Monthly Archives: August 2011

Charleston, SC: Fit For Two Yuppies (Part 2)

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“The coconut trees, lithe and graceful, crowd the beach like minuet of slender elderly virgins adopting flippant poses.” – William Manchester

The quote above takes me straight to Isle of Palms (IOP), South Carolina. Not quite Charleston, as my title would suggest, but I figured its vicinity to Charleston gives me the right to make it part two in my three-part series of Charleston. My next post is on Folly Beach, which also isn’t exactly Charleston, but I wanted my readers to know you can spend the night in IOP or Folly Beach and easily venture to Charleston if you want.

Marc and I have stayed at Wild Dunes Resort the past two years. The  resort has decent beach access and a slew of activities. You can hit the tennis courts, play a round of golf, workout in the fitness center, run the streets lined with palm trees, or play in the pool. One of the things I like most about Isle of Palms is that it’s a destination that can be as energetic or as relaxing as you’d like it to be. I personally like to do absolutely nothing when I visit IOP.  I’m usually such a go-getter on vacations that they leave me exhausted rather than rejuvenated, but I always feel better after a trip to IOP.  My typical day looks like this:

  • Grab a latte.
  • Eat breakfast.
  • May or may not go for a run or go for a bike ride on the beach.
  • Read a book on the beach.
  • May or may not eat lunch.
  • Read a book on the beach or at the pool.
  • May or may not enjoy a daiquiri poolside (kudos to the resort for having decent mixed drinks).
  • Escape the rays and get ready for dinner.
  • Sleep.

 

I loved our view from our condo this year. We were blessed with a couple of beautiful sunsets from our balcony which we enjoyed with Marc’s parents. Watching a sunset in Isle of Palms truly soothes the soul and is so enjoyable when surrounded by loved ones.

Wild Dunes Resort is a wonderful place to vacation; yet, I’d be lying if I made it out to be some amazing place without any little annoyances. We were a little bothered by the small, slow, and crowded elevators that we routinely shared with housekeeping and a big housekeeping cart (note: if Marc and I could make one change in all hotels, it would be this: have a separate service elevator).

We were also a bit annoyed by all the little kids. This is a very family-oriented resort so sometimes laying by the pool isn’t exactly relaxing. Kids were constantly shouting, splashing, and stealing our right to have silence. We love kids, but I suppose this trip made us realize we don’t want to visit a family resort again anytime soon. Can you blame us? We’re in our twenties and kid-less. I’ll be all about the family resort thing sometime in the future but I’m not there yet.

The last time we visited IOP, we made a point of spending an afternoon in Charleston. Marc and I finally took the time to meander through the Charleston City Market, which flaunts vendors selling high quality products. I fell in love with Charleston’s famous sweetgrass baskets, but I simply wasn’t willing (or able) to drop anywhere from $75 to over a $1,000+ to take a work of art home with me. I did manage to spend $20 for a gorgeous Charleston Christmas ornament, so that’ll be a nice touch to our tree this year.

Our last stop before heading back home to Charlotte was Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in downtown Charleston. I have exceptionally fond memories of dining at Bubba Gump on Pier 39 in San Francisco, so I wanted to introduce Marc to this glorious restaurant. Sadly, I ended up being wildly disappointed and completely regretted my decision to dine there. My experience in Charleston was nothing compared to my experience in San Francisco. The service was absolutely awful and the restaurant wasn’t even that busy. Our appetizer was delivered roughly 20 minutes after we ordered it and our lunches arrived 40 minutes after we ate our appetizer. It was an absolutely pitiful end to such a wonderful weekend.

While we love Wild Dunes Resort and have stayed there the last two years, I think Marc and I will enjoy other resorts at least until we have a reason to go to a super family-friendly resort. We will continue to visit IOP.

I’m off to write my post on Folly Beach!

~ Lyndsi

A Slice of Germany in an Unlikely Place

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Ah, beer gardens, pretzels, sauercraut, and wood-paneled beer halls. Quite a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon. But no, we’re not in Germany, we’re in good old Charlotte, NC at the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. The German-style brewery has only been open since 2009 and is already attracting quite a following. This is Charlotte’s own micro-brewery, taking the place of several past failed efforts. The beer that has made this company famous is its Copper ale, but it also offers a few seasonal varieties.

