Archive for travel

Weekly Geeks 2009/19 — Happy Memorial Day

Posted in books, holiday, Weekly Geeks with tags , , , , , on May 25, 2009 by Paxton

Weekly Geeks

Weekly Geeks time everyone! This one is a holiday themed one (being as it’s Memorial Day). So, I guess, first things first:

Happy memorial Day
HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY!!!

Now for the Weekly Geeks topic:

Again with Memorial Day Weekend here in the U.S. starting traditionally on Friday evening, it also is unofficially the start of summer. You’ve probably been asked this in other meme groups in which you participate, but do your reading habits change over the summer? Do you choose lighter fare? What do you enjoy to take to the beach, for example? What is the ultimate summer book? OR what are your favorite travel guides — official or unofficial guides? Again, an example, I think of Holidays In Hell by P.J. O’Rourke, of places I’d rather not vacation. Along those lines, where do you vacation? Any places you recommend or even don’t recommend?

My reading habits do not, in fact, change during the summer. The only times my reading habits change is during Halloween and Christmas, when I tend to read appropriately traditional books for the specific holiday.  But Summer is just a continuation of my regular reading habits.

However, if I had to pick, what more “summery” reads I would recommend?

Jimmy Buffett wrote two great books that would work well for sitting on the beach, listening to the surf and reading. The first is a collection of stories called Tales From Margaritaville.

Tales From Margaritaville

It’s a surprisingly fun and clever collection from a first time writer (Jimmy’s written several books since this one). I honestly did not expect to like it as much as I did. Which led me to read his second book, and his first attempt at a full length novel story, Where is Joe Merchant?

Where is Joe Merchant?

This is another, very casual, but very fun story I enjoyed from start to finish.  It follows a group of people in search of rock star, Joe Merchant, who supposedly committed suicide many years ago but keeps popping up in tabloid headlines.  Definitely a rollicking summer read.

Okay, how about travel guides?  There is one in particular that my wife and I found extremely helpful on our trip to Paris in 2007.  It had tons of information and several great suggestions of sites to see that we never would have found on our own.  It was Rick Steves’ Paris.

Rick Steves Paris

If you ever plan on traveling anywhere in Europe, take a gander at all of the Rick Steves books. They are fantastic. I know if Steph and I ever make the trip to London or Rome, Rick Steves is the travel guide we will pick up.

So, I hope everyone has a great Memorial Day and enjoys the day off.  We’ll be grilling burgers and brats for dinner.  See you later this week.

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AWESOME-tober-fest 2008!!! I survive Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights!!

Posted in AWESOME-tober-fest, Florida, Halloween, Halloween Horror Nights, holiday, Orlando, reviews, roadtrip, Universal Studios with tags , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2008 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest banner

Welcome to Week 3 of AWESOME-tober-fest!!! Hope you’ve enjoyed the first two weeks so far. I started off week 1 talking about creepy Halloween sodas. Then, on week 2, I discussed a few of my favorite scary movies. What’s on deck for this week? Well, as teased to you at the end of last week’s article, Steph and I took the plunge and went to our first Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights this past weekend. Universal Studios theme parks hold this event annually and this year marked the 18th year they have done it. I’ve been wanting to go since we moved down to Jacksonville but we never did and thanks to some cheap, discounted tickets at work, we were able to do it this year. In case you didn’t know, ever since around 1990, during the Halloween season, Universal Studios closes its doors (along with Islands of Adventure) around 5:30 – 6pm and clears out all the people. Universal then sets up the scare zones and haunted houses and opens the doors again for people who bought Halloween Horror Nights tickets (yes, it’s a separate ticket). There are as many as 8 haunted houses that are setup in various parts of the park as well as what are called scare zones. In these scare zones are park employees who dress up in scary costumes and follow around patrons trying to creep them out or scare them. Like the haunted houses, each scare zone has a different theme, usually based around what haunted house is near it. Halloween Horror Nights usually has an overall theme each year, too. Last year, with Freddy, Jason and Leatherface it was called the Carnival of Carnage. The year before that they did a “best of” theme with all the best haunted houses and scare zones from the years prior.  This year, the overall theme was Bloody Mary; which included famous myths, legends and fairy tales.  Bloody Mary is the spririt that would appear to you in a mirror if you said her name 3 times.  She’s in the picture below on the right.

