The Most Overlooked Attraction in Washington D.C.

Every year, millions of tourists flock to Washington D.C. to experience the history of our nation's capital. From the Smithsonian and White House, to the National Mall and Arlington Cemetery, there are plenty of great sites to keep visitors busy for days. I've been lucky to visit D.C. several times, and my favorite attraction is one that's overlooked by the overwhelming majority of sightseers.
Honest Abe watching over the city...

It is safe to say that the Lincoln Memorial will find itself at or near the top of every visitor's "things to do in Washington D.C." list. Most will climb the memorial's 58 steps, pause to take in the view of the reflecting pool and Washington Monument, snap a photo of the giant statue of the man who saved our Union, and then walk back down the steps, moving on to the next site. I also followed this routine the first couple times I visited the memorial, but a few years ago I discovered that the shrine to Honest Abe has a secret...
The only side of the memorial most see...

The interior of the Lincoln Memorial is inset by several feet on all four sides, creating a marble path all the way around the main level of this gorgeous structure. As I reached the top of the memorial's famous steps on a visit not long ago, I was struck with a curiosity to walk around this marble path. We reached the back side of the memorial, and there I found the most overlooked spot in Washington D.C.
The path to my secret spot...

In total contrast to the noisy, crowded front, there was not a soul to be found on the memorial's opposite side. We sat on the edge of the worn marble, and took in the view of the Potomac River and Arlington Cemetery. As the sun began to set, it was possible to see the eternal flame at President Kennedy's grave site flicker in the distance, and the aviation buff in me enjoyed watching the planes on approach to National Airport. I enjoyed this spot so much, we returned the next evening with a pair of hot dogs for dinner and soaked up some rare solitude at one of the most popular attractions in the country.
Best spot in the city...

I really hate to use the phrase "hidden gem," because I feel it gets thrown around way too much on outlets like this one, but in this case I think it's appropriate. So the next time you're in D.C., grab a hot dog, climb the steps, skip the statue, and enjoy the view. But let's keep this between us, shall we?

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

Travel Giveaway - Florida Travel & Life Magazine


Do you love to travel to Florida? How about travel magazines? Well combine the two together, and you've got one awesome giveaway!

The good folks at Florida Travel & Life Magazine have generously offered a free 1 year subscription ( 6 issues) plus some awesome swag to one of my lucky readers. The contest runs through midnight on Sunday, March 4th (Saturday night). See the rafflecopter below for how to enter.

Good luck!

(Sorry immediate family...You can't win.)


Check Out Time - The Week in Travel

By the time this post goes live at 8am in Florida, I will have been awake for about five hours. Why you may ask? Because my wife and her friend are crazy, that's why.... They are running in the Disney Princess Half Marathon, which means I have the pleasure of getting up at 3am on a Sunday to go and cheer them on.

For those fortunate souls that got to sleep in and are enjoying some Sunday morning coffee...here is this week's edition of Check Out Time.


  • I celebrated my 200th blog post with the short story of how it all began.
This is probably what I'm looking at right now...

And did you see?...

  • Waegook Tom shared his love of low season travel...I happen to agree with him...

And that's the week that was...See you next Sunday, after the Leap. Now if you'll excuse me, I need a nap...

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

Deej's Picture of the Week

Jefferson Memorial

In honor of last week's President's Day holiday, I thought I'd spotlight the memorial to one that often gets overlooked. Thanks President Jefferson...That Declaration of Independence thing was pretty cool...

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

How I Can Save For Travel

I'm not a fan of budgets. But sadly, I'm not a U.S. Congressman, so I keep to a budget both in life, and in travel. 

A few months ago I shared my "Dream big and scale back to reality" approach to budgeting for trips. This week, as part of Bootsnall's 2012 Indie Travel Challenge, we've be given a unique angle on the dreaded B-word... 

Find one major expense you could cut to help save for travel. 

This task proved harder than I originally thought, because for the most part I run a pretty lean financial ship. Outside of my fixed monthly expenses - mortgage, electric, etc - there are not many places that I spend loosely. Sure, we dine out or order in a few nights a week, but aside from that, travel is about the only place I spend money. Or so I thought....


