Yadkin Valley Escape

Sometimes you just can’t take time for a real get-away, but even sneaking away for 12-24 hours nearby can be a refreshing treat!

Ever had trouble getting away?  Lately life has come at my family hard and fast.  The main thing consuming our time, energy and finances has been the wedding of our youngest daughter, Adrianna.  That created a travel hiatus for me for 6 months, which has felt like an eternity!

While dreaming about our 30-year anniversary 10 years ago, my husband, some good friends and I decided we’d go to Australia to hike and visit the wineries.  Sometimes plans 10 years down the line don’t work out!  Our 30-year anniversary approached and we couldn’t figure out how to get away together for a weekend, much less a trip to Australia.

As our anniversary date approached, I found myself getting depressed that it was going to pass by without any kind of celebration.  Admittedly, I’m also hard to please.  Going out to dinner at a nice restaurant in town was not going to suffice.  I felt like we needed a little more of a get-away than that.  So we talked again about what we both love to do, which is hiking and wine tasting and really good food.  The more we thought about it, we realized we had all of that within 1.5 hours of our house, so why not take advantage of it?

Since we only had part of one afternoon into the next morning, we couldn’t do much touring around. We decided to hike up Pilot Mountain just north of Winston-Salem, then head to the Hampton Inn & Suites in Dobson, NC, and have dinner at the Harvest Grill at Shelton Vineyards.  Although there are numerous notable and up-and-coming wineries in the Yadkin Valley, we had heard great things about the Harvest Grill at Shelton Vineyards and wanted to experience a dinner there with our hotel only a few miles down the road.

Hiking up Pilot Mountain on a sunny day is stunning.  It’s a 6-mile roundtrip, which makes it convenient for an afternoon hike with rewarding views.  There are other great options in the area, like Hanging Rock State Park, which we hope to explore more in future outings.

noelle mt pilot

Dining at Harvest Grill was just what we hoped it would be.  Rather than a flight or pairing, we decided to just have a bottle of the Reserve Claret with our meal.  My meal of roasted lamb and grilled asparagus was fabulous. And they were very accommodating with my annoying Gluten- and Dairy-free needs.  David had the grilled salmon special in a jalapeño butter sauce, which he deemed very good, but not quite great.  We both loved the enclosed patio room overlooking part of the vineyards and the herb/vegetable garden.  The service, food, ambience and wine combined for an excellent experience.

Trip Advisor photo of Harvest Grill

The Hampton Inn is actually owned by Shelton Vineyards and is very nicely appointed.  It’s a little nicer than most stock Hampton Inns and includes an appealing lobby, a welcoming wine tasting room (Shelton wines only!) as well as a patio to sit and enjoy a glass of wine, some conversation or just a good book!  Our room was spotless, spacious and very comfortable.  We had originally planned to stay in one of the enticing B&B’s in the area, but this was a very pleasant alternative in order to stay near the restaurant and to get back on the road toward home quickly.

Image result for pictures of hampton inn dobson wine tasting room

Although Hampton Inns provide complimentary breakfast, we wanted omelettes and atmosphere.  So we took a chance and pulled off exit 82 at Elkin, NC, to see what we could find. We were immediately drawn to the old-fashioned-looking Breakfast Time restaurant.  It was just what we wanted with an extensive breakfast menu, healthy options and that quaint retro look. The service was friendly and prompt and it is clearly popular with the locals. Breakfast Time is actually a new restaurant that began in Winston-Salem in 2009 and has expanded to a few towns.  The one in Elkin just opened in 2016 and is a worthy stopping point for breakfast-all-day along the I-77 corridor.

We’re looking forward to exploring our region on quick little get-aways more often!  Never underestimate the value of 24-hour or less explorations.  Western North Carolina is not only a great place to live, but a great place to vacation as well!

Disney World at Christmas? Are you crazy?

If you just have to travel over the holidays, how do you make it palatable and even enjoyable?

