The Best & Worst of Traveling to the Dominican Republic

Christopher Columbus discovered this oldest country of the Americas in 1492. I explored the Punta Cana region in February 2018.

This Caribbean country shares its land boundary with Haiti on the west. Together they were referred to as Hispaniola-one island shared by two countries. The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern 2/3 while the western 1/3 is occupied by Haiti. Cuba is the only Caribbean country larger in both land mass and population than the Dominican Republic (approximately 11 million people). Dominican Republic’s land mass is about twice the size of New Hampshire.
The country is often plagued by both drought and hurricanes.

Arrival at Punta Cana Airport

Planes land and passengers disembark onto the tarmac. TIP: Limit your carry-on items as you have to carry them down the flight of stairs.
Once loaded onto a shuttle bus, passengers are driven to the terminal. Be prepared for long, slow-moving lines. Visitors need a Tourist Card prior to clearing customs. These can be purchased online in advance.

Click http://dgii.gov.do/tarjetaTuristica/EN/about/Paginas/default.aspx for more information.
Click here to purchase a tourist card.  TIP: The citizens of Argentina, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, South Korea, Israel and Japan are exempt from purchasing the tourist card. TIP: Be prepared to be hustled. Porters with wheelchairs will urge you to allow them to move you to the front of the line, charging you $10 for the Tourist Card and pocketing $10 for the privilege.

There are well-stocked, modern, clean toilets in the Customs Area.

Click here for more practical information on traveling to the Dominican Republic.

12 Facts about the Dominican Republic

I spent half of a day touring the rural area of Punta Cana with AndrewCountry Adventures outstanding tour guide. I have taken similar tours in Antigua, Oahu and Kauai in the past year. This tour was superior on every level. I’d highly recommend booking a tour and asking for him as your guide. Full and half day adventures are offered.

1. Catholicism is the most prevalent religion. Roman Catholic weddings are the only religious marriage ceremonies legally recognized by the government; civil unions are legal too. Abortion is illegal.
2. The Bible must be read in public schools according to a 2000 law, though private schools do not have to follow this law.
3. Students must attend school from ages 7-14. After age 14, students may choose whether or not to remain in school. Families must pay for school; tuition is a significant chunk of a family budget. School is in session from September through June.
4. Tourism (service sector) is the country’s #1 employer. In fact, the Dominican Republic is the most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean.
5. After Cuba, the Dominican Republic is the second-largest Caribbean producer of sugarcane, the nation’s most important crop. Other main crops are tobacco, cocoa and coffee.
6. A quarter of the country’s coastal shores and land are preserved as national parks, reserves and sanctuaries. The country is considered a leader in sustainable tourism.
7. Three beverages are stand-outs: Presidente Beer is brewed in Santo Domingo and is the most popular beer; it’s served in nearly every establishment. Mama Juana combines rum, red wine, honey, herbs and tree bark. It tastes somewhat like port wine. The Dominican Republic is also known for producing excellent rum.
8. The official Independence Day (from Haiti) is February 27, 1844. The government is a representative democracy and members of the police and armed forces cannot vote.
9. Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta was born in Santo Domingo in 1932.
10. Baseball is the most popular sport. Many US greats hail from the Dominican Republic, including Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Albert Pujols, and Juan Marichal.
11. The country’s flag has a white cross with the national coat of arms in the center. Blue and red rectangular boxes are in either corner. Blue stands for liberty, white for salvation and red for the blood of heroes. The Dominican Republic flag is the only one with a Bible on it.

12.Spanish is the official language

Begging

The tour stopped outside a school. Barbed wire was above cinder blocks. Sadly, this is to keep children in school. It was a Saturday. School was not in session. Yet children ran alongside the bus begging for hand-outs. Prior to the tour departing we were told we could not give children anything in an effort to dissuade begging.

Beaches

Peddlers of all types appear on Dominican Republic beaches. One can buy everything from trinkets to cigars while soaking up the sun. Petting a monkey, having a parrot sit on your shoulder or allowing a snake to wrap around your neck are common offers. Be prepared to say, “No thank you” quite often. If you prefer a less intrusive sunning experience, find a chair at one of the pools at your resort. Peddlers are not allowed into the resorts.

Hard Rock Resort and Casino Punta Cana

This all-inclusive resort is 18 miles Northwest of the Punta Cana airport. It boasts 13 pools, 9 restaurants, a spa, golf course and endless music memorabilia.

 

 

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best resort I’ve stayed in on a Caribbean island, I’d award this property a 7.

Here’s why.

Size. The resort is 121 acres along Macao Beach. A very efficient shuttle tram service is available. More signage would be helpful for perpetually lost guests. Building names that matched the instrument painted on it would also be helpful.
All-Inclusive. It is all-inclusive but not adult only, though there is an adult-only pool (Eden) that was often quite crowded. Unsupervised pre-teens thought it hilarious to throw shampoo, etc. from the balcony onto unsuspecting guests. Younger children supervised by parents were not bothersome.
Multi-Level Guest Room. The guest room was large with two levels-one with the bed and bathroom and a step-down level with a Jacuzzi tub (for two), writing desk and chair. A spacious balcony overlooked a construction crew working on a waterscape area. One awakened to the sound of construction on all days, but Sunday. The view was quite unsatisfactory. Once construction is completed, this annoyance will disappear.
Room Amenities. Two bathrobes, two pairs of slippers, a safe, shelving and plenty of hangers were in the closet. The bathroom appeared to be as large as the living area. It had a walk-in shower with two heads and plenty of amenities that smelled like male fragrances. The dual vanity, dressing area and separate toilet area were appreciated.
The best part of the room was that it was mold and mildew free-what one often experiences with beachfront locations.
A stocked mini-fridge and liquor dispenser were behind a cabinet. The beverage cart attendant came often and was quite pleasant.
Food. None of the food at the 9 restaurants stood out as excellent. The variety was great (Mediterranean/Italian/Asian/Steak/Mexican, etc.) but the quality was average, or in some cases, below average. The ice cream stations were popular as was the food offered poolside.
Entertainment. The Michael Jackson tribute show on the lower level of the Casino was well attended. It was extremely well done by some incredibly talented performers. Andre Bocelli happened to also be performing on location during our visit. Unfortunately, we could not secure tickets. The Casino seemed popular at night. The bars were not open during the daytime when we watched basketball in the Sports Book area. We never turned on the television during our stay. More publicity for nighttime entertainment would be helpful to guests-post in pool areas, post in dining locations, ask housekeeping to leave a schedule in guest rooms, perhaps.
Housekeeping. Our service was excellent. Spotless, in fact. The chocolates were appreciated. TIP: Workers at all-inclusive resorts can be tipped. Take an envelope of $1 bills and tip where service is outstanding. It is much appreciated.
Athletics. The athletic facilities here are great but not regularly used. The mini golf course is well-designed. With resort credit it was $6 per guest for 18 holes. The basketball court and ping-pong tables in the Teen area were outstanding. The tennis courts were well maintained and the lap pool was pristine and much quieter than the adult pool. The water aerobics class was well attended daily.
Hospitality. Workers seemed happy but honestly none stood out as superior. To this day I recall resort staff names from other countries like Antigua and Jamaica. It was very disappointing to us to learn on our second day from another guest that the color of our wristband meant we had resort credits to use. We were not informed of this at check-in. It’s worth noting that we traveled here with a group. Guests were housed throughout the property and not placed in nearby rooms. TIP: If close proximity of your group is important, request this when booking. TIP: Make sure your reservation and any extra privileges are explained and understood when checking in.
Excursions. We booked a ½ day excursion through a tour company located in the Convention Center, not through the resort’s staff. TIP: This tour can be booked online prior to your arrival. Country Adventures ranks as the best tour company we’ve used in either Hawaii or any Caribbean country we’ve visited. The staff was knowledgeable, courteous and friendly. The vehicle and driver, safe. The tour was priced right. The locations were prepared for our visit and the information shared was excellent. We returned to our Resort knowing this portion of our vacation would be the most memorable.

Departure from Punta Cana Airport

• Follow the instructions given by your airline and arrive at least two hours prior to your departure time. There is a US $20 departure tax, usually built into your airline ticket.
TSA Pre-Check does not apply here. All passengers must follow their departure instructions, including, but not limited to, 3-ounce fluids in zip locked bag, removal of shoes, electronics, etc. Each guest is also patted down by a same sex agent. Drug sniffing dogs roam all areas of the airport.

• Agriculture products and produce are not allowed to leave the country.
• A very modern food court, with restaurants familiar to all Americans, with plenty of seating is available.
• Duty free shops are abundant.
• A musical trio was performing as we waited to walk on the tarmac to board our plane.