It’s a pretty cool theme if you ask me and I was very excited to see what Universal did with it.  So, after work on Friday, the wife and I took off for Orlando and our scary Halloween adventure. Continue reading

Friday night before Paris

Posted in France, Paris, personal, roadtrip with tags , , on March 17, 2007 by Paxton

Paris by Night

Well, it’s about 10:40pm EST. My wife is dozing on the couch. We just finished watching the movie French Kiss. Sounds like a typical Friday night, and it would be, except when we get up Saturday morning we are going to the airport to fly to Paris, France. I. CAN’T. WAIT. We’ve been planning this trip for over a year, I can’t believe it’s finally here. Since I’m going to be a little busy, I’m probably not going to get an article out next week. I’ll try to post some pictures or something, but I guarantee nothing.

Hope everyone has a good weekend and week. I’ll see you on the other side.

My Trip to Houston, TX: Part II

Posted in Houston, NASA, personal, roadtrip, Texas with tags , , , on June 15, 2006 by Paxton

Check out Part 1 of my trip to Houston right here

So, after the trip to NASA Space Center in Houston, Steve & Jackie took me to a really cool area called Kemah Boardwalk.

We put our names in at a cool restaurant called Aquarium (more on that in a second) and Jackie practically sprinted next door to Stingray Reef. “The Reef”, as I like to call it, had a large, shallow tank containing dozens of different sized stingrays. You could buy “food” (i.e. dead fish) that you feed the stingrays with. If you get there before feeding time, the stingrays are practically jumping out of the tank trying to get the fishy goodness. At first, it’s startling to see these wide, flat creatures sliding up the sides of the tanks and jumping out of the water. Once you get used to it, it’s pretty cool. They are very soft and slimy to the touch and very playful. It was very fun.

Sooner than expected we were called by the restaurant to be seated. The name of the restaurant was Aquarium. It is owned by the same people that own Landry’s and Joe’s Crab Shack. Actually, the entire boardwalk seems to be owned by these people. The restaurant is surrounded by giant aquariums with real fish swimming around inside. I saw grouper, nurse sharks, leopard sharks, angel fish, eels and many other cool to look at species just swimming around in circles. Naturally, I had to get a seafood dish, but was disappointed that I didn’t get to point at a fish in the aquarium and say, “I’ll take that one, he amuses me” like some over-indulged king preparing for a feast in his honor. Nevertheless, the food was delicious and the environment was very cool and the company (as usual) was wonderful.

By the time dinner was over the boardwalk was, for the most part, shut down. I got to walk past “The Beast”, which is a high powered rainbow-colored boat used to take people on tours of the bay. Hopefully when my wife and I return to Houston to visit the Dupuys, we’ll get a longer look at the boardwalk because it was really cool. After returning home we stayed up late into the night talking and watching Jason Collier’s DVD journal of his adventures as Access Hollywood’s Ultimate Star Wars Fan.

The next afternoon, we had a Houston Astros game to go to. We got a little lost on the way down, but finally made it to Minute Maid Park. That park is AMAZING. So nice, so clean. There’s a retractable roof that they mercifully shut because it was over 90 degrees outside. With the roof closed, it was very pleasant inside. We had pretty good seats looking down on the field. The game started out as a blowout with the Braves running up the score but the ‘Stros made a late run only to lose at the very end. This was easily one of my favorite, if not THE favorite, baseball game I’ve been to. As for the Park’s concessions, they were better than expected, but ridiculously expensive. I had a burger, a bucket of popcorn and 2 sodas and I probably spent 30 bucks. Like I said, a LITTLE pricey.

After a good day at the park, Steve & Jackie wanted to take me for dessert at a Sno-Ball hut. For those that don’t know, Sno-Balls are cups of shaved ice drowning in one of a hundred or so flavors. They have everything from Cherry to Wedding Cake.

We went to this place right by their house called The Chill Spot. They had tons of flavors and I had trouble choosing. Jackie got the aforementioned Wedding Cake. It rocked as hard as you think it does, tasting exactly like, surprise-surprise, a wedding cake. Steve changed it up a bit and got a flavor called Popeye. It was one of the greenest things I have ever seen in my life and I asked him if it tasted like spinach. It, apparently, does not. I went old school and got sugar-free Cherry. It was the classic choice (some would say boring….but I say, nay, it’s genius in it’s simplicity) and it was AWESOME. So good. I’m glad I got a medium because I might have eaten myself sick on a large or Xtra Large.

After the Chill Spot, we headed back to the crib to rest before planning the evening’s activities. What happened was, we all were pretty wiped from the long day at the game and we decided to get Mexican take-out, lots of beer and liquor and drink ourselves silly at the house while we watched their wedding video. It was a blast being able to catch up with my boy, Steve, and his lovely wife Jackie. We had so much fun that I hated to get up on Sunday and leave.

Visiting Houston was awesome and I can’t wait to go back with my wife for another visit and hang out with the Dupuys.

