December 2013 was a pretty light month of posts. Why? It might have had something to do with my eight day battle to pass a kidney stone. Yee-ouch!
I talked about how I was going to sign up for a Hyatt Diamond Status challenge to get better amenities during our stay at the Park Hyatt Moscow a few months from then. (Spoiler alert, it didn’t work. But, here’s our review of the Park Hyatt Moscow anyway).
We had less than 36 hours to spend in Seattle before our Alaska cruise boarded. We’ll definitely have to go back in the future to spend more time there, but we tried to squeeze in a few highlights.
Ken and I are huge Dale Chihuly fans. We’ve seen his work in so many places in Atlanta, Las Vegas, and in Pittsburgh (not blogged about). So, when we heard there was an entire Chihuly museum in Seattle, we put that at the top of our to-see list!
Chihuly Garden and Glass
The Chihuly exhibit is located right next to Seattle’s famed Space Needle. After getting acquainted with that area for a bit, we stood in a short line to get our tickets and made our way into the entrance.
As always, the combination of glass work and accompanying lighting made for really stunning sights!
One room had glass work and lights on top of a clear glass ceiling. The walls were white, and the colors of the glass created beautiful designs on the wall!
The next room was also gorgeous and expansive. It was called the Mille Fiori installation.
The rooms were fairly dark allowing for all the focus to be on the glass artwork.
After the indoor portion of the museum, you exited through the “Glasshouse,” which, according to their website, is “a 40-foot tall, glass and steel structure covering 4,500 square feet of light-filled space.”
And here’s how the glasshouse looks from the outside:
It was really amazing.
Then, the gardens contained even more glass artwork.
Pike Place Market
After the Chihuly museum, Ken and I met up with my sister and her family, and my dad (they were also going on the cruise and had traveled separately from us to Seattle).
We set out to Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market. Ken, my sister, my niece and nephew, and I all walked to the market from the Grand Hyatt Seattle (about a 20 minute walk, the weather was lovely). My brother-in-law took an Uber with my dad since my dad has a lot of mobility problems these days.
Pike Place Market was a fun (albeit very crowded) place to walk around. Lots of fresh flowers, meats, spices, fish, and bakeries all throughout the market corridors.
Adjacent to Pike Place Market is the “Original Starbucks.” There were lines out the door. (However, I later learned that the original Starbucks was actually destroyed in a fire, so this isn’t the “original original.”
The next morning, I even walked back to Pike Place Market to get some breakfast foods for my family (from Piroshky Piroshky. So delish!). It was a lot less crowded early in the morning! However, the shops were still all set up:
One thing about walking back TO the hotel from Pike Place Market … those hills. Goodness gracious, the hills. I feel like Seattle gives San Francisco a run for its money!
The Pike Place Market area also had lots of picturesque old store fronts and other places to walk around. We also stopped at a nearby Target to get some stuff to take with us on the cruise ship, like some sodas and bottled water. (A lot cheaper to bring it onboard than to pay for it on the ship!)
After I walked back to the hotel, we all ate our breakfast, and before long it was time to hope in a taxi on our way to the Port of Seattle to board the Ruby Princess for our Alaskan cruise! Although we would’ve loved to have had more time in the Pacific Northwest, we’ll be sure to go back in the future and have the proper time to experience more of what it has to offer.
When I first started researching things to do in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, a Bourbon Street balcony experience was near the top of my list. But, strangely, it was difficult to find any consolidated information on the different balcony options during Mardi Gras. I was able to find like two or three options, but that was it.
I actually resorted to Google Street View. I’d look at the names of the restaurants and bars along Bourbon Street, see if they had a balcony, and then google the name of the resturant. Then, I’d email the restaurant for information. I must’ve emailed like 15 places. And not a single one ever responded.
One of the balcony options that I had consistently seen all along was Bourbon Vieux. They had pictures of their balcony party, online ticket ordering, and other good information available. It just seemed SO DAMN EXPENSIVE. That is why I wanted to comparison shop a little bit. But, since no other places ever responded to my inquiries, I went ahead and booked Bourbon Vieux.
I was really happy with that decision!
There was plenty of seating available inside. (One of the more common complaints in the online reviews for Bourbon Vieux was that they oversold their balcony parties, leaving people without seats.). I’m pretty lazy, so the idea of having to stand for 5 hours straight at party was not appealing. But, luckily, my worries were unfounded!
Inside the Balcony Party at Bourbon Vieux
Ken and I sat at a small round table inside Bourbon Vieux. The decor was great, and I thought the lighting was really well done and added a lot of Mardi Gras ambiance!
There were quite a few people at the party, but many tables were empty, so I definitely don’t think it was a sellout.
There was a good food spread set up.
There was also a dessert table, which unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of, that included different desserts including New Orleans’ famous King Cake!