The Dominican Republic is a country worth exploring. Be informed before you go. Get off the resort. Meet the people. Soak in the culture. Expand your knowledge of the world. Travel.

 

Fashion art products created from photographic images taken in Dominican Republic can be found at the “Linda’s Store” tab above under Vida Design Studio. Thank you for supporting my small business shop.

 

 

 

 

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

©Copyright. March 2018. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

12 Fun Things to Do in Omaha

Get Out and Explore All Omaha Has to Offer

Omaha is Nebraska’s largest city.

It offers plenty of entertainment and attractions for all ages and interests.

Check out 12 places to explore and find bonus links below.

Have fun exploring Omaha!

12 places to Explore in Omaha

1. OPPD Arboretum
LOCATION: 108TH and Blondo, adjacent to an OPPD substation
This is an ideal place to visit if you are planning to upgrade your yard with shrubs and plants. It contains groupings of native Nebraska trees, a conifer collection and lowland/wetland plantings ideal for the Omaha region. Explanations of each plant and how to plant these trees and shrubs around power lines are provided.
The arboretum is open to the public from dawn till dusk. A paved walking trail and wood chip trail are available as well as restrooms.

2. Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
LOCATION: 3710 South 10th Street
One of Nebraska’s most popular tourist destinations. Check the website for hours and admission fees. Also look for paid Animal Encounters and Backstage Experiences. Plan on spending a full day. Going in summer months, pack patience. It can get busy and hot.

3. St. Cecilia Cathedral
LOCATION: 701 North 40th Street
The twin bell towers of this lovely hillside cathedral are one of Omaha’s key landmarks. It was founded in 1905 and took over 50 years to complete. The Cathedral is a national landmark containing more than 3 million bricks. It is one of the most outstanding cathedrals in the USA.

4. Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge
LOCATION: 705 Riverfront Drive-just north of downtown Omaha
S-curved, cable-stayed 3000-foot pedestrian bridge connecting Iowa and Nebraska. A plaque marks the spot where the two states meet. Take a photo there. Bicycles are encouraged, as trails are on either side of the bridge. The Omaha landing features the Omaha Plaza, with bench seating, exhibits, a water jet spray fountain, a Fiber Wave Sculpture, play area, and a National Park Service Visitors Center. (Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters).

5. Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods
LOCATION: 1111 Bellevue Boulevard North Bellevue, NE Located off HWY 75 minutes from downtown Omaha
26 miles of maintained trails and 2,000 acres of upland and lowland forests, native prairies, wetlands, lakes and waterways. Go create a memorable adventure in the forest right here in Omaha, NE. Check the website for hours and admission fees.

6. Gene Leahy Mall
LOCATION: 1302 Farnam in downtown Omaha
This isn’t a traditional bricks and mortar shopping mall. This is a 10-acre outdoor green space in downtown Omaha near the Old Market District. Highlights include a lagoon and waterfalls, walking paths, gardens, playground, amphitheater and a sculpture garden. It connects to Heartland of America Park. Each winter it’s the centerpiece for the Annual Holiday Lights Festival. http://www.holidaylightsfestival.org/ Kids love the giant slide here. Pets enjoy the vast open outdoor areas.

7. Omaha Community Playhouse
LOCATION: 6915 Cass Street-near UNO Dodge campus
The Playhouse is the largest community playhouse in the USA. It houses two state-of-the-art performance spaces: Hawks Mainstage Theatre and Drew Theatre. Check the website for upcoming performances and ticket prices, including young professional and student tickets.

8. The Florence Mill
LOCATION: 9102 North 30th Street
Open May-October, the Mill is a National Register Historic site that once served as a grist mill. It was built under the supervision of Brigham Young. Today it serves as an art-loft gallery, museum, farmer’s market location and one of the sites on the North Hills Pottery Tour. http://www.omahanorthhillspotterytour.com/
Check the website for hours of each event.

9. Boys Town
LOCATION: 13628 Flanagan Blvd 137th and West Dodge Rd
Visit the Hall of History, Visitors Center and the Father Flanagan House in this National Historic Landmark District. Attend mass on campus. Get an up-close look at the world-famous Village established by Father Flanagan. Check out the World’s Largest Ball of Stamps and walk the lakeside path.

10. Kenefick Park
LOCATION: 100 Bancroft Street
Named after the former Union Pacific Chairman and CEO John C. Kenefick this park sits on the southwest corner of the Lauritzen Gardens property and is easily visible from I-80. Park in the Lauritzen Gardens lot and walk to the top of the hill to see the largest and most powerful diesel-electric locomotive ever built and the world’s largest steam locomotive.
Featuring several plazas, seating areas, a grand staircase, “canyon” stone walls, interpretive signage, sculpture and walkways, the park documents Union Pacific Railroad’s role in the development of Omaha and the West.

11. Lauritzen Gardens: Omaha’s Botanical Center
LOCATION: 100 Bancroft Street
A hidden sanctuary in the heart of Omaha, the Gardens are planted for visitors to enjoy all four seasons. In addition to the exquisitely maintained gardens, a visitor and education center features a floral display hall with seasonal flower shows, a unique gift shop, café, a horticulture resource library, banquet and meeting spaces and classrooms. Check the website for hours and admission fee.

12. Hot Shops Arts Center
LOCATION: 1301 Nicholas Street One block north of home plate at TD Ameritrade Park. Free parking located on 13th and Izard Streets
This center hosts over 80 studio artists and multiple gallery spaces, along with four anchor artists. Click on the website for classes, a list of artists and Open Houses, along with demonstration times.

Bonus Links

Website Link for City of Omaha Parks, Golf Courses and Pools https://parks.cityofomaha.org/

Omaha Visitors Center Link with List of Activities to Do https://www.visitomaha.com/things-to-do/

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

Ready to move to Omaha? Connect with Megan.
Megan Owens, Realtor
Owens Real Estate Group
“Delivering extraordinary care for extraordinary clients.”
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Ambassador Real Estate
Phone | 402-689- 4984 Email | MeganOwensRE@gmail.com

©Copyright. February 2018. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Enter & Win Off-the-Beaten-Path Adventure

Kristi LeGrande enjoyed her Getaway to America’s Most Famous Small Town: Red Cloud, NE. Thank you to all business participants. Check back often for other giveaways.

Latte & Shopping at Lizzy’s
Beverages at The Brix
Dinner at Fat Fox’s
The Kaley House B & B

 

 

Red Cloud, Nebraska on November 17, 2017

WHERE? Red Cloud, Nebraska offers a glimpse into a storied American past while maintaining a progressive vision for the future. The town’s most famous citizen, author Willa Cather, introduced the world to Red Cloud and left indelible impressions in the minds of her readers.

Red Cloud  is set amidst brick-lined streets, charming homes, historic buildings and the immense beauty of the prairie.

Your off-the-beaten path adventure will let you explore a rural lifestyle while immersing yourself in performance arts, culture, history and local cuisine.

This contest is done in cooperation with the Red Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce who welcome you to their historic community known as “America’s Most Famous Small Town.”

Prize Package Includes

  • Overnight Lodging at  the  Kaley House B&B, Master Suite for the evening of November 17, 2017. Winner must reserve upon notification of winning prize. $156.80 value http://redcloudbb.com/
  • $20 certificate to Fat Fox’s Kitchen

  • $20 certificate to Lizzy’s

  • 2 free-7 building tours from the Willa Cather Foundation $50 value

  • 2 free tickets to the Mary Carrick show (must reserve in advance and make arrangements to get tickets from the Willa Cather Foundation before November 17, 2017.) $40 value

  • 2 popcorn and soft drink tickets to use at Carrick show $8.00 value

  • Wine or beer tasting at On the Brix $10-$15

  • 2 free tours of the Historic Starke Round Barn http://www.starkeroundbarn.com/ $10

  • Copy of My Antonia. Willa Cather’s book published in 1918-100 year anniversary is in 2018. $10.00

  • Red Cloud Chamber of Commerce Gift basket: $20

How to Win-Complete ALL Steps to be Eligible

  1. You must provide an email address on the home page of this website: lindaleierthomason.com.  Enter your email in the red white and blue box in the right-hand column of the home page-this page. [It will tell you if we already have it after you type in your email address.]
  2. Go to Facebook  Click Here for Facebook Page or use this link https://www.facebook.com/lleierthomason/. Like the page and comment about who’d you take on this trip with you & why. A share is also appreciated.
  3. All steps must be completed for your entry to be accepted. No exceptions.

Rules to Enter

Please read all carefully before entering.