Maybe!  We are the types who avoid crowds and travel as often as possible during the shoulder seasons, when prices are better and crowds are lower.  My golden rule is to avoid traveling during school breaks and holidays.  So why would we go to Disney World at Christmas?  Because, as most of you have likely experienced at some point, sometimes there are extenuating circumstances.  In our case, it wasn’t because of school schedules or athletic commitments.  It was because our daughter, Hannah, has been working at WDW and wouldn’t be home for Christmas.  Since she’ll also be away next year, we decided we needed to do whatever it took to get the family together this year.  Many of you know how hard that is as children become adults!

There ARE advantages to traveling to WDW at Christmas, even with the crowds.  First, the parks are beautifully decorated.  I took advantage of this by not lugging out all the decorations at home this year.  Second, NO COOKING!  That’s a big one for me since we have many traditions built around Christmas food. I love the traditions, but wow, what a nice break for a change.  It was the most stress-free Christmas I’ve had in a long time.  Third, family is spending concentrated time together.  Since you’re away from all the distractions of home, it’s nice to really dedicate some time to being a family again.  Fourth, I didn’t experience the post-Christmas blues I sometimes feel.  Since we were there for several days after Christmas, there was time to ease back into post-holiday life.

Magic Kingdom lit up for Christmas in the evening

However, some days the parks really were packed full of people.  This is when it’s advantageous to pre-plan and have a strategy.  Here are some tips that I’ve learned after at least 14 trips to Disney parks that can help make busy days more enjoyable.

  • Stay on Disney property if you have multi-generations traveling together.  This gives everyone so much freedom to come and go between the parks and your resort with no worries.
  • If possible, choose a resort that has alternative transportation to the parks you love best.  The traffic can get crazy, so even taking resort busses can be a hassle on really busy days.  Using boat or monorail transportation comes in really handy on these days.
  • Get to the parks EARLY.  We found that using the extra magic hours (if you stay at Disney resorts) and getting to the park just before opening really made a difference.  Staying late at night wasn’t nearly as much of an advantage.  Lots more people stay up late than get there early.
  • Check out the crowd calendar before going and plan your fast passes well ahead of time.  Choose the park that has the lowest expected attendance for each given day of travel and make your fast pass reservations for the morning.
  • Make your restaurant reservations as far in advance as possible!  Six months is ideal.
  • Don’t try to do it all.  Or if you do want to do it all, give yourself at least 7 days in the parks.  The cost of admission is incrementally much smaller as you add on days, so it makes a lot of sense to get passes for a solid week (or more!).  Park hopper passes allow you to take advantage of whichever parks have lower wait times at any time of day.  We often switch parks mid-day depending on wait times and our moods.
Epcot lit up in the evening
Relaxing afternoons on our balcony
Worshipping at Christmas time with Gospel choir “Joyful Noise”
Three goofs playing in Animal Kingdom
View from the hot air balloon at Disney Springs


“The girls” – three generations enjoying Christmas eve dinner at Brown Derby

Our family, as many others I know, has perfected the art of which fast passes to make and which ones to avoid.  We also enjoy trying out many of the different resorts and restaurants.  If I can help you to plan your next trip, please let me know!  I’d love to share the experience I’ve gleaned with you.

Wishing all of you peace and love throughout 2017!


“Running-Away” to Boston

Days 2 & 3

Don’t you love it when the hotel lobby coffee is actually good?  We grabbed a cup and headed out for our hotel shuttle to the subway.

Although we had reservations for the whale watch cruise, it was a good thing we arrived early.  If you want a seat (and you probably do because it’s a long, cold ride!), get there at least half an hour ahead of departure.  No one can guarantee whale sightings, but the Boston companies work together to track and spot the whales, so you’re pretty likely to see some.  We lucked out since the Humpback whales seemed to be in the mood to put on a show!  We laughed at some pectoral and tail slapping, ooohed and aaahed when they breached and learned patience after a fluke-up dive, which meant they were going to spend some time (usually only 8-10 minutes) underwater.

Back on land, we headed south along the waterfront to the Boston Tea Party ships and museum.  Although we didn’t tour the museum, it’s intriguing to see the ships, which are near-perfect replicas.  From there, we walked past the popular Boston Children’s museum to Flour, a very tasty artisanal bakery and cafe offering many healthy and allergy-free options at decent prices. It’s worth finding your way there!