One of these things is very expensive, is deeply intertwined in my daily life, and helps boost my efficiency at work a hundred fold. The other is my laptop... 

I am a full fledged junkie. 

It all started back in the mid-90s, when I was the only kid showing up to high school with an iced coffee every morning. Coffee wasn't cool yet in those days, but I like to think I made it cool. OK, we all know that is a huge stretch of the imagination, but humor me will you?

What I didn't realize back then - and still don't like to think about - is the financial impact of my coffee habit. I estimate that I spend between $75 and $100 a month at Starbucks and other establishments, on top of the $25 I spend to keep my Keurig in good supply. That's about $1500 a year for coffee. Multiply that by 15 years and you're starting to talk real money. Money that would bring more long term satisfaction if the end result were travel memories, as opposed to, well...urine.

So what am I going to do about it?

The solution which would have the biggest impact on my coffee expense would be to brew an extra cup at home and bring it to work. Most of my trips to the coffee shop occur on my lunch break, and since I only drink my coffee cold, having an extra cup in the fridge would save about $50-$75 a month. Over a years time, that's a nice weekend getaway. Do I think I can actually pull it off?....

Not in a million years.

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

Post #200 - A Milestone and How It All Began

Post #200....A random milestone for sure, but one that two years ago I certainly didn't think would happen. I wanted to reserve this post to simply show my gratitude to anyone out there who's reading this...you really make me love what I do. Sure, everyone says that writing should be for you, but let's face it...it's not. I wouldn't get near the satisfaction I do without you, and for that I'm beyond grateful. 

With that sappiness out of the way, here's the story I promised you...  
Thanks for hanging around...

How it all began...

About two years ago, I was bored one night and decided that I wanted to write a blog about my travels. I joined Blogger, designed my page, and even put together my first post, all in about the course of an hour. Who knew that one random night of boredom would lead to something which today takes nearly as much time as my 9 to 5 job. 

Without giving it a whole lot of thought, I signed-off my first post with "TTFN." This seemed appropriate enough, given I'm a huge Disney and Tigger fan. Plus, since my mom was the only follower back then, I knew it would likely make her smile. My younger brother - who's lead I follow in just about everything in life - seemed to see it differently.

"TTFN? Not a very dude-like closing."

He was right. Suddenly I felt the pressure of having an audience, and as I reached the end of my next post I thought long and hard on how to sign-off. Do I just ignore his critique and stick with TTFN? Maybe I'll just leave it blank? What are the cool kids saying these days? Finally, having reached the peak of my frustration, I decided that this would simply have to do...

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

The Georgia Aquarium - A Whale Shark of a Good Time

Over the last two decades, downtown Atlanta has been in a nearly continuous state of revitalization. The Olympic Games can certainly be thanked for starting the process, but the transformation of The ATL has continued long after the flame was extinguished. The growth of the area surrounding Centennial Olympic Park is responsible for bringing scores of tourists to the downtown area every year, with attractions like The World of Coke and CNN Center. Easily the most popular - and certainly the most impressive - attraction to emerge in the last few years is the Georgia Aquarium.
The Georgia Aquarium
The Georgia Aquarium

Opened in 2005, The Georgia Aquarium is the largest in the world, and was made possible mostly thanks to a $250 million donation by the founder of retail giant Home Depot. We first visited the aquarium shortly after it opened in 2006, and on a recent trip to Atlanta we were sure to put it on our itinerary once again.
The Georgia Aquarium
I would not want to encounter this guy at the beach...

This is most definitely "not your grandfather's aquarium." There are scores of attractions within featuring dolphins, beluga whales, creatures of the deep, and of course, the ever popular whale sharks. There are also interactive exhibits throughout for kids both young and old to explore, and I especially enjoyed the opportunity to feed the stingrays. It is an odd sensation to say the least...
The Georgia Aquarium
I fed a stingray!