  • Must be twenty-one (21) or older to win.
  • Contest open to legal residents of the United States of America.
  • Winner Notification: Winner will be chosen at random on Monday, October 23, 2017. Winner will be notified via email. Response must be received in 24 hours. If none, another winner will be randomly chosen.
  • Prize is non-transferable. No cash redemption or substitution will be allowed.
  • Prize package is for November 17, 2017 and only this date. Do not enter if you cannot attend the performance (7:30 PM-10:00 PM) and spend the evening at the Kaley House B&B. No more than two guests are allowed to stay in the Master Suite at the Kaley House. Winner may reserve other rooms at his/her expense.
  • Prize does not include transportation to and from Red Cloud, Nebraska.
  • Winner agrees to take photographs of his/her visit and to share a minimum of 3 images by November 20, 2017 with lindaleierthomason.com to use at their discretion. An email will be provided to you.
  • Winner assumes all responsibility and releases lindaleierthomason.com and all prize donors and sponsors from all liability.
  • If winner accepts prize and does not use, winner agrees to pay lindaleierthomason.com $300.00 on or before November 24, 2017. Payment must be in form of cashier’s check.
  • By accepting prize, winner understands and agrees to all contest rules.
  • Immediate family members (spouse/partner, children, grandchildren and parents) of prize sponsors, Red Cloud Chamber of Commerce and/or lindaleierthomason.com are not eligible to enter.

 

©Copyright. September 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

 

 

 

Buffalo Round Up: Everything You Need to Know

Annual Buffalo Roundup Up: Custer, South Dakota

Is  a Buffalo Roundup on your bucket list?  It’s worth seeing the Buffalo Roundup at least once in your lifetime.

If you grew up herding cattle, this Roundup will seem familiar, only with larger animals and a super-sized crowd.

If you have never herded cattle, this Annual Roundup will be an amazing event for you.

Each year about 1300 buffalo are rounded up as part of this event.

Here’s everything you need to know for an outstanding experience. Included are suggested side trips from  Custer, South Dakota. Go Explore South Dakota and all of its great places.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Annual Buffalo Round Up and Arts Festival in Custer State Park in Custer, South Dakota, south of Mt. Rushmore. Click on bold links for additional helpful information.

 

12 Roundup Tips

  1. Parking lots open at 6:15 AM & close at 9:00 AM. A park entrance license is not required on Friday-the day of the annual Buffalo Roundup.
  2. Handicapped parking is available in both the North and South lots. These spots are closest to the viewing area. This means, last out after the Roundup. It can take an hour to get out of the parking lot. Restrooms are available near the parking lots.
  3. Roundup begins at 9:30 AM. Depending on where you sit and view, it could be between 10:30-11:00 AM before you get a glimpse of the buffalo.
  4. Arrive early; there is a lot of traffic and it moves slowly.
  5. Pack a chair or blanket, rain gear and/or sun screen and a light jacket for early morning temperatures. Bring binoculars, a camera and bug spray. If you’re not a people watcher, bring cards or games. There’s a lot of wait time. Interact with fellow viewers; many from all over the USA.
  6. Pack a cooler of light snacks and water, or non-alcoholic beverages.
  7. Respect fellow viewers. If you arrive late, don’t expect premium seating. And certainly don’t stand in front of guests who’ve been there hours ahead of you.
  8. Breakfast for a fee is served at 6:15 AM and lunch at 2 PM. Be prepared for long lines. Have cash ready.
  9. Plan your travel route in advance. The roadways are pitch black in the early morning hours. If you’d rather leave the driving to professionals, book a shuttle ride. Check with your lodging accommodations for shuttle referrals. There are many options.
  10. Pets not allowed. If you bring one, it must be kept in the vehicle.
  11. Keep it mind that while this is a public viewing, the buffalo are actually herded into the area and placed into corrals for the annual testing, branding and sorting. This activity starts at 1 PM and goes until about 3 PM. You are invited to view this.
  12. Make sure your gas tank is full. There is a lot of slow-moving traffic both in and out of the viewing areas.

Arts Festival

The Arts Festival is part of the Annual Buffalo Roundup. 2017 dates are: September 28-30.

Fine arts and crafts are on display. Entertainers perform under a big tent.

Food, including buffalo meat, is served. Have plenty of cash available.

All events and vendors are across from the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center located along US Highway 16A near the Historic State Game Lodge.

Side Trips

One can spend a week or more in the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota. There’s plenty to see and do. Add these side trips to your visit. If you prefer to use a guide, contact Golden Circle Tours in Custer or Affordable Adventures in Rapid City. [I’ve used both companies with great success.]

Drive through Custer State Park & Take in:

Sylvan Lake

Hike around the lake. Kayak. Stare at it. Arrive early in the morning and watch the sunrise. It’s a must-see spot while in the area.

 

Needles Highway: South Dakota Highway 87

The Needles of the Black Hills of South Dakota are a region of eroded granite pillars, towers, and spires within Custer State Park. This National Scenic Byway was completed in 1922 and includes 14 miles of sharp turns, low tunnels and impressive granite spires. The road lies within the 73,000 acre Custer State Park, just 30 miles south of Rapid City.

 

The Wildlife

A herd of 1,300 bison roams freely throughout the park, often stopping traffic along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. The herd is one of the largest publicly owned herds in the world.

Besides bison, the park is home to wildlife such as pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and a band of friendly burros.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Address for GPS:

13000 Highway 244
Building 31, Suite 1

Keystone, SD 57751

Mountain Time Hours are:

8:00AM-5:00 PM October-May. 8:00AM-10:00 PM June-mid-August. 8:00AM-9:00 PM mid-August-September.

There is NO entrance fee but parking is currently $11 per vehicle.

Spearfish Canyon

Spearfish is in the northern area of the Hills. And the Canyon on US Highway 14 A is the #1 attraction there. Bridal Veil Falls, Roughlock Falls and Spearfish Falls are must-see when driving through this wooded area.

 

Hill City

Hill City is known as the “Heart of the Black Hills.” It is found between two of the world’s largest and most famous sculptures: Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse.

Visit the wineries, art galleries, museums, restaurants, retail stores in Hill City.  A favorite is Prairie Berry Winery in Hill City.

 

 

Crazy Horse Memorial

Address for GPS:

Crazy Horse Memorial
12151 Avenue of the Chiefs
Crazy Horse, SD 57730-8900

The Mission of Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation is to protect and preserve the culture, tradition and living heritage of the North American Indians. It does not receive federal or state funding.

The Legends in Light Laser Show here is worth every penny and every minute. Plan to go early to visit the museums and gift shop. You can watch from your vehicle or from benches in an outdoor viewing area.

Additional tours are available. Details are on their website.

Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower is an astounding geologic feature that protrudes 867 feet out of the rolling prairie surrounding the Black Hills. It is considered sacred to the Northern Plains Indians and other tribes. Hundreds of parallel cracks make it one of the finest crack climbing areas in North America.

The Monument is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and every day of the year. The visitor center and the Devils Tower Natural History Association Bookstore are open daily from 8AM-7PM, with the exception of December 25th and January 1st.

The 2017 vehicle pass is $15.00.

Badlands National Park

Address for GPS:

25216 Ben Reifel Road
Interior, SD 57750

Open all year, 24 hours a day, except for weather closures.

$20 per automobile-good for 7 days.

The Lakota people were the first to call this place “mako sica” or “land bad.” Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name.

Today, the term badlands has a more geologic definition. Badlands form when soft sedimentary rock is extensively eroded in a dry climate. The park’s typical scenery of sharp spires, gullies, and ridges is a premier example of badlands topography.

Its dramatic landscapes span layered rock formations, steep canyons and towering spires. Bison, bighorn sheep and prairie dogs inhabit its sprawling grasslands. The Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240) winds past scenic lookouts. Several trails begin near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. The Fossil Exhibit Trail is a boardwalk with displays on fossils uncovered in the park.

To fully experience most of what the Badlands has to offer, it takes two days. To drive through the park and stop at a few overlooks, it takes about two hours. Here are a few highlights you won’t want to miss & the minimum time needed. Taken from Badlands National Park website FAQs.

• Drive the Highway 240 Badlands Loop Road (60 minutes if you do not stop at any overlooks)
• Stop at a minimum of two scenic overlooks (30 minutes)
• Drive the Sage Creek Rim Road to see animals and additional views (30 to 60 minutes – depending on distance covered)
• Hike a trail or explore the back-country (variable time/distances – 30 minutes to all day)
• Attend a ranger fossil talk (30 min) or guided walk (60 minutes)
• Stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center (60 minutes)
• Go to the White River Visitor Center (45 minutes – does not include travel time to the facility)
• Take in a sunset or sunrise (20 minutes)
• Tour the South Unit of the park (45 minutes to all day)

This is just a small sample of the many sites one can see while traveling in western South Dakota. You could also visit Sturgis, home of the annual motorcycle rally. The 78th one being held August 3-12, 2018.  Or, stop in Deadwood, and Keystone, or at other landmarks in the area .

