mine didn’t. She turned to the park rangers and said, “The Internet’s having problems again.” Both rangers started to assess the situation and by morning it was working.

Now we come to the biggest issue. The restaurant. The food is good. The service isn’t. Dinner our first night there (Thursday) was disappointing for the lack of service. We were seated promptly and promptly ignored. I had to find a server in order to get drinks. (It also surprised me that the drinks weren’t included in the price of the buffet.) A server arrived, took the order, delivered it, and ignored us until she delivered the check…which was incorrect. I couldn’t find her so I took the check to the station and reported the problem to the manager. Minutes later our server returned to the table where my sister-in-law advised her of the incorrect check. She said, “You ordered 3 dinner buffets.” I said, “You gave us a ticket for 4 buffets.” She snapped her padfolio closed and stormed off. At the breakfast buffet on Friday morning, the servers were more on the ball and a manager was onsite. Again, the food was good. On Saturday morning, there was no manager and service was again questionable. I do appreciate that the restaurant recently reopened and there is a learning curve. I do hope the bumps are ironed out quickly.

We would stay at the lodge again in the future.




Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sky Falconry

It was one of those meant-to-be experiences. As we were coming up on our anniversary, my husband and I separately read an article in Westways Magazine about Sky Falconry, a place in Alpine, California where you could take a Basic Course in Falconry. Then we approached each other at the same time about taking the course. How could we not at that point?

It. Was. Amazing!!!! The instructors (Denise and Kirk) were engaging, informative, caring, educated, and entertaining. They made the one hour Basic Lesson feel like two with all the information and interaction involved. After a briefing on history and training, our group circled up and gloved up to have our own interaction with Hajduk the Harris Hawk we worked with. Female red-tailed hawk Ananda was returned to her sanctuary. Harris Hawks are easier to work with. With our left hands gloved and under the instructors' guidance, we called Hajduk to us (Hey Duke), then moved into position to allow the person across from us to call him. After we each had two chances to do this, we then had the opportunity to toss him food (raw quail) and watch him catch it in flight. After that it was time for a photo op, so we each got to call him again and have our photo taken by our companion with the bird. Absolutely amazing. As I stood there and watched, I could feel the bird's wings grazing my head. There were a couple of times he was distracted by prey, and he was on it in the blink of an eye. It's hard to believe so much was packed into one hour.


I would highly recommend this.We hope to return in the future for the Hawk Walk offered by Sky Falconry, which gives you even more time with the bird and watching it in its environment. A wonderful experience for adults and children. Even if you don't want to participate, you can will watch from the sidelines and still have an extraordinary experience. Pictures of the instructors and the star of the show are below. You'll find more photos on my Flickr page.