Certainly the most impressive exhibit at the aquarium is the Ocean Voyager, which features a huge viewing window, as well as a tunnel through the enormous tank. I could easily spend all day in the viewing window "theater," simply observing the thousands of fish and majestic whale sharks. The tunnel is also a lot of fun and gives a unique perspective, but if you're a little claustrophobic like me, then you're likely to prefer the view from the theater. 
The Georgia Aquarium Whale Shark
HHeelllloooooo Wwwhhhhaaalllleeee.
The Georgia Aquarium
The tunnel through the tank...Not the Abyss, I promise.
"Hey Buddy, I'm trying to swim here..."
The Georgia Aquarium
"And this kids is what we call The Circle of Life."
The Georgia Aquarium
Simply incredible...


You'll be forgiven for not pegging Atlanta, Georgia as home of the world's largest aquarium. And really who could blame you? For ages the city has been more closely linked to chili dogs, the Tomahawk Chop, and General Sherman...not whale sharks. The Georgia Aquarium is changing all of that, however, and is not only worth the cost of admission, it's worth making a special trip to The ATL.

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

Check Out Time - The Week in Travel

Please forgive me if I keep this intro short and sweet. I may or may not have just remembered my wife's birthday is Tuesday...I've got some shopping to do. Without further adieu....

Here's what you may have missed on The World of Deej and beyond...

  • We visited Mesa Grill, the only restaurant I've ever booked because my wife thinks the chef is hot.
  • I shared my rich family history on the island of Key West as part of Bootsnall's Indie Travel Project.
  • Our first experience with a vacation rental was a good one, although we didn't realize we'd booked one in the first place.
  • Finally, the Picture of the Week came from Disneyland Paris, and their amazing version of Space Mountain. 
Random Photo of the Week...In honor of President's Day.

And did you see?...

  • Time Travel Turtle reflects on his travels in South America with a letter to Che Guevara. 
  • Leah Travels knocked #4 off her bucket list...A visit with the big J.C.
  • Hotel Belle takes us on a tour of the amazing Waldorf=Astoria Shanghai.

Here's to a great week ahead, and if you're stateside with the day off tomorrow, tip your cap to POTUS #1 and #16. 

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

Space Mountain, Disneyland Paris - Picture of the Week

Space Mountain Disneyland Paris

Hands down the best version of the famed Space Mountain can be found at Disneyland Paris. Originally themed after Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon, "Space Mountain: Mission 2" features an in-ride soundtrack, incredible effects, and most importantly, a starting launch into "space." This version makes its counterparts in Orlando and Anaheim look like a rickety carnival attraction, and is more than worth the cost of admission to Disneyland Paris...

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

Miami Vacation Rental - A Night in Someone Else's Condo

Over the last few years, vacation rentals have become all the rage in travel. Sites like HomeAway, VRBO, and FlipKey have made the process of renting a home for vacation far easier and more secure. On a recent trip to Miami, my wife and I joined the vacation rental craze for the first time, albeit unintentionally.

Our routine when cruising out of Miami is to head down the night before, and enjoy a night out on the town celebrating the start of vacation. I hopped on Hotels.com a few weeks before our trip to try and find a good deal on a room for the one night. Most were a little out of our budget, but I happened upon what seemed to be a great deal at The Club at Brickell Bay.
The Club at Brickell Bay
The Club at Brickell Bay - Credit: Expedia

After driving by the building twice - nothing out of the ordinary there - we left the car with the valet and headed to the lobby to check-in. The lobby consisted of a front desk and a bank of elevators...that's it. A lady emerged from the back office and greeted me with a simple "Yes?" I thought it was pretty clear why we were there, but soon I would learn why it was not. After informing her we were checking-in, I was asked to follow her to a back office. It was right about now that I started to think something was amiss...
The Club at Brickell Bay
Looking down on the rooftop pool

Once in the back office, I was asked for a credit card as a "deposit." I found the wording a little odd, but didn't think much of it until the agent handed me an old school credit card slip for $1000. Finally, the "this isn't a hotel" alarm began sounding full blast inside my brain. Having seen far too many Dateline specials where people get ripped off, I had a bad feeling about that credit card slip. Without much other choice, however, I took the key - as well as the warning that losing it would also cost $200 - and we headed up to our "room."
The Club at Brickell Bay
The Living Room