Click on the bold links.

Plan a trip.

Attend the Annual Buffalo Roundup. If not in 2017, next year.

Enjoy the many great places in South Dakota.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

If you’d like to have Linda write about your community or event, contact her below:

 

©Copyright. September 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

17 Ways to Enjoy the Iowa State Fair

Nothing Compares to Iowa State Fair Thrills

August 10-20, 2017 Des Moines, Iowa

I enjoy fairs of all sorts and sizes: craft, pottery, art and state and county fairs. Wherever there is a group of like-minded people happily gathered showcasing their talents, I’m delighted to join.

I’ve attended the internationally acclaimed Iowa State Fair twice. In 2016, I was mostly a spectator. I applauded a friend as her family was honored with a Century Farm Award presented in the Pioneer Livestock Pavilion.

I then joined her at a friend’s nationally known “Thank a Farmer” magic show in the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center. I spent most of the afternoon watching talented Iowa youth at the Bill Riley Talent Search, including the daughter of a fellow Iowa State graduate I hadn’t seen in 30 years. We re-connected between performances and applause.

Iowa State Fair

The Iowa State Fair is the single largest event in the state of Iowa and one of the oldest and largest agricultural and industrial expositions in the country. It attracts more than a million people from all over the world each year. Iowa’s Fair is also known as “America’s classic state fair” because the event features all of the traditional activities associated with state fairs in a park-like, 450-acre setting (the Fair’s home since 1886). The grounds and the adjoining 160 acres of campgrounds are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On Saturday, August 12, 2017, I was included in the 120,833 people at the Fair. This time I walked nearly every inch of the fairgrounds, enjoying the sights, sounds and aromas of this great annual event. Both visits were distinct, but each enjoyable. I realized one can experience the Fair quite differently on each visit with a bit of pre-planning. I met some who attend multiple days each year and claim they see and experience it differently with each visit. That’s possible.

17 ways to Enjoy the Iowa State Fair

BEFORE YOU GO

  1. Define your purpose. Do you want a general overview experience? Are you going to ride the rides on the Midway? Do you want to see the livestock judging competitions? Are the entertainers your priority? Paid or unpaid performers? Will you sample fair foods most of the day? Are you looking forward to viewing the photography and art exhibits? Do you want to see the butter cow exhibit? Do you prefer commercial exhibits? What is it you want to get out of your experience? If you only have one day, visit the excellent Iowa State Fair website and pre-plan your visit. Print the map and schedule. Download the Iowa State Fair Food Finder app. It also includes the daily schedule of events.
  2. Purchase advance tickets. This will save you both time and money. Check the Iowa State Fair website for special admission pricing (Deals & Discounts) such as Fairgoers aged 60+. Until a couple of days before the Fair starts, one can even print tickets at home with no additional fee. Otherwise advance tickets are available in various grocery stores in Iowa.
  3. Pack accordingly. Bags are subject to inspection. Bring sunscreen, a camera and cash. While some vendors accept credit and debit cards, there is a preference for cash. A change of clothing may be necessary for small children. There are spray fountains to both cool and entertain kids. After the playground, hand wipes may be necessary. Restrooms and water fountains are readily available and well-marked. You may re-fill water bottles at fountains.
  4. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. This Fair has livestock. If you’re going to walk in the barns, closed toe shoes are best. Parking can be a distance from the entrance. Be prepared to walk, though there are courtesy golf cart shuttle rides available. The parking lots are not paved. Stroller rides can be bumpy.
  5. Preach patience. If you’re attending on the weekend, be prepared for large crowds. Though this is an extremely well-run operation, there is a lot of traffic and it can take a bit to get parked. [Remember where you parked.] The grounds, shows and events can get quite crowded. Keep in mind everyone wants to have an enjoyable Fair experience. Be patient. If there’s a show or event you must see, arrive early to get a seat.

AT THE FAIR

  1. Arrive early. Parking is $10 per vehicle. The grounds open at 7am. If you’d like to see the Fairgrounds without the crowds, arrive early. Sunrise at the Fair is spectacular. Most buildings do not open until 9:00 am.
  2. Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center. This is an ideal location for young children to learn about farm animals. The building is near the North gate and has baby chickens, pigs, etc. along with educational stations where prizes are awarded for answering questions. This is a great place to see animals, if children do not have the energy to make it to the actual barns on the Fairgrounds.
  3. Variety. Butter sculpting. Yoga on the hill. Dutch oven cooking seminar. Grape stomping. Backgammon tournament. Egg rolling contest. Sheep shearing contest. The list of things to see and participate in is endless. It can be overwhelming. Pre-planning helps,  as does setting realistic expectations of what be accomplished on one visit.
  4. Accessible. ADA/Accessible parking is available, primarily in the North lot. Scooters and wheelchair rentals are also available. Keep in mind most of the parking areas are unpaved. Trams with marked stops are available once inside the grounds as are golf carts for mini-shuttle service from the parking lots to the gates. Check the Iowa State Fair website for additional services.
  5. Care Stations and ATMs. Need an aspirin or band-aid? Look for a Care Station vending machine at the Fair. Need extra cash? There are at least 30 ATM machines on location.
  6. Eat & Drink at the Fair. Outside food and beverages are not allowed. Download the Iowa State Food Finder app for a list of foods by vendor and location, including healthy foods. Beverages cups, once purchased, are re-fillable at most vendor locations for a minimal fee.
  7. From Above. Sky gliders give an overview of the fairgrounds from above. The ride is slow and easy, allowing you plenty of time to see and to take photos. There are two: east and west. Round trip is ideal.
  8. Keep it Clean. Hand sanitizer is plentiful throughout all of the animal barn areas and in all restrooms. Use it. Stop the spread of any potential disease.
  9. Talk to Them. The youth who’ve raised and are showing the animals in the barns are eager to talk about the experience. Approach them. Take an interest in their project and ask questions. Some of the most memorable conversations I had at the 2017 Fair were with a state FFA officer and an Iowa Pork Producers summer intern. These students are impressive representatives of their organizations.
  10. Check the weather. Do you need sunscreen or an umbrella? Evening Grandstand shows run late. Sometimes a light jacket or sweatshirt is necessary. Remember, to take breaks and drink plenty of water.
  11. Share. There are endless photographic moments at the Iowa State Fair. Check for hashtags and share on social media. Popular 2017 hashtags were #ISF2017 and #IowaStateFairThrills.
  12. Plan to Participate. Throughout the Iowa State Fair, you may find ways you can participate in future Fairs. Whatever your interest or hobby, find a way to work on a project and display or show at the Fair. Maybe you can’t raise a cow or pig in your neighborhood, but perhaps you can bake a Bundt cake, submit a photograph or raise a prize-winning rose or pumpkin. Be a part of one of the greatest Fairs around. Participate.

5 Favorites at 2017 Iowa State Fair: August 12th

  1. Fiddle and guitar music in Pioneer Hall
  2. West round-trip Sky glider ride
  3. Walking through the  barns early in the morning and watching youth care for their animals
  4. Horticulture gardens filled with bright, aromatic blooms
  5. Courtesy of fair goers, workers and volunteers

 

The 2018 Iowa State Fair is August 9-19, 2018 in Des Moines, Iowa. Mark your calendar. Find your 5 Favorite things to do at the 2018 Iowa State Fair.

Linda Leier Thomason is a retired CEO who now writes freelance business and travel stories along with feature articles. She’s represented the North Dakota Pork Producers as the 1979 Pork Queen and has attended countless county and state fairs promoting the pork industry. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government and small business. She is a dual graduate of Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

If you have something you’d like Linda to write, contact her below.

©Copyright. August 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

4 Affordable Things to Do in Omaha on a Sunday

Have a free Sunday and need something to do? Visit Omaha. If you are lucky enough to call Omaha your home, get out and visit, or re-visit, these sites and participate these activities.

We recently did these 4 things in 4 hours on a Sunday. Click on the bold links to find more information while planning your Omaha outing or a weekend trip to Omaha.

Omaha Farmer’s Market at Aksarben Village

9am-1pm Every Sunday May 7-October 15, 2017

Tips for a Great Outing

  • Go early for free street and garage parking.
  • Find a list of vendors on the Market’s website-link in bold green above.
  • Patience required. Be prepared to dodge dogs and strollers.
  • Bring your own bags for produce (recycled grocery store bags, etc.) and a bag to put all merchandise into.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. After shopping, walk the trails or stroll through the College of St. Mary.
  • Tip the musician(s).
  • Take dollar bills so vendors don’t run out of change.
  • Bring sanitizing hand wipes. Napkins provided, but these wipes are useful for post-restroom and after eating sticky pastries.
  • Don’t eat samples without real intent to buy.
  • Be open to trying new things, especially vegetables you’ve never tasted.