The bar was well stocked and luckily there was never a long line. (The Bourbon Vieux balcony party included all food and beverages, including alcoholic beverages).
They also had beads for sale at the bar. We had bought some beads from Oriental Trading Company to bring with us to Mardi Gras. We figured that beads in New Orleans during Mardi Gras would be at crazy inflated prices. However, the beads we ordered online were pretty junky and tangled easily. So, we did end up buying some of the nicer beads they had for sale at Bourbon Vieux. (The junky beads we brought with us are on the right).
Okay, so let’s get to what REALLY matters at a Mardi Gras Bourbon Street balcony party … the BALCONY!
When we arrived at Bourbon Vieux, we were given wristbands. All party guests had one of two colors. Every 45 minutes or so, there would be an announcement that it was time for the Purple wristband group to go outside on the balcony and the other wristband color to come inside. Then it would alternate every 45 minutes or so. That way, the balcony was never overly crowded.
(You could, of course come inside at any time regardless of what color you were wearing. It was just a restriction on who could go outside to the balcony. That was good because, like I mentioned in previous Mardi Gras posts, it was quite cold during our time there! Sometimes 45 minutes outside would be too much! There were space heaters just on one section of the large balcony)
Here’s how the balcony looked:
We were generally able to get right up to the balcony railing. But sometimes not, we’d have to squeeze in after somebody abandoned their spot. But it never felt overly crowded or annoying.
We had a great view down Bourbon Street:
And we had lots of fun throwing beads to the folks down below.
And, as had been the recurring theme of what we saw during Mardi Gras, lots of religious stuff. A bunch of men in red hats carrying a cross down Bourbon Street:
It was great people-watching.
Overall, we were really pleased. Although the tickets were expensive at $160 each, the fact that it included food and and all drinks was great. We liked that it wasn’t crazy crowded, and that everyone got plenty of time to spend on the balcony.
Have you gone to a Bourbon Street balcony party during Mardi Gras? Which one did you go to? How did you like it?
Way back in the day, I used to collect spoons. Yes, spoons.
It all started when I was 11 years old, and my then–21-year-old sister had gone on a trip to Paris. As a souvenir, she brought me back a spoon. And like an 11 year old brat, my reaction was something like, “A SPOON?? WHAT A LAME GIFT! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH A SPOON.”
But, after getting over my initial bratty disappointment, the spoon spawned a collection hobby over the course of 10+ years. Everytime I traveled, whether with my family or by myself, I bought a spoon. Pretty soon, my spoon racks at childhood home were packed to the gills.
I stopped collecting spoons sometime in the 2002 range. I started traveling to more diverse destinations, and spoons weren’t always available in gift shops. Plus, I learned the value of buying locally made souvenirs, or souvenirs with some cultural meaning. (Although I still like to buy my Christmas ornaments!)
But, that still left all my old spoons. Still sitting in their display racks at my dad’s house. I wanted to keep the spoons. And I liked the idea of displaying them in our house now instead of my dad’s. But I wanted to figure out a more modern way of displaying them. Plus, I thought that the racks always looked too cluttered:
Plus, some of the spoons were too “fat” and couldn’t even fit in the slots. So, they just kinda laid at the bottom of the rack.
A little old fashioned, no?
So, after considering many different options for displaying my spoons, I kept coming back to this image as inspiration that I found via Pinterest. I really liked the display option. Clean, modern, uncluttered.
But, unfortunately the photo was sorely lacking in any sort of explanation or tutorial about how the spoons were mounted. After trying many different solutions (all of which failed), I settled on plain old hot glue. (I’ll talk more about my experimentation with different materials at the very end of the post).
First, I bought some shadowboxes. After many MANY trips to places like Michael’s and AC Moore, I concluded that A) Pretty much every shadowbox was poor quality. B) Despite being poor quality, large shadowboxes were still quite expensive, even when using Michael’s regularly-offered coupons. C) And finally, even ignoring the quality and cost, I couldn’t find a shadowbox in a wide enough size that I was hoping for.
So, I ordered a custom size shadowbox from PictureFrames.com, and I was really pleased with the quality. They weren’t exactly cheap, but they were exactly the dimensions that I wanted, they cut a high quality mat precisely to size, and the frame and glass were great quality.
In case anyone is looking to get something similar, this is what I ordered:
Shadowbox with outside dimensions of 39×10.
White Custom Suede Mat
First, I laid out the spoons on the white suede mat until I found an arrangement that I liked. I staggered the spoons from the approximate middle of the matboard, which I thought looked nice considering that they vary so much in side.
Next up, it was time to hot glue the spoons to the mat. Using the tiniest dabs of hot glue that I could manage, I put a dab on the “most convex” part of the spoon (is that a thing?). Basically the back of the spoon that has the most surface area that would touch the mat. Then I also put a tiny dab of glue on the top of the spoon. This part was really tricky for some of the spoons that had dangling ornaments in that area.