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Visiting LBJ Space Center in Houston, TXpe

Posted in Houston, NASA, personal, roadtrip, Texas with tags , , , , , on June 15, 2006 by Paxton

I arrived in Houston, TX on Friday afternoon around 12:50pm. FYI…That was about 30min earlier than our scheduled arrival (thank you Southwest). I ate lunch with Steve and his wife, Jackie, at a really good cajun place called Floyd’s. In case you were wondering….or care at all….I got the half crawfish etoufee/half fried crawfish tails plate. Like that old cajun Justin Wilson used to say, “It’s Wondermous!”

Anyway, Steve and I decided to visit the Lyndon B Johnson Space Center (JSC). Steve and I grew up in Birmingham, AL. We were only 45 minutes away from the Huntsville Space & Rocket Center which is home to NASA’s SpaceCamp (popularized in the 1986 movie of the same name). Steve and I have both taken school and family trips to see the Huntsville Space & Rocket Center and I’ve always thought it was cool. Because of this, I really liked the idea of seeing the main headquarters of NASA located in Houston. JSC is historic in that Mission Control for NASA shuttle launches was held here from 1965 all the way up until 1996. I love NASA and the whole nostalgia/patriotism that comes with dreamy recollections of space travel in the ’50s and ’60s (as portrayed in movies, because I don’t personally remember the ’50s and ’60s despite what my brother says about my age).

So we get there and immediately walk into a movie about building and living on the International Space Station. It was a very cool movie that went into the logistics of building the space station and what the astronoauts living and working on it have to endure. It was created by the discovery channel so I believe you might be able to catch it on cable. If not, click on the image to the left and it’ll take you to the Amazon page where you can buy it. It’s fascinating what goes into the designing and then training of the astronauts for such a large endeavor (16 countries are cooperating to build the Space Station).

Next, we decided to hit the money shot for the Space Center, its Tram Tour. This is where you tour the grounds and enter a few of the buildings that house NASA facilities, past and present. The tram was like any other you’d see at Universal Studios or Disney. The driver, though, must have been from New York because she took a few of the turns on two wheels. The place was kinda dead because it was after 5pm but she was driving like we were being chased by the cops. While clinging to whatever we could get our hands on with a death grip, the tram speakers played scratchy audio from astronauts and other people about NASA. The grounds are pretty unassuming. The buildings are labeled with a giant number and everything looks like some small college campus in the Midwest. Personally, I think that adds to the charm. Our first building stop was #30 – Historic Mission Control.

From 1965 to 1996 this was the heart of NASA. All the shuttle launches were monitored from this location, including the first moon landing (Apollo 11) along with the events depicted in the movie Apollo 13. They even showed us the booth where Jim Lovell’s wife talked to him over a comm link before they thought he could make it back. Pretty powerful stuff. I was amazed at how small the whole room is. We sat in an observation room looking down on Mission Control and it just seemed tiny. Another fascinating aspect is the technology in the room. There are rotary dial telephones on the consoles. Since this was before widespread email, they used pneumatic tubes (like The Shadow!) to send messages to other buildings. I didn’t know this, but there is also a sister room to this Mission Control and it’s located on the floor below it. It’s just amazing the history you can feel walking around this building.

After our too short time at Mission Control we headed over to the Space Station Training and Mockup Facility. It is in this building that astronauts train on hardware used in an actual shuttle launch. There is a full scale model of the space shuttle (without wings) for astronauts to train with. They also have mockups of different shuttle sections for specific training exercises. Also in this facility is a full scale mockup of completed sections of the International Space Station. Astronauts train extensively in the tight quarters becoming familiar with hardware and the station’s orientation. Very, very cool. Check out this link to see pictures from the training facility. It was a big as two football fields.

We were told about, but, unfortunately, not shown, the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL). Click here to see a pic of it. It’s a large water tank used for submersing astronauts to train them in a near-weightless environment. This lab was featured prominently during a scene in the movie Armageddon. This, along with several other buildings, are toured on a special VIP tour called the Level 9 tour. When I come back to Houston with my wife we are going back and doing the Level 9 tour. It’s a little pricey, but I’ve read it’s completely worth it.

After this the tour was pretty much over. The Space Center was closing in a bout 20 minutes so I mosied around the gift shop and got a cool shirt (image is at the start of this article) with the NASA logo. I also found a Space Pen. Behold the magnificent glory of the Space Pen.


As soon as I saw the Fisher Space Pen, I knew I had to buy it. If you’ve ever seen the episode of Seinfeld where Jack Klumpus gives Jerry his space pen, then you know whut I’m talkin’ Bout.