We went on the free tour and learned quite a bit about OMB. First, it’s an authentic Düsseldorf style “Altbier” beer. “Alt” means old in German, as in “old-school.” They import fresh Bavarian hops from Germany to make it here in Charlotte. This stems back to the founder’s love of this German beer. He traveled the world on a sort of sabbatical and picked Charlotte to be the location for his brewery.

What sets OMB apart is it’s premium, ultra fresh, and contains no preservatives. You can taste the difference between OMB and beers that have been shipped across the country or world (i.e. your Bud Lights). According to the OMB site, “lagering their Alt for several weeks after primary fermentation could produce a full-flavored, yet smoother and more refreshing beer.” It’s true.

While the beer is fresh and delicious, the brewery itself is worth a visit. Located just south of uptown Charlotte, it’s convenient to the light rail. We entered an industrial area and all of a sudden it became clear where OMB was due to the packed parking lot in an otherwise desolate industrial landscape. Outside is their “beer garden,” but it’s essentially picnic tables in a parking lot. A bit disappointing there.

Inside is a sizeable beer hall with vaulted ceilings and wood-paneled walls, clearly modeled after Germany. You can buy t-shirts and mugs, or head straight to the bar for super-fresh beer on draft. You can probably guess where Lyndsi and I headed. Several pints later, we headed on the free tour of the facility. It’s open five days a week (closed Sunday-Monday) and I recommend it. The tour guide was funny, lively, and like the rest of the visitors, drinking. He suggested we shout “BEER ME” if you run out during the tour (that seems inevitable). Interestingly, we learned that OMB still bottles beer by hand, which explains why their distribution to local retailers like Harris Teeter (grocery store) is limited to individual pint bottles and no 12-packs.

On a related note, some of the biggest beer halls in the world can be found in Munich, which is, of course, home of the ultimate beer festival, the Oktoberfest. If you’re lucky enough to be in that part of the world during the festival, why not stay in a local’s apartment in Munich and make your stay in Bavaria all the more authentic?

Special tip: keep your expectations low if you want a soft German pretzel. We’re fairly certain they buy them at Costco down the street. But hey, they’re a brewery, not a restaurant. And if that’s the biggest complaint one can have, then they’re in pretty good shape. OMB, Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. Charlotte’s very own German-style brewery. Fresh, premium, delicious. Long live OMB!

~ Marc

Charleston, SC: Fit For Two Yuppies (Part 1)

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If you’re neither a Carolinian nor a friend of a Carolinian, you most likely haven’t had the chance to hear anyone boast about Charleston, South Carolina. I’m not saying that people from other states don’t love Charleston, but chances are they’re not proud of Charleston like most Carolinians are. Surely you’ve heard about Texans and the pride they have for their state. Now just imagine Carolinians expressing the same pride for Charleston. There you have it. The best place on the map.

Charleston is a place Marc and I have visited several times and we will most likely visit every year as long as we live in the Carolinas. All of our trips have been uniquely different, so I’m going to share a few of those trips with you this week. I hope you gain a glimpse of what our lovely Charleston has to offer.

Charleston is known to be a romantic town that couples from all over the Carolinas love to frequent for romantic weekend getaways. It’s not just for couples, though. It’s often the go-to spot for big groups of friends, guys and girls alike. Just be careful going there if you’re single because, chances are, some sparks will ignite between you and the one you would never desire in another town. You’ll want to fill the void of not having someone special to share the charming city with. It’s a city that awes and it’s so much better when you have someone to embrace and hold hands with while walking down the historical streets.

In February, Marc and I decided to be a bit spontaneous and take a one-night trip to Charleston. If you haven’t caught on yet, Marc is the planner, so he does all the booking for our trips. This time he blessed me with a stay at Restoration on King (ROK). The hotel is in the center of downtown Charleston located on Wentworth Street. We absolutely loved that the hotel had a wine and cheese hour and a milk and cookies hour. The southern hospitality continued when ROK butlers (that’s what they seemed like, anyway) left us a picnic basket loaded with goodies outside of our door in the morning. It was so nice to be served breakfast without having to walk out of our room. Too bad a Grande Sugar-free Soy Cinnamon Dolce Latte didn’t come in the picnic basket.