Enhanced the Market by

  • Vendors hand out recipes-how to use items being sold, especially unique vegetables.
  • More vendors preparing & selling food for consumption on-site.
  • Healthier prepared food options; heavy on pastries.
  • Cooking demonstrations-how to use kohlrabi, okra, etc.
  • Multiple entertainers throughout the market.
  • Fee based pony rides for children.
  • Petting zoo.
  • Hoola-Hoop contests, etc. to engage crowd.

Gerald R. Ford Birthsite and Gardens

Little Known Facts about 38th President of USA

  • Born July 14, 1913 at 3202 Woolworth Avenue, Omaha, NE.
  • Named Leslie King, Jr. at birth.
  • Parents divorced and mother moved to her parent’s Grand Rapids, Michigan home.
  • Renamed Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. when adopted by stepfather in 1916, at age 3.
  • Most commonly known as being from Michigan.

Property Facts

  • 3202 Woolworth Avenue was 3-stories and 14 rooms
  • 1971 home burned
  • In 1974, James M. Paxson, prominent Omaha businessman, purchased it with intent to build memorial.
  • Kiosk has 4 historical narrations available.
  • Site dedicated in 1977
  • Rose garden added in 1978
  • Maintained by Omaha Parks and Rec Department
  • Free entrance
  • A Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center sits adjacent to birthplace
  • The Gerald Ford exhibit is open to the public Monday thru Friday, by appointment only. Call 402-595-1180 or email grfcc@nebraska.gov.
  • The conservation labs are not open for public tours.
  • The Ford birth site gardens are available for rent by calling 402-444-5900
  • Hanscom Park is across the street and has a pavilion available for rent

Gene Leahy Pedestrian Mall

1302 Farnam Street, downtown Omaha

Located just to the north of the Old Market in the downtown area. The park sits between the Heartland of America Park on its eastern edge and the W. Dale Clark Library to the West. It is sandwiched between historical buildings and contemporary design, making the surroundings visually interesting.

Interesting Tidbits

  • Also known as Central Park or The Mall
  • Named after former Omaha Mayor Eugene A. Leahy
  • 6 acres
  • Open 5am-11pm
  • Free entrance
  • Playground with steel slides-bring cardboard to go faster
  • Walking paths
  • Lagoon with waterfowl
  • Sculpture art
  • Picnic areas
  • Visit during holiday season when lit up for the season
  • Homeless citizens do occupy the area

Café 110

1299 Farnam Street, Suite 110, corner of 13th and Farnam, near Gene Leahy Mall entrance

Hours: Monday-Friday: 8am-2pm; Closed Saturday; Sunday: 9am-12pm

  • One of best, most affordable breakfasts in Omaha.
  • Known for coffee, tea, Espresso,  smoothies, in-house made soups, sandwiches and salads along with a salad bar, fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Space is energetic and  creative. There is a loft upstairs for reading, etc.
  • Service friendly and efficient.
  • Opened in March 2012 by owner Allan Zeeck. He previously owned Benson Grind.
  • Offers off-site catering and live music.
  • Space can be rented for private parties and events, especially popular during Christmas holiday when Gene Leahy Mall is lit. Reserve early.

Omaha offers a lot of variety for residents. Find your favorite things to do.

LIKE & SHARE this post, making an Omaha outing or Omaha visit easy to plan.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

©Copyright. August 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

 

 

 

3 Generations Thrilled with Nebraska Adventure

Brenda Thomason, affectionately known as “Granny” in our family, enjoys traveling. In honor of her 75th birthday we planned a trip around two of her favorites: Neil Diamond and travel.

It was a bit of a challenge. She’s not a fan of large concert arenas or crowds. That meant it wasn’t as easy as purchasing tickets for Neil’s Omaha, Nebraska performance.  Alas, a Neil Diamond Legend Show was scheduled in southwest Nebraska, simplifying the task.

The greater challenge became building side-trips along the route to and from Red Cloud, Nebraska. Joining the adventure were two twenty-somethings and his parents: 3 generations, each with its own preferences and tastes.

The result was a remarkable trip celebrating Granny’s milestone birthday,  re-connecting while listening to Neil Diamond CD’s on the journey over Nebraska highways.

Are you and your family seeking a Nebraska adventure?

Try this travel plan. Click on links for more information. See additional photographs on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Let me know what else you discovered along the way. Share photos of your trip. They may appear here.

Departure

Our first stop after leaving Omaha shortly after 9:30 am on a Friday was in

Beatrice, Nebraska

  • Located about 96 miles from Omaha, approximately 90 minutes.
  • 37 miles directly south of Lincoln on four-lane US-Highway 77.
  • Nearly 13,000 residents live here.
  • Click here for list of “Things to Do in Beatrice.”

Lunch

Back Alley Eatery

  • 124 23rd Street Beatrice, NE

We were the first diners when the restaurant opened at 11 am. Everything from the brisket platter to the pulled pork sandwich was flavorful and plentiful. The service was quick, efficient and friendly. Favorite sides included baked beans, green beans and corn muffins. The homemade coconut cream pie topped with meringue was a family favorite.

Side-Trip

Homestead National Monument of America

  • 8523 West State Highway 4
  • Located 11 minutes (6.9 miles) from Back Alley Eatery
  • Includes Heritage Center, Education Center and Freeman School

This site commemorates the lives and accomplishments of all pioneers and the changes brought about by the Homestead Act. It is staffed by well-trained  rangers. The area includes exhibits, a bookstore/gift shop, a 20-minute video, a barbed wire outdoor exhibit, a cabin and 100 acres of restored tall-grass prairie. There is plenty of information on the Homestead Act and its far-reaching effect on the development of the west. Guests can even narrate and record their own family history with the Homestead Act.

The monument salutes the Homestead Act of 1862 by preserving the 160-acres of the Act’s first claimant, Daniel Freeman. For over a century the Act allowed men and women, many immigrants, to claim and develop 160 acres of free land.

There is no park entrance fee. One can often find artists-in-residence at the Education Center. During our visit Susan Lenz, a full time, professional studio artist from Columbia, South Carolina, was present. That afternoon, she was working alongside two volunteers on a quilting project.

Destination

Red Cloud, Nebraska

  • Located 105 miles, or about an hour and 48 minutes, southwest of Beatrice (Highway 136).
  • Hometown of author Willa Cather.
  • The town also hosts a number of cultural events at the Red Cloud Opera House and The National Willa Cather Center, attracting over 10,000 visitors annually.
  • Population of 1020 residents.
  • County seat of Webster County.
  • Red Cloud is home to the largest memorial of an American author; even larger than Mark Twain’s in Hannibal, Missouri.

National Willa Cather Center was completed and dedicated in June 2017 in a ceremony where former first lady Laura Bush was the keynote speaker. Mrs. Bush also cut the ribbon to officially open the $7 million Center.

In addition to being the headquarters of the Willa Cather Foundation, the building features a climate-controlled archive, a bookstore, a museum, and conference rooms. Tours of various locations, lengths and prices are offered.

Visit the town’s website to see a number of travel packages.

Pick up a “Town Tour” brochure at the Foundation Welcome Desk. It includes 26 notable locations worth walking to or driving by.

Lodging

Cather Second Home Guest House

Willa Cather’s parents purchased this home in 1903, leaving behind their little rented home at Third and Cedar Streets where Willa Cather had spent her formative years. Over the years, the home had several private owners and also served as a hospital, nursing facility, and bed and breakfast. It was acquired by the Willa Cather Foundation in 2011 through the generosity of a Cather family descendant.

Guests may rent the Frankfort room that was Cather’s, or the rooms of her parents-Sweet Water-Virginia Cather and Moonstone -Charles Cather; or her brother Douglass’s room-Haverford. The family maid’s room Hanover, has two twin beds. The Blackhawk room is on the main floor and has an ADA entrance. It is the former family kitchen.

The entire home may also be rented for family retreats, meetings, and special occasions.

10 Tips about Staying at the Guest House

  1. Hairdryers, toiletries and bathrobes are provided, as are slippers; shoes must be removed.
  2. No pets or smoking are allowed.
  3. Continental breakfast is provided.
  4. Most rooms do not have closets; clothing hooks and luggage racks are available.
  5. The house is unattended; no innkeeper lives here.
  6. Juices, tea and coffee are available as are homemade granola and oatmeal.
  7. The kitchen is fully furnished (flatware, kettles, plates, etc.) for guest use.
  8. The home has 2.5. shared bathrooms.
  9. A washer and dryer are on the second floor.
  10. A gold plate on the back of each door locks the room from inside.