All in all, this was a kick ass activity. I’m glad we did it. Like I said earlier, when I come back to visit Steve & Jackie with my wife, we are going on the Level 9 tour. Period. You hear me, Steph? I HAVE SPOKEN. Anywho, if you ever make it to H-Town, check out the Houston Space Center. It’s awesome.

I’ll put up some more stuff we are doing in the next few days. We went to a cool area called the Kemah Boardwalk that is just kick ass so look for that. I’ll be at a Houston Astros game on Saturday and then Saturday night we will do something, I’m not sure yet. Keep your eyes peeled.

Click here for Part 2 of my trip to Houston, TX

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Goin’ to H-Town!

Posted in Houston, personal, roadtrip, Texas with tags , , , on June 8, 2006 by Paxton

Houston, TX

 

Well, Friday morning I leave for my trip to Houston, Texas to visit my best friend since 1st grade, Stephen Dupuy. I’m sure I’ll have a few stories for you when I get back…maybe even some good pics.If, by the end, I haven’t been arrested or thrown out of Houston and asked never to return, then the trip just wasn’t worth it. See you on the other side.

Peace!!!

Crashing the House of Mouse for my Birthday!

Posted in Disney World, Florida, holiday, Orlando, personal, roadtrip with tags , , , , , , on May 14, 2006 by Paxton

Walt Disney World

This article has been over a week in the writing. Work has been slamming me so I’ve had to write it on and off over many days. Hope you enjoy it. It’s longer than usual so just bear with me.

I wanted to go somewhere fun for my birthday.  Since I now live in Jacksonville, FL, Walt Disney World is only two and a half hours away.  I hadn’t been since 1999, so I decided that is where I wanted to go.  When I went in 1999, my favorite park was Disney/MGM Studios because it had more of the rides and shows that I enjoyed.  To help seal the deal, Disney/MGM had also added a new ride, the Aerosmith Rock & Roller Coaster, since I’d been there last.  So on Cinco de Mayo we packed up the car and headed down to Orlando.

We stayed at a Courtyard Marriot in Lake Buena Vista.  It was, literally, a 5 minute drive to the park on Saturday morning.  We get to the park around 10:30am and immediately head to the first ride, The Great Movie Ride.  A great ride, not just in name only, it is made to look like Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, CA.  I have been to, and seen a movie in, the real Mann’s, and it’s a great replica.  The ride is a celebration of classic movies and showcases popular scenes from these movies with wax figures and small sets.  Very cool.  It’s like riding through a large Madame Tussaud’s exhibit.   A very cool attraction I like to ride whenever I’m at MGM.

Next we headed over to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  The lines were getting a little longer, so we grabbed a Fast Pass at Tower of Terror and went to stand in line for the Aerosmith Rock N Roller Coaster.

  If you’ve been to Disney and haven’t done the Fast Pass, you are missing out.  You grab a ticket from an automatic dispenser and it tells you to return to the specified ride at a specified time, usually about 1.5 hours later.  So with Fast Pass in hand, we waited in line at the Rock n Roller Coaster.  

The ride itself was very cool. The environment while you waited in line was like you were in the lobby of a recording studio named G-Force Records.  There was a lot of musical memorabilia like gold records and concert posters. All of a sudden a large group of you are ushered into a room that looks out on a recording studio. It looks like Aerosmith is putting the final touches on a track and they notice you. They inform you that they are about to leave for a concert but they want you to come with them. The dialogue in this little drama…is BAD. Do you remember the SNL Wayne’s World sketch they were on when Tom Hanks hosted? The drummer spouts off a long diatribe about supply and demand that sounded unrehearsed and fake. That’s kinda how this sounded. They even throw in the line “Everyone knows how we feel about our fans.” I’m on the ride, I don’t need to be pandered to. Anywho, we are shuffled into the loading area where you load the roller coaster. The cars look like a stretch cadillac limousine. It’s nice. As for the ride itself, it’s very good. Fast, furious and lots of Aerosmith rock playing. The ride is a suped up, much more fun version of Space Moutain. It’s all dark except for neon street signs that keep the feeling of a high speed run to the Aerosmith concert. Lots of fun, but too short. I was having so much fun that it ended just as we got started. I realize that coasters nowadays are getting faster and shorter, mush like our attention spans, but COME ON!!! If you go to MGM Studios, definately get on this ride.

We got off the Rock N Roller Coaster at exactly the time our Fast Pass said to be back over at the Tower of Terror. So we head over and get in the Fast Pass line. We literally walked right up and into the ride. Maybe a 2 minute wait. That was nice. The Tower is a great ride. You walk through the basement of an old hotel, get in an old elevator and it takes you around the Twilight Zone until it drops you up and down in a random sequence. Very fun and thrilling. Another good ride.