Since it wasn’t included, Marc and I walked to Starbucks and then returned to the ROK rooftop terrace to enjoy our nice caffeinated beverages. The rooftop terrace doesn’t offer the best views of Charleston, but you can see plenty of the town’s dramatic church steeples. I loved listening to the church bells ring and definitely felt like I was in a good, southern town.

ROK is technically a luxury boutique hotel, but may be better described as your wealthy friend’s luxury apartment you were invited to stay at while he or she was on vacation, or the ritzy fully loaded timeshare rental your parents go to each year. The suite we stayed in had 1 1/2 baths, a well-furnished and beautifully decorated bedroom, a large living space, and a grand kitchen. The kitchen had a full-sized refrigerator, came stocked with everything from wine glasses to plates, had chef knives on the countertop … you get the point. A FULLY-EQUIPPED KITCHEN. I love to cook, so it was a shame I couldn’t put the kitchen to use. Then again, who am I kidding, the low-country cuisine in Charleston is simply not to be missed. If you’re planning a trip to Charleston, make sure you plan some time to be active otherwise you’ll return home a good 10 pounds heavier than you were when you left. Not a horrible price to pay for such amazing food, but I try to maintain my weight while on vacation.

We ended up eating at Blossom since the first three restaurants we called were booked with no openings until after 9 PM. Blossom exceeded our expectations and was an excellent place to eat with a beautiful setting. Although there were larger parties and parties with kids,  the ambiance of the restaurant is still romantic enough for a date with that special someone. I have recommended this restaurant to friends and would dine there again. Although, next time I visit I’d love to dine at Slightly North of Broad (SNOB).

After dinner, we made our way to the Roof Top Bar at Vendue Inn. The inside of the bar seemed more like an old dive bar to us (not really our thing), but we loved the live music. Even though dive bars aren’t typically where yuppies gather, this bar had absolutely no shortage of yuppies. I suppose we fit in well. The rooftop offered some of the best views of Charleston one could ask for. The Cooper River Bridge, Waterfront Park, and Fort Sumter are absolutely stunning to look at from the rooftop. I can only imagine how gorgeous a sunset must be from the Roof Top Bar at Vendue Inn.

That was pretty much all we managed to squeeze in during our quick trip to Charleston in February, but I’ll be posting about Wild Dunes at Isle of Palms in a couple of days! I’ll also venture back to downtown Charleston in my next post to share my experiences at the market and Charleston’s premiere shopping district.

~ Lyndsi

 

America vs. Canada: Niagara Falls Edition

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Niagara Falls is perhaps one of the most talked about natural beauties in the world. Now that I have finally visited the falls, I understand what all the hype is about and can’t comprehend why so many people are disappointed when they visit. I think all the naysayers are pathetic and if Niagara Falls can’t impress them, I’m willing to bet nothing in this world can.

Perhaps the greatest debate about Niagara Falls is which side is better: the American or Canadian side, so I am going to offer my opinion here.

I’ll be honest, I had no intent of visiting the New York side of the falls when my family and I were planning the trip. In fact, I insisted that we not even stop on the New York side because I had heard such awful things about it (words others used to describe it to me: grungy, filthy, deteriorating, rough area, sketchy, etc). I figured why waste time on the crappy side when I could go straight to the winning side? Thanks to a last-minute change in our trip, we actually visited the New York side and I am so glad we did.

Pros of the American side:

  • Has a gorgeous state park that I knew nothing about. The area has been kept very natural and green. There are a lot of tourists, but it didn’t seem like an icky tourist trap. There were a few souvenir shops, but not so many that it took away from the serenity of the falls.
  • Everything was very clean and well taken care of within the state park.
  • The Cave of the Winds attraction (just so happens to be a highlight of my trip). Cave of the Winds gives you the opportunity to experience the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls from a rickety bridge that sprawls jagged rocks beneath the falls. The view seemed to be to good to be true as I looked up at the falls and at the rainbows created by the misty air. The falls showered me with cool water and made my makeup and hair a mess, but that was the last thing on my mind. It was an experience of a lifetime and allowed me to feel and hear how powerful the falls truly are. Cave of the Winds is an attraction you’ll want to spend your money on.
Cons of the American side:
  • The views are absolutely breathtaking; however, they are not nearly as extraordinary as the Canadian side. The views are fairly limited to side views. You simply can’t experience the falls the way you should if you only visit the New York side without at least going on Cave of the Winds.
  • Prior to Cave of the Winds, I felt like the whole experience of seeing the falls in person was a bit anti-climatic. I never felt that way on the Canadian side. Perhaps it had to do with the limited views.
  • There isn’t a lot to do on the American side, so if the whole “touristy” thing is what you’re into, you may be disappointed.
  • Less exciting than the Canadian side.
  • It didn’t seem like there were a lot of nice areas outside of the state park and the town seemed to be run-down.
Pros of the Canadian side:
  • Maid of the Mist is absolutely amazing (also offered on the American side, but I’ve heard it’s better on the Canadian, side which is where I did it). Nothing compares to a boat bringing you to the whirlpool area below Horseshoe Falls. It’s absolutely incredible to be surrounded by walls of rushing, roaring water.
  • Entertainment galore. Casinos, ferris wheels, water park, Hershey’s Chocolate Factory, Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, etc.
  • Spectacular views of American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls. The views from the American side are simply pitiful compared to the Canadian side.
  • Extremely nice hotels. We stayed at Embassy Suites on the 10th floor and still had a view of the Horseshoes Falls. The view from breakfast was also amazing. Clean, friendly staff, nice pool, etc.
  • Niagara-on-the-Lake  is just a short drive away!

Cons of the Canadian side:

  • Almost too many people and too touristy. I suppose I appreciate the natural beauty of the falls more than I do the cheesy entertainment (I know some people enjoy that entertainment, especially if they have kids, so I included it in the pros).
  • Things are way more expensive, even though the United States dollar is only slightly weaker than the Canadian dollar. My typical Starbucks latte costs me slighty less than $5 in the U.S. The exact drink in Canada costed me slightly more than $7. Yikes.
  • Lacks the Cave of the Winds and it’s my favorite attraction.
Niagara Falls should definitely be on everyone’s travel bucket list. While I would recommend staying on the Canadian side, it’s definitely worth making a quick pitstop on the American side to experience the natural beauty and Cave of the Winds. I think a three-day trip would be ideal if you’re just doing the basic sight seeing. That should give you plenty of time to enjoy it without becoming bored.  If you are going to mix in entertainment and venture to Niagara-on-the-Lake, I’d recommend staying for 5-7 days. Add it to your list!
Photo credits: All photos in this post were taken by my beautiful and talented sister, Kassi. Her camera was nearly ruined by the water and mist ofthe falls, but luckily it dried out! I was tempted to share all 200+ photos, but I controlled my temptation (you’re welcome)!
~ Lyndsi

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Dear Niagara-on-the-Lake, Our Brief First Encounter Has Me Lusting After You…

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… I hope we will get to spend more time together soon.

Check out our travel bucket list and you’ll see that Napa Valley is on the list of places Marc and I want to visit before we turn 30. After my recent trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake, I am seriously considering nixing Napa Valley and replacing it with Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is about a 20-minute scenic drive from Niagara Falls and is an absolute must visit for anyone traveling within a few hours of it. Unfortunately for me, I only spent a couple of hours admiring the small town since it was not a planned part of our trip. We made the trip to Ontario, Canada to visit Niagara Falls, but I insisted on visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake since I’m a bit of a wino and a Canadian woman told me I absolutely had to see the town (and sip the wine).

Upon entering the town, I began salivating. Okay, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration, but I did want to jump out of the car and tell my family to pick me up later in the day week. Dozens of wineries sprinkled the drive, vineyards crept into the horizon, flowers and trees added a hint of elegance to the streets, carriages were prepared to make ordinary women feel like princesses, quaint shops awaited classy visitors, and little gems waited for guests to fill their rooms. It took mere seconds for me to realize this town was another slice of heaven on earth.

Since I was rushed for time, I was only able to visit one randomly selected winery, Lailey Vineyard, and it left a lasting stellar first impression with me. I sampled three wines and immediately thought to myself ,”what kind of crappy wine have I been drinking the past few years?” I wanted to buy several bottles, but settled on the 2008 Vidal Ice Wine because of its rarity and the fact I wanted to bring a bottle home to Marc (even though I think he has given up on wine). Oh well, more for me!