Next we hopped on the hop-on, hop-off CityView Trolley that was included in our Go Boston Card.  We had an informative and fun guide, so we stayed onboard for the entire circuit to hear all his commentary.  We had hoped to make it to the U.S.S. Constitution this afternoon, but were too late.  Instead, we meandered through the streets and shops in the main tourist district while enjoying the live entertainment.

Ready for dinner, we dined outdoors at Anthem.  While the atmosphere was great, our food was only average.

Sunday arrived with rain and wind.  We had scheduled our indoor activities for Sunday because of this.  Adrianna cannot visit a city without seeing the zoo or aquarium, so we spent several hours in the New England Aquarium.  It ranked high in our opinion with some good educational “shows.”  After a quick take-away lunch in the Quincy Market, we boarded the CityView Trolley again as transportation to the U.S.S. Constitution, a.k.a. “Old Ironsides.”  While it’s in dry-dock, we have the opportunity to see the entire hull.  U.S. Navy crew members tell the story of the launch and explain various features, though only 2 decks were open for visitation.  The U.S.S. Constitution was commissioned in 1798, earned its nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812 and has never yet lost a battle. The gift shop at the museum (separately run and funded by contributions) had some unique souvenirs.


Braving the rain and wind, we headed back to the trolley.  It’s intriguing to hear the different driver guides elaborate with their own take on the core history and stories.  Some are definitely better than others, but each perspective adds its own flavor to the ride.  Time constraints caused us to scrap our plans for the Museum of Fine Arts.  Instead, we walked from the Boston Public Garden, along Boyleston Street to  Copley Place for some indoor shopping.

With a 6:00 am flight on our minds, we chose to dine at the hotel again while enjoying our last evening of views of Boston across the harbor.  Looking back over our 3-day visit, we agreed that Boston ranks high for variation of activities, ease of getting around and beauty.  Any future visits would definitely include the Museum of Fine Arts, visits to the islands and biking or walking more of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.  But for this little get-away, we are returning home content and ready to jump into real life again (maybe…).


“Running away” to Boston

Long weekend in Boston

I’ve been booking a lot of Boston trips lately.  So when my youngest daughter, Adri, and I decided to run away somewhere during her fall break, Boston was top-of-mind.

Since we could only run away for a long weekend (3 nights) and had to find decently priced last-minute flights (that was hard!), we departed Greensboro, NC, at 5:50 am.  That meant leaving our Greensboro Airport hotel at 4:00 am.

But arriving before noon has its benefits!  I decided to stay near the airport since we have to fly again on Monday at 6:00 am.  I chose to splurge and stay in a room overlooking the harbor and the city.  We almost didn’t leave our room after an early check-in.  The views are just so mesmerizing (and we were operating on very little sleep!).


Although Hurricane Matthew was causing havoc along the southeastern coast, up north was sunny and gorgeous.  Adri and I attained our Charlie cards, loaded them with some money and headed out on the Blue Line subway.  We got off after only 2 stops and started the Freedom Trail walk.  Even though we could have done the guided trip for free with our Go Boston cards (and I normally prefer to hear the stories and information great guides provide), we were in the mood to meander on our own.  The trail is easy and fun to follow with its brick lines and we had to keep stopping just to admire the great architecture, much less read the historical markers.


Open-air windows in restaurants, pubs and cafes, flowers in window boxes, a brilliant mix of historical and modern architectural beauty and the harbor make Boston such a great place to just “be.”

After walking the trail at our own pace, we stopped for a coffee on the waterfront.  Sitting on a park bench, admiring the harbor views in the sunshine with a saxophone melody in the background, we settled into admiring the scene while we people- (and dog-) watched.


Lack of sleep was catching up, so we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and enjoy dinner overlooking the bay and the city as the sun set in the background.  Here I sit now with our curtains open wide so we can fall asleep with the water shimmering in the cast-off light of the city behind it.  Tomorrow… whale watching and…?