Next we hopped back over to the other side of the park to visit the Star Tours gift shop. I had been on the Star Tours ride several times and so had everyone else. I didn’t see any need to go again as it is only a mediocre ride. If it wasn’t based on Star Wars, I would probably say the ride somewhat sucked. It seriously needs to be updated. While walking to the Star Tours gift shop, I noticed some things had changed since 1999. Outside the ride there used to be a life-size speeder bike you could get your picture with. Check out this cheezy pic from my visit to MGM in 1999. That is no longer there. And the gift shop, The Jawa Trader, has been upgraded tremendously. There is a lot more room and they built tatooine adobe builings around it. I guess they had to sell more merchandise. You think they would have upgraded the ride. This is what I bought at the gift shop. It’s a Star Tours passport to Florida. They never have my name personalized, so I gotta get the generic items.

From here we moved onto Muppet-Vision 3-D. This is an awesome 3-D show featuring the Muppets as they demonstrate their new breakthrough, Muppetvision. It’s pretty funny and the theater itself interacts with the movie. They even have balcony seats with Statler and Waldorf sitting in them yelling out insults just like the Muppet Show!! All of your favorite Muppets show up so it’s lots of fun. I love the Muppets so I love seeing this show everytime I go to MGM Studios.

Lunchtime, baby! We decided to eat at the nicest place in the park, The Brown Derby. It’s a recreation of a famous restaraunt in Hollywood, CA. It’s upscale and very nice. We had wine and I ordered strip steak and mashed potatoes. The food was phenomenal. If you go to MGM and don’t have a bunch of kids with you, this is the place to eat. Kids won’t like it much, but it’s a great adult place.

Lastly we hit the MGM backlot tour. It’s really short, and doesn’t compare to the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot tour, but it’s fun. In the beginning they show a special effects presentation featuring Pearl Harbour. They take members of the audience to perform. My group of 4 was chosen to be the participants. My wife had 900 gallons of water dumped on top of her and the rest of us stood on a fake PT boat and reacted to bombs going off around us. It was a lot of fun, but we didn’t get to see the performance. Apparently they take what we did and edit it into a short film that the people in the audience see. Since we were not with the audience and busy taking off our rain-gear we didn’t get to see the edited result and Disney said it gets deleted immediately. I was really disappointed to hear this. When we were “acting” on the PT boat, I really played it up. Running around and screaming like a girl, it was awesome. I totally wanted to see it edited together. Oh well. The rest of the tour took us on a tram ride to see a few abandoned movie props and an exploding movie set. Not bad.

By this point we were out of things to do at MGM, so we decided to park hop over to Epcot center. Epcot was in the middle of some Flower and Garden festival so it was all dressed up in pretty flowers. We first rode Spaceship: Earth which is a slow, meandering history of communication on Earth. It is housed inside the famous white “golf ball” that everyone associates Epcot with. The ride was okay, but it had been a long day and this was a welcome respite from the heat and walking. We then proceeded to the World Showcase and started to visit the countries. We went to Mexico and rode the River of Time. Another meandering “history of…” ride. The Mexican marketplace was cool, but boring. I did enjoy my “fiesta” margarita, as did everyone else in my party. We wound up drinking our margaritas while walking around Norway.

Of the countries we visited this time, my favorite was Norway…and not just because we drank margaritas next to the Maelstrom. The ride, the just mentioned Maelstrom, was fun and random, but the film they showed afterwards was a little on the silly side. Norway does have a cool giftshop where you can buy bad ass Viking helmets right next to not-so-bad-ass sweaters.

We finally stopped when I couldn’t walk anymore. I was so exhausted. We decided to hit a movie after leaving the parking lot. Well, for the next two hours we drove around looking for a theater and found nothing. The only theater we could find was the AMC at Downtown Disney, and there was no way we were getting a parking spot there on Saturday night at 8pm. Believe me, we tried.

So we went to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings and then crashed back at the hotel. This was one of the most fun trips to Disney I’ve ever had. I’m glad I got to do it for my birthday and with our friends, The Stars. It was a blast.

The drive home the next morning was an interesting event. We hit not one, but TWO crashes. The normally 2.5 hour drive back stretched into almost 5 f’n hours. I was so salty when I got home that I could’ve spit. My friend, Dave, slept probably 90% of the way. When we got back to Jacksonville he had no idea we had been stuck in traffic for like 3 hours.

None of this dampened the experience though and I look back on that trip with much fondness.

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