Dinner

Fat Fox’s Restaurant

Granny chose Fat Fox’s for her birthday trip celebration dinner. Their specialty is pizza; they also have daily specials. Pork chops were featured during our visit. We chose a supreme pizza that had an outstanding crust and plenty of toppings.

The restaurant was at full-capacity.

 

Notes about Fat Fox’s

  • Gluten free pizza is available.
  • Save room for homemade desserts.
  • Roasted in-shell peanuts are on each table.
  • Beer and wine are not served here. You may order pizza at The Brix-a wine tasting room down the street. It will be delivered.
  • A salad bar is offered.
  • Specials are noted on a chalkboard
  • Celebrate a special occasion here. Communicate through Facebook Messenger. The owner is responsive and does a great job helping you plan. He’s not a bad singer either.

Entertainment

Red Cloud Opera House

Our trip was planned around the Neil Diamond Tribute Show.

Keith Allynn is an award-winning entertainer. His career began in stand-up comedy at age 14, warming up for Chris Rock, Tim Allen and Robin Williams. His musical talents were discovered at age 21. In 2004 Graceland voted him one of the world’s top 10 Elvis Tribute Artists.

More recently he’s headlined the Neil Diamond Tribute Show in Branson, Missouri. There, he’s been awarded the Tribute Artist and Tribute Show of the Year and multiple Trip Advisor certificates.

His 2.5 hour show at the Red Cloud, Nebraska Opera House was sold out to an appreciative audience of 300. Keith’s voice and stage presence are top-notch. He provides fascinating history behind the songs and interacts well with the audience. Keith encourages participation, roaming the aisles, shaking hands while singing, especially pleasing to female attendees.

He will be leaving the Branson stage in 2017, making him more available for corporate events and independent shows throughout the world.

You can find Keith Allynn on Facebook. Check out his upcoming show schedule.

Notes about the Opera House

  • Beer, wine and premium mixed drinks are available for purchase.
  • Popcorn is sold.
  • Tables for 8 can be reserved.
  • Doors open 30 minutes prior to show time.
  • Bathrooms  are on both the main floor and second floor-where stage is.
  • Come early and browse exhibits on main floor.
  • Chairs are movable and do not have arm rests.
  • Ask staff prior to taking photos during performances.

Day 2

Side-Trip #1

Willa Cather Memorial Prairie

  • Located 5 miles south of Red Cloud, Nebraska on the west side of Highway 281.
  • Roughly 612 acres of native prairie in southern Webster County.
  • Hiking trails are open.
  • The horizon is unbroken.
  • Purchased by the Foundation in 2006. They are working to restore the Prairie to its pre-1900’s condition.

Side-Trip #2, Unplanned Find

Geographic Center of the United States of America

  • About 14 miles south of the Prairie is the geographic center of the United States.
  • Watch for the sign to your right, traveling south on Highway 281.
  • The gravel road (K-191) will dead end into the location that includes a very small chapel.
  • It is a free attraction and open all the time.
  • Lebanon, Kansas is located 2 miles southeast of this location.
  • A small Visitor Center is in Lebanon.

Lunch

Odyssey Restaurant, Hastings, Nebraska 

The biggest surprise on the trip was the food quality at this restaurant in Hastings, Nebraska, the birthplace of Kool-Aid.

We left our meal proclaiming Odyssey as our family’s “newest food crush.”

  • Located in historic downtown Hastings at 521 West Second Street off Highway 281 North, traveling from Red Cloud, Nebraska.
  • Across from Rivoli Theatre.
  • Odyssey occupies two buildings united into one.
  • There is an outdoor patio; dogs welcome.
  • Casual, modern and innovative cuisine, including grilled Caesar salad and chocolate crème brulee.
  • The atmosphere is as appetizing as the food; get up and look at the historic maps on the walls.
  • Here’s one place you’ll like getting the check. Won’t ruin surprise.

Side-Trip #3

Holy Family Shrine

A Catholic Chapel on the highway is a place for I-80 travelers to rest, be at peace, pray and be comforted.

  • 23132 Pflug Road, PO Box 507, Gretna, NE  68028
  • Between Omaha and Lincoln off I-80, exit 432 and go south on Hwy 31 (1.3 miles), then turn west onto Pflug Road (1 mile). DETOUR July 2017 due to construction.
  • Open 10am-5pm Monday through Saturday and 12pm-5pm on Sunday.
  • Averages 20,000 visitors a year.
  • Catholic Mass Saturday mornings at 10am.
  • Open to travelers of all faiths.
  • Gift shop in visitor center.
  • Free entrance. Goodwill offering/donations accepted and needed. Not supported by Archdiocese.
  • Outside life-size walking Stations of the Cross are currently under construction.
  • Does not host any weddings, funerals, baptisms, renewal of wedding vows, proposals, or anything connected with wedding parties.

Return

Our party of 5 returned to Omaha at 4:30 PM Saturday. We’d seen and experienced so much. We are committed to doing it again. Are you?

Go Explore

Explore Nebraska. Support economic development in small, rural towns. Try something new and different. Take an overnight trip. Renew your spirit. Support the arts.

Like & SHARE this story with Willa Cather fans, backroad travelers & those who enjoy Midwest adventures.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

Contact me. Did you travel this route? Share your story and photos.

©Copyright. July 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antigua: Everything You Need to Know for a Memorable Trip

I’m an island woman at heart. And, I’ve been fortunate to visit many. But, none makes me long for as quick of a return as the country of Antigua does. While the country and the resorts are stunning, the people are what I am most fond of. They are peaceful and joyful not only with guests but also with one another.

We recently spent 7 nights there, celebrating two special occasions. Here is what you need to know about the country and the culture before going.

Read on to learn about Galley Bay Resort-one of the island’s finest-and where we stay. Check out the website before booking your vacation.

Ask your questions on the form below. Share your trip experiences with me upon return. I’d like to hear about it.

Location

Antigua, the largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, is roughly 17 degrees north of the equator. To the south are the islands of Montserrat and Guadeloupe, and to the north and west are Nevis, Saint Kitts, Saint Barts, and St. Martin. Antigua whose twin country is Barbuda, is 108 square miles and has 365 white sand beaches, all open to the public. Its capital city is St. John’s where the majority of the country’s permanent population of 81,800 (2015) live. Notable island residents include Giorgio Armani, Richard Branson, Robin Leach and Eric Clapton.

Government

Antigua and Barbuda became independent states within the Commonwealth of Nations on November 1, 1981. It is a member of the British Commonwealth under a Parliamentary system with a Prime Minister as its head. Elizabeth II is the first Queen of Antigua and Barbuda and its first Prime Minister was Vere Cornwall Bird, Sr. The airport, located in the northeast corner of Antigua, is named after him. The currency is the East Caribbean dollar; however, most prices are shown in US dollars.

Climate

There is little seasonal temperature variation in Antigua. Temperatures range from the mid-70’s to the upper-80’s, making it always feel like summer. The country’s low humidity makes it one of the most temperate climates in the world. Surprisingly, the country often experiences drought and has no waterfalls.

Economy

Tourism leads Antigua’s economy. It is its main source of both income and employment. The island is promoted as a luxury Caribbean vacation and has many resorts on the coastline. Investment banking and financial services contribute to the economy as does the growing medical school: American University of Antigua-Caribbean Medical School.

Recreation

The major sport in Antigua is cricket. Sir Vivian (“Viv”) Richards is one of the most famous Antiguans who captained the West Indies team. (Antiguans play for the Leeward Island team in domestic matches and the West Indies team internationally.) Rugby, Association Football (Soccer) and basketball are becoming popular; many follow the NBA. There are several golf courses in Antigua.

Sailing has been one of the most popular sports for years with Antigua Sailing Week and Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta being two of the region’s most reputable sailing competitions. Hundreds of yachts from around the world compete around Antigua each year.

The island is a must-see destination for scuba divers and snorkelers, who come from around the globe to explore the breathtaking nearly unbroken wall of coral reef that surrounds the island.

Tourist Favorites

The Antiguan Carnival, billed as the Caribbean’s greatest summer festival, was traditionally celebrated during the Christmas season. It switched in August 1957 to a summer festival. Antiguans and visitors celebrate the emancipation of slavery annually from the end of July to the first Tuesday in August.  Music (Calypso, steel drums and soca) and dance are key elements of the celebration.

Shirley Heights located at the southern tip of Antigua is a restored military lookout (490 ft) and gun battery. It provides a spectacular view over English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour.

The buildings now serve as a restaurant and bar and host the ever-popular Sunday evening party (4-10 pm) complete with Caribbean music played on steel drums. The area provides some of the best sunset views around.

Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour, Antigua is part of the Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, which also includes Clarence House and Shirley Heights. It is a cultural heritage site and marina, including shops, hotels and marina businesses. Nelson’s Dockyard hosts many sailing and yachting events and is naturally well-suited to protect ships and cargo from hurricanes because of its deeply indented shoreline.

Devil’s Bridge is a natural rock area (geologic formation) on the Atlantic coast in eastern Antigua. Legend has it that slaves went here to commit suicide. It has the most dramatic coastal scenery on the island. Care must be taken while walking the uneven, slippery area.

Clothing

Swimwear is frowned upon in public places. Shorts are generally not accepted attire for evening dining anywhere on the island. Military-type camouflage clothing is strictly prohibited by law and anyone caught wearing it can be arrested.

Driving & Shopping

Driving is on the left in Antigua. Most vehicles have the steering wheel on the right. You must get a temporary license to drive in the country. You may obtain one from the Transport Board, car rental agencies and police stations. The island-wide speed limit is 40 mph and 20 mph in urban areas.

Duty-free shopping is abundant in Antigua. Take your resort confirmation or flight information and a photo ID to qualify. Passports work just fine.

Sheer Rocks Dining

Sheer Rocks Restaurant

Many dine at Sheer Rocks- a popular Antiguan restaurant known as much for the dining experience as the food,  provided by local farmers, fishermen and artisan food producers. One can lounge on a day bed while eating next to the plunge pool. Every table offers sensational views from the tiered wood decks carved into a sheer cliff side.

First-Class Resort

Galley Bay Resort an all-inclusive, adults only beachfront resort on the Caribbean coast 10 minutes west (sunset side) of the capital city of St. John’s-is the perfect location for those seeking a quiet, restful vacation.

Galley Bay has 98 guest rooms, including the Gauguin Suites, with private plunge pools, nestled among the well-manicured gardens along the bird sanctuary lagoon.

Galley Bay has:

  • 3 open-air restaurants
  • 3 lounges
  • A near-perfect spa
  • Nightly live entertainment
  • Private beachfront dining options
  • A turtle nesting site
  • A well-stocked library and coffee/tea shop with pastry offerings
  • A well-appointed gift shop
  • Sea grapes, figs (bananas), mangoes growing on site. Staff pick flowers/greenery daily to adorn tables
  • Covered outdoor table tennis (ping-pong) and pool tables
  • A well-maintained tennis court
  • A free-form pool with plentiful shaded seating and always-available towels
  • Croquet lawn
  • Golf clubs and fishing poles available for use
  • A jogging and biking trail with complimentary bicycles and helmets
  • Complimentary water-sports and lessons with friendly staff
  • A fully equipped air-conditioned fitness center with towels, a shower and water station
  • Stocked mini-refrigerators in guest rooms
  • A Rum Shack
  • Hammocks
  • Golf cart transportation from room to dining, if needed
  • An office area near Guest Services that has Internet access
  • Bed notes placed on pillows daily
  • A Weekly Activity Sheet detailing daily tours, entertainment, restaurant hours, etc. Don’t miss the Tuesday Garden Tour.
  • A Manager’s Cocktail Party where the management team actually interacts with guests
  • A Caribbean Barbeque Buffet night with a relaxed dinner dress code
  • The most gracious, hospitable, well-trained staff
Library & Coffee Shop

What Galley Bay is not is a destination for those with American Spring Break mindsets. There’s no swim-up bar and raucous music. It is a reserved setting where travelers go to unplug and unwind. It provides a natural, relaxing setting on ¾ mile of white sandy beach front. A well-advertised dress code is strictly followed for meal services and a guest orientation on the day after arrival informs guests of available excursions and onsite offerings.

Dining at Galley Bay is an event.

Plan on 90-120 minutes to complete the five-course gourmet-style meals. There is also a Barefoot Grill for those wanting a quick bite at lunchtime. Intimate dining on the beach with private wait service is available at Ismay’s-the only restaurant not included in the all-inclusive rate.

Garden Tour by Curtis

The grounds of Galley Bay are noteworthy.

They are well-manicured. Register for the Tuesday Garden Tour to learn more about the “Master Plan” and about what it takes to maintain the immaculate landscaping.

Guest service at Galley Bay is superior, top to bottom. Arriving, one is greeted and then presented with a cloth to cool off and handed a refreshing beverage before checking in. After, you are driven by golf cart to your accommodations. All dining and lounge staff are friendly without being intrusive. Everything is done to please guests and to encourage them to have a memorable, pleasant stay. Need something. Ask.

The Resort is a special occasion destination for many.

Anniversary and birthday guests receive a complimentary bottle of chilled champagne, as do returning guests. Resort staff seem encouraged to remember guest names and one frequently sees interactions between staff and guests that looks more familial than business. It’s a warm, welcoming site. Many guests arrive as strangers and leave as friends, it’s that kind of setting.

Helpful Tips while planning for your stay at Galley Bay Resort

  1. The resort does not accept American Express.
  2. Take insect repellent for evening walks and activities. They spray the resort but repellent is helpful.
  3. You are not required to tip. The service is so good, you will want to. Have cash. If you run out, you can get some at the front desk and will be charged a service fee.
  4. Pack your patience, meal service is long, but worth the experience.
  5. If you stay in a cottage, bring the lounge cushions in overnight to keep them humidity and rain free.
  6. Leave the umbrella and books at home. Plenty are available at the resort.

3 notable locals who added to our remarkable visit:

  1. St. James Travel & Tours Jason Mannix reached at Jason.mannix@stjamesgroup.com was assigned as our Delta Vacations “on the ground” guide. His service was simply outstanding.
  1. Gloade’s Limousine & Transportation Service Gregson, Owner, (268)720-5727 chauffeured our all-day, all-island culture and photography tour. He provided a safe, well-appointed vehicle and took us to locations we’d never have discovered on our own. A former high school teacher, Gregson is one you should meet and spend  a day with exploring Antigua.
  1. Joe from Photogenesis Imaging

We documented our 25th Wedding Anniversary by hiring Joe from Photogenesis Imaging. He made  us feel comfortable in front of the camera and was very familiar with Galley Bay Resort. He took photographs to cherish for a lifetime. We were even able to create a canvas from his photographic work.

SHARE with those planning a honeymoon or other special occasion AND those in need of unplugging and re-charging. Let Galley Bay Resort know I referred you. [I am not paid for endorsements and receive no commission for the referral.]

More information can be found by clicking Best Antigua.

What questions do you have before booking a vacation to Antigua? Ask me.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

 

 

Fashion art products created from photographic images taken in Antigua can be found at the “Linda’s Store” tab above under #1 Vida Design Studio. Thank you for your support of my small business shop.

©Copyright. July 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Wouldn’t Want to Do This in Southeast Nebraska?

Southeast Nebraska is a land of plenty with something for everyone. This area-one hour south of Omaha-is filled with history, unique festivals and events, and picturesque landscapes.

Here’s an overview of 4 communities we recently visited.

Website links are provided to help you plan your own adventure.

Brownville

Brownville (pop. 132)-a quaint village on the Missouri River-is on the National Register of Historic Places. Put on your walking shoes and check out the museums, the riverfront, the theatre and the concert series. Take a dinner cruise. Shop Memorial Day weekend and each fall at the Annual Brownville Flea Market. Stay overnight-perhaps at the River Inn Resort.

There’s plenty to see and explore.

60th Annual Flea Market

Helpful Hint: Call ahead if there’s a particular business or museum you’d like to visit. Most weren’t open during website-posted store hours on our Easter weekend visit. Brownville is an event-based community. Plan ahead if you are visiting during an event. Lodging sells out.

Sweetwater Brooms & Engraving- Broom Maker
Brooms made by hand-last a lifetime.

Whiskey Run Creek Vineyard & Winery

Every once in a while one encounters someone who leaves a forever positive impression. Matthew Heskett did just that. Matt is a sixth-generation farmer and son of proprietors, Ron and Sherry. He’s a 20-something entrepreneur with some of the savviest customer service skills we’ve encountered in Nebraska. He knew his community and his industry like a seasoned pro. Matt is an outstanding ambassador for both his business and Southeast Nebraska. Go meet him at the winery.

We toured the historic 1866 cave (year-round 55 degree temperature) and the 100-year old barn. Inside we sampled wines, checked out the gift shop and viewed the event location upstairs. Matt even showed us the production facility and explained the construction where a distillery is being added. We will return for more award-winning wine and old-fashioned hospitality.

Helpful Hint: Friday nights May through August they host live musical performances. Weddings can be held on location by the gazebo and waterfall.

Auburn

We drove a short distance on Highway 36 west to Auburn for lunch since none of Brownville’s restaurants were open. Two restaurants were consistently recommended: Hickory Road BBQ and El-Portal Mexican Restaurant.

We chose the former. The food quality and service were both outstanding.