The description on Hotels.com had accurately portrayed The Club at Brickell Bay as a condo building, but my mistake was assuming it must have been some sort of mixed-use condo/hotel combination. It was clear at this point that we'd rented someone's condo for the night, which was puzzling since I reserved it through Hotels.com. As we rode up the elevator to the 28th floor, I began to wonder what we would find once we got there, and what kind of "damage" they'd try to hit me up for once I was gone.
The Club at Brickell Bay
The Dining Area and Kitchen

We unlocked the door to someone else's condo and were immediately surprised by what we found inside. Beautiful tile floors, a modern kitchen, and comfortable furnishings throughout the living area. We had reserved a "studio" but this was a two bedroom unit which, from the pictures all over the condo, clearly belonged to a mom and her young son. It took a while to realize that no one was going to ask us to "make ourselves comfortable," but eventually the weirdness of being in someone's home wore off, and we did just that.
The Club at Brickell Bay
The View of Brickell Bay

The view from the condo was spectacular, with the bay on one side, and bustling Miami to the other. I spent quite a bit of time on the balcony enjoying the fresh air, and watched as one Ferrari after another passed by our building. As day turned to night I eventually headed back inside, and came to terms with the idea of sleeping in someone else's bed. This was without a doubt the most unnerving thing of the entire experience...
The Club at Brickell Bay
Why I found this bed to be more scary than a hotel I'm not sure...

In the end, most of my unease about the situation was all for nothing. The condo was beautiful, the price was right, and I didn't get charged for imaginary damage. While it would have been good to know what I was getting into beforehand, I'm almost glad I didn't because chances are I would have passed on staying there. Now that we've experienced a vacation rental, I'm more than open to the possibility on future trips, and I have a feeling we just might use one again soon. 

Have you ever used a vacation rental? What was your experience? 

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

Mesa Grill Las Vegas - Bobby Flay is Hot? Who Knew?

Anthony Bourdain has ruined me for celebrity chefs.

It didn't used to be this way. There was a time when I tuned-in to "that other network" just about every night. I loved the educational Good Eats with Alton Brown, never missed an episode of Iron Chef, and Giada...well, have you seen Giada?
Mesa Grill Las Vegas

It wasn't until my man crush for Mr. No Reservations blossomed that I grew wise to the sham put on by the Food Network. I was merely a pawn in a giant marketing machine, orchestrated by celebrities who no longer cook, and adding to their wealth with just about every trip to Bed, Bath, & Beyond. So when my wife insisted that we visit Bobby Flay's outpost in Sin City, it nearly caused a throw down in our own home. I would have chosen Senor Frogs next door over lunch with a Food Network persona, so I asked her for good reason why we should visit Mesa Grill in Las Vegas. She replied... "Bobby Flay is hot, that's why." Conversation over...
Mesa Grill Las Vegas
The Awesome Bar

I planned our lunch at Mesa to follow my misadventure at the Caesar's Palace sports book. If I had to eat somewhere because the no-show chef was supposedly hot, then I was going to exact some revenge by first subjecting my wife to two hours of soccer. After depositing a few more of my hard earned dollars to Vegas, we headed over to Mesa, which is conveniently located adjacent to the Caesar's sports book.
Mesa Grill Las Vegas
The Dining Room

We were seated at a comfortable table with a perfect view of the big screens in the sports book, allowing me to watch more soccer while my wife imagined Bobby slaving away on her appetizer. The theme throughout the dining room matched the southwestern cuisine, but was subtle and not over done. 
Mesa Grill Las Vegas
The Goat Cheese Queso "Fundido"

After debating for a while what appetizer to share, we decided to make things easy and each get our own. My wife started with the Goat Cheese Queso "Fundido," while I opted for the Tuna "Nachos." We both thoroughly enjoyed the queso, and the tuna was great as well, although I wasn't a fan of the "nachos" idea. Masking the taste of ahi tuna with tortilla chips just seemed wrong, and my taste buds agreed.
Mesa Grill Las Vegas
The Tuna "Nachos"