For those of you who are not self-proclaimed winos, ice wine is a very sweet dessert wine produced from grapes that are left on the vine to freeze. Canada and Germany are the largest producers of ice wine and only select wineries in the United States produce it. Since I’m not certain you enjoy wine, I’ll stop my tangent there. However, if you are intrigued by ice wine, I love this post: Canadian Ice Wine. The bottle to the right is 375 ml and cost $45, so it is fairly expensive (very expensive on my budget). It is definitely worth every penny though and I can justify the expense since I’m saving it for a special occasion.

In case I haven’t already made my point, Niagara-on-the-Lake is a lovely, charming town. I would absolutely die to stay at the Prince of Wales Hotel (see below). I haven’t researched how costly it is but, quite frankly, I don’t care because I will stay there no matter what the cost. I have already started to set aside money for this dream vacation and it hasn’t even been a week since I visited. I’d love to visit for a few days and do nothing but relax and visit wineries. It would be a true getaway.

What do you guys think … should I keep Napa Valley on my travel bucket list or  should I replace it with Niagara-on-the-Lake? Niagara-on-the-Lake appeals to me more since it’s the less talked about of the two.

~ Lyndsi

There’s Something About Asheville, NC

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Beach or mountains? Mountains every time, baby.

Every time Lyndsi and I visit Asheville, I tell her we should move here. There’s just something magical about this little city nestled between the highest mountains in the Great Smoky Mountains. Asheville feels big enough, but not too big. In other words, it has just enough cosmopolitan vibe to keep you from being bored or feeling limited. There’s a feeling of escape, coziness, and calmness I get when I’m there. It’s a creative energy that has to be due to the surroundings. I’ve always wanted to live in a city in the mountains.

Two things Asheville is known for are its numerous micro-breweries and its hippy/liberal/artsy scene. I guess I could wear my flannel button-up, grab a craft beer, and blend right in! Asheville also has a few nice hotels. If you’re into spas and historic buildings, the Grove Park Inn is your spot. We had dinner there last fall and frankly, weren’t impressed. Perhaps that was in part due to us being seated in the back room of the restaurant, despite having reservations. The inside of the Grove Park Inn feels like a shopping mall, with numerous restaurants and shops. Didn’t like that vibe.

More to our taste is the Grand Bohemian hotel, located in the Biltmore Village area (numerous shops abound, it’s the best part of Asheville outside of downtown). They have an excellent restaurant and bar.

Of course, Asheville’s biggest landmark is the Biltmore Estate. If you love history and/or architecture, it’s a must. Even if you don’t, it’s a must-see. The Vanderbilt’s mountain estate (the fact that Cornelius Vanderbilt chose Asheville for his estate says a lot about the area) is still the largest private residence in the U.S., though now it’s a museum. It’s a thoroughly fascinating tour, but be ready to feel like a full-fledged tourist.

We visit Asheville several times a year (it’s a 1.5-hour drive from Charlotte) and I’m already salivating at visiting during fall.

~ Marc

An Observation on the Travel Blogosphere

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Seeing as how Two Yuppies and a Passport is a brand-new blog, Lyndsi and I are still discovering our surroundings. One thing I’ve noticed is how most travel blogs out there are predominantly non-U.S.-focused. Is this a bad thing necessarily? Of course not. We have aspirations of traveling the world and sharing our experiences here.

But from reading and talking with a number of popular travel blogs, I’ve noticed almost a biased against more “local” travel bloggers. Is it so bad that as a young couple we’d rather start out exploring our surroundings on a smaller scale at first? My argument is that there’s so many cool places to explore just in your backyard that can be done over a weekend. I’ve been living in the Carolinas for six years and there are still many places I want to visit (the Outer Banks tops that list, by the way).

So why do I get the impression from bigger blogs that we’re somehow looked down upon because we’re not backpacking through Nicaragua? For example, we were invited to guest post on another blog. They asked us to pick of the selected locations on their map where they’re looking for content and submit a post. Much to my chagrin, North America was the only continent in the world that was excluded. That is what compelled me to share this rant.

Nothing against backpackers, it’s just that we have day jobs, family, and things preventing us from just setting off indefinitely. I guess what I’m trying to say is Two Yuppies and a Passport is going to embrace weekend getaways, and taking advantage of cool places in your own backyard before more exotic locales.

I haven’t found any travel blogs for the Carolinas yet, so maybe that can be our niche … to start. As a young, fun (we hope) couple, we want to discover and share unique, exciting, and realistic places that people can visit. Is that so bad?

~ Marc