Peru

This town of just over 800 is home to Nebraska’s first college (1867). Back then it was known as the teacher’s training school. Today Peru State College has around 2400 students.

Walk the historic, picturesque campus. Be sure to see the Little Red Schoolhouse

Drive to the Mt. Vernon Cemetery and see the historical grave markers. This hilltop location is also a Tri-State Observation Area (Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri).

Pack the bicycles and ride the Steamboat Trace Trail (found at north end of 5th street) between Brownville and Nebraska City. You can also hike it and enjoy birding along the way.

Stop in for a meal, a cool drink and a game of pool while in Peru.

Peru boasts a number of attractive city parks, including Sid Brown Memorial Park. Young children enjoy the splash pad during warm summer months.

A boat ramp to the Missouri River is accessible at 5th and Olive Street. The Peru Bottoms Wildlife Management Area (The Bottoms) is along the route, and beyond, and is available for hunting, fishing and birding.

Lied Lodge at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City

Nebraska is the proud home of Arbor Day. Founded in 1972 by J. Sterling Morton (whose son founded Morton Salt Company), Arbor Day encourages citizens worldwide to plant trees.

The 140-room, award-winning Lodge at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City is a sought-after gathering place for those who care deeply about the natural world and its future. It features the Timber Dining Room, a spa, sauna, exercise room, Olympic-sized pool, bar and conference center.

Like most lodging facilities, it is only as good as the guests staying there. During our rainy, holiday weekend stay, families crammed the pool with over-sized floats, leaving little room to enjoy the facilities in the naturally peaceful setting. Floors outside the pool area were wet and slippery. Under-aged, unsupervised guests occupied the sauna. (Safety concerns were reported to front desk staff.)

Helpful Hint: Stay mid-week or on a non-holiday weekend if you are seeking a peaceful retreat.

Visit the Arbor Day Farm website for things to do and trails to walk.

Get a ticket to the Tree Adventure. Educational and fun for all ages.

 

Walk the trails; listen to the forest

Include Indian Cave State Park on your list of things to do in Southeast Nebraska. The park has 3000+ acres and is southeast of Nemaha, along the Missouri River. Check out the large sandstone cave in the park.

Get out and explore Southeast Nebraska. visitsoutheastnebraska.org

Create your own family memories and enjoy all that Nebraska offers.

 

Linda Leier Thomason is the founder and former CEO of  a Charleston, SC based event production and publication corporation. Today, she resides in Omaha, NE  where she writes about her undercover visits to towns and communities, among other things. To learn more about Linda, click on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

Contact me to have your town or community featured.

©Copyright. April 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

2 Day Trips & Kosher Sex Make a Great Weekend

You won!

Sex or 2 day trips-it doesn’t matter why you opened this story. Your life is enhanced by both. You won already.

Instead of roaming out of the state or region consider a Staycation-a period of time where you stay home and participate and support communities and events within driving distance of your home. Or, at least, take 2 day leisure drives to discover hidden gems surrounding your community.

Here are 2 day trips my husband Ken and I made recently from our Northwest Omaha, Nebraska home. Click on the links for more information to plan your 2 day trips.

Day Trip #1  of  2 Day Trips

Olde Towne Elkhorn, Nebraska 

Located about 14 miles Northwest of Omaha in Western Douglas County, Olde Town Elkhorn provides both vintage charm and a contemporary spirit to visitors.

On a near 70 degree February morning, we walked  at Elkhorn’s Ta-Ha-Zouka Park. This multi-purpose park has trails, a skate park, tennis courts, soccer, baseball and football fields as well as a well-used playground area.

Then we drove a short distance to the  historic square, literally visiting each shop. We enjoyed a cup of coffee and cookie while chatting with Little Scandinavia shop owner, Leona Anderson. Her shop brims with unique and fun Scandinavian items, including Dale of Norway sweaters and uncommon food items.

Fine artist, Jane Kathol, at Main Street Studios and Gallery is an outstanding ambassador for not only the Main Street Studios and Gallery but also Elkhorn. We enjoyed learning about the history of the building that houses the Gallery, the work of the artists within it and about upcoming events, including the “Ladies’ Day Out” event from 10-5 on Saturday, March 25, 2017. Who knew there was so much artistic talent on display in Elkhorn, Nebraska? Do yourself a favor and visit Olde Towne Elkhorn.

We were lucky enough to meet Megan Thomas when stepping into Two Birds Bakery before their noon closing time. They are only open to the public on Saturdays. Stop in and get a fresh cup of coffee and a homemade treat.

Other Places We Visited in Olde Towne Elkhorn, NE

Garden Gallery

Andrea’s Designs

Kimba’s Touch Pottery

Fala’s Treasures & Coffee House

Other businesses we saw included:

Bellissimo Salon & Spa

This & That & Other Stuff

Whistle Stop Country Store -opening again March 4, 2017

Restaurants in Olde Towne Elkhorn, NE

We tried Boyd and Charlies BBQ and sat in a window seat overlooking the meat smoking outdoors. We look forward to going back to try the others, including:

Bella Vita an Italian Bistro

Shevy’s Sports & Steaks

Maximo’s Cantina

Fala’s Treasures and Coffeehouse

Kosher Sex

We found Rabbi Shmuley’s Kosher Sex movie on Amazon Prime Video purely by accident that Saturday evening.  I’ve always admired and appreciated Rabbi Shmuley’s Jewish wisdom, though I’m Catholic. I’ve been a fan of his relationship common sense and bluntness since seeing him decades ago on an Oprah show. This movie ends with his discussing SANER sex-Sensuality, Attraction, Nakedness, Eroticism and Romance. It’s worth watching regardless of your religious beliefs or marital status. We’ve been married nearly 25 years and each felt we gained something and that it was time well spent. If you don’t have Amazon Prime, you can see Rabbi Shmuley here:

Day Trip #2: Southwest Iowa

Plan ahead for Sunday drives. Some businesses may be closed.

We took out the Atlas and literally chose 3 towns at random to visit. Glenwood, Malvern and Mineola, Iowa.

I visited Chamber of Commerce websites for each location and had a list of restaurants and recreation areas that seemed interesting. What surprised me most was the number of boutiques and galleries in these small communities.

Glenwood, Iowa

Over 5000 people live in this Loess Hills town that we easily accessed off I-29.

Tom & Tiff’s Family Restaurant in Glenwood, Iowa has been in business over 20 years and, according to online reviews, is known for their onion rings and broasted chicken. We had both, and agree! Every seat in this place (One street off the main highway through town) was occupied the entire time we were there. The pies also looked wonderful, but we had no room left. The service was efficient and polite, reminiscent of small towns where owners appreciate and value one’s business and hard earned dollar.

On our next visit we hope to visit Mitzi Mo’s Boutique, Second Helpings Boutique and the Vine Street Cellars.

The 45 acre Glenwood Lake Park is a sunny day treat. In addition to the beautiful waterfront grounds it has a 750-seat amphitheater and a museum. Stop in. Walk. Swing. Get some fresh air.

Malvern, Iowa

This town of 1100+ people is 38 miles southeast of Omaha, Nebraska and is on the Wabash Trace Nature Trail.

We were drawn to the art and cultural feel of the community. Stained glass windows in churches and a mural on the side of a car wash intrigued us. We proceeded down an alley and found painted bicycles doubling as planters and found a jewel in Marge Boska. Marge is the Proprietor of Fine Arts on 5th Gallery and Studio. She was preparing for an art class but took time to share the history and restoration story of her building. She invited us to look at the art displayed by numerous talented artists, including one from Russia.

We peeked in the window of Classic Cafe & Catering, knowing we will return. We’ve heard they make great Bloody Mary’s. We were invited into Moreau’s Backerei & Pizzeria by Fred who was preparing for a private party (They’re closed on Sunday.) The German pizza smelled absolutely fantastic! Eventually we will get a slice.

We also window peeked into Rural Roots Boutique. Great window display!

Mineola, Iowa

Mineola is an unincorporated village in Mills County, Iowa with a population of under 200. We took a quick drive around the area and noted the large number of vehicles in front of Tobey Jacks‘ Mineola Steak House-another return destination.

We saw multiple bicyclists and joined them on the Wabash Trail. The scenery on bicycle or foot is amazing and can only improve when green.

 

On our drive back we drove through the campus of the Iowa School for the Deaf before hopping back on I-29 North to our West Omaha home.

No matter where you live there is much to see and do in your surrounding area. Plan a Staycation. Plan a 2-day Saturday and/or Sunday drive. Support small businesses and local artists.

Share your journey with me so I can share it with others, and visit too.

Need help promoting your art, small business, town or community? Contact me. I write website and promotional copy and take photographs to support it. Let’s work together!