I repeated the process for each spoon, until all the spoons were glued to the matboard. Then came the process of cleaning up all the little hot glue boogers and strings. This was fairly tedious, looking for mostly translucent pieces of glue against a white background. I had the most success when I pointed an adjustable floor lamp directly at the matboard. The hot glue strings would create shadows on the matboard, and I was able to clean off even the less obvious pieces.
Then, I just let the spoons sit and dry on the matboard for about 24 hours. After 24 hours, I leaned the matboard up against the wall for another 24 hours to test that the spoons were glued strongly enough to the matboard that they wouldn’t fall down when hanging vertically. After 24 hours and no falls while leaning vertically, it was time to put them in their shadowboxes.
I bought two total shadowboxes, which are at different spots around the house now. Here’s one leaning on a ledge shelf in our basement. Pretty snazzy!
And much better than the old display, don’t you think?
How I decided what materials to use
This project took me FOREVER to finally implement. Mostly because of how many options I mulled to mount the spoons.
In the inspiration image that I shared, it looked like the spoons were mounted using some sort of clips. Well, after searching high and low, I did finally find and order something that looked similar. Unfortunately, the clips were way too big for most of the spoons that were narrow.
Back to the drawing board. Then I considered “threading” the spoons to the matboard. In other words, taking a needle threded with some wire or fishing line, and adhering the spoons to the matboard that way. Well, it was extremely difficult to “tie” the spoons tightly enough to the matboard without bending or warping it. Plus, after threading just a few spoons, I could tell that it would be very time intensive to do it for the 100 spoons that I had!
Next, I tried an option that I hadn’t been crazy about … hot glue. I was so afraid of permanently damaging my spoons. Or, if I ever wanted to disassemble the frames, bending or ruining the spoons if I tried to remove them from the matboard.
So, what I did was I looked for a spoon that didn’t have much sentimental value. It was from a location I had never visited, and had probably been given by a family friend who had gone on vacation somewhere. I couldn’t even remember who would have given it, so clearly there was no sentimental connection to the spoon. I used some hot glue and glued that spoon to a scrap piece of matboard. And, I let it dry. A few days later, I was able to easily “snap” the spoon off the matboard. Yes, it ruined the matboard, but not the spoon. And, I was also easily able to scrape off the hot glue on the back of the spoon without damaging it or bending it. I tried it for all the other remaining spoon materials, like the pewter spoons too. Zero damage to the spoons, all very easy to remove.
So, I was sold. No, I don’t know if there might be very long term damage thanks to the hot glue, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take to put my spoons on display!
Earlier this year, Ken and I went to the Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa in San Antonio, TX. My sister and her family had recently moved from Pittsburgh, PA to the Dallas, TX area, and had learned about this resort during one of their trips to Dallas while house hunting. It quickly became a favorite for everybody, my niece and nephew included!
My niece and nephew liked it so much, in fact, that we decided to celebrate their birthdays there (my nephew turned 10 and my niece turned 3, just two days apart). So, my dad flew down too, my sister and her husband and kids drove from Dallas, and Ken and I flew on a nonstop from Baltimore to San Antonio.
The driving entrance to the hotel area is somewhat unassuming and covered by lots of trees. There are a few resorts in the area that seemed similarly “hidden.” The GPS on our phone though took us right where we needed to go! Reservations are needed to enter the parking area (names are checked on the first day, then you’re given a parking pass) to ensure that non-guests cannot come onsite to use the pools and other amenities.
We booked a King room, and then were offered an upgrade option to a 1 bedroom suite upon check-in for an extra $25/night. We decided to jump on the offer.
When you walked in the door to the room, a bathroom and closet was on the left, the door to the bedroom was straight ahead, and the living room was on the right. The living room was a good size and had a lot of places to sit. (Which was nice since, during our stay, family members were always in-and-out of our room … 5 adults and two kids!)
There was balcony access from both the bedroom and the living room.
The bedroom was a decent size.
The bathroom was very basic. I would’ve liked to have seen some slightly higher end finishes in a 1-bedroom suite, but it was perfectly functional.
The large hallway closet was great.
But really, let’s get onto the REAL attraction of this hotel … the grounds and activities!
The Lobby Area
I’ll let the photos do the talking here!
Then, there were a lot of outdoor seating areas to sit back and relax.
Even though it was May and in Texas, the area had plenty of trees and shade so it never felt exceptionally hot or humid. (Of course, constantly going in and out of the pools helped with that too!).
I think that’s about enough for one post! I’ll cover other parts of the Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa, like the pools, the “Ramblin River,” S’mores, and outdoor movies in a part 2!