For our mains, it turned out we were both in the mood for a good burger. Thankfully, Hunky Bobby offers two different versions on the menu at Mesa. My wife went with the Green Chili Burger and she confirmed it tasted just as good as it looked. Meanwhile, I went with the signature Mesa Burger, which more than satisfied my craving for cow on a bun. What I looked forward to most were the fries, given my fond memories of Bobby's truffle fries at Bar Americain in New York. The Mesa Grill version didn't disappoint, and were awesome when dipped in the burger's horseradish mustard.
Mesa Grill Las Vegas
The Green Chili Burger

When planning where to dine on vacation, there are all sorts of factors that go into my decision making. This was the first time I've picked a place because my wife thinks the chef is hot. One good meal is certainly not going to change my opinion of celebrity chefs - especially when my wife has the hots for them - but in the end I'm glad we stopped into Mesa Grill.
Mesa Grill Las Vegas
Where's my brownie points?


The question for all of you is...Bobby Flay? Hot? Really? 

Enjoy Your Stay

Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill on Urbanspoon

Check Out Time - The Week in Travel

Another week in the books...2012 is now 12% over. What are you doing with the remaining 88%?

Here's what you may have missed on The World of Deej and beyond...

  • On Monday, I took part in the ABCs of Travel, and shared many memories of past adventures, and goals for those ahead.
20 degrees in Florida...Wish I was back on this private beach in St. John.

And did you see?...

  • OneStep4Ward shared the top 5 sites from his trip to the rarely seen North Korea. 
  • Just Chuckin' It had difficulty operating a ketchup packet in New Zealand. 
  • Hecktic Travels adjusts to life in New York and shares their love of Central Park.

Here's to a great week ahead, wherever you might be in the world! Oh and gentlemen...a friendly reminder of Valentine's Day on Tuesday. You're welcome....

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

Deej's Picture of the Week


I'll take a rainy day in South Beach over just about anywhere else...

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

The President Made Me Late For Lunch

Washington D.C. loves a good motorcade. Anytime you hear a siren inside the Beltway, there's a good chance that someone important - relatively speaking of course - is moving about. For tourists, the sight of these SUV parades can add a bit of excitement to their experience in the Capital, but after a while they start to get old. Especially when the President of the United States makes you late for lunch.
The Capitol
The Wife at The Capitol...AKA - Motorcade Staging Area

During our summer visit to D.C., it seemed like we encountered a motorcade everywhere we turned. Congress had finally come to the conclusion that defaulting on our national debt wasn't a great idea. With their deadline to fix the problem looming that weekend, representatives were scurrying around in black Cadillac Escalades like squirrels trying to bury a few more nuts before winter.
The President of Pakistan Arriving to The Capitol...

One afternoon, after the customary visit to the White House, we began the walk to America Eats Tavern, where we had a lunch reservation. As we approached the corner of New York Avenue, I noticed there were no cars on the road, and there were policemen on bikes all up and down the street. Great...another motorcade.

After waiting on the corner for a few minutes, the familiar sound of sirens and motorcycle engines could be heard, and as the vehicles came into view it was clear this wasn't the mayor of Schenectady. As the line of vehicles came closer, I could see a shiny black limousine with a tiny American flag waving on the front. The motorcade turned directly in front of me, and sure enough, there was The President of the United States...on his Blackberry.
Presidential Motorcade
OK...So I was a little excited to see POTUS.

Once the hubbub died down we continued our walk to the restaurant and arrived about 5 minutes late for our reservation. I apologized to the hostess and explained that the President had made us late. The slight roll of her eyes made me wonder if she'd heard this excuse before.

Enjoy Your Stay

Joe's Stone Crab - An Icon of South Beach

There are some restaurants that are so entwined into the fabric of a city, that they become attractions in their own right. In New York there is Nathan's and Carnegie Deli. Atlanta has The Varsity, and Los Angeles, Pink's. One of the touristy things I do when traveling is seek out these legendary restaurants, and on a recent trip to Miami we paid a visit to an icon of South Beach...Joe's Stone Crab.

We arrived at Joe's Stone Crab early...like, before they opened early. I'd been warned by fans of the restaurant that they did not take reservations, and their wait time on the weekends can be just as legendary as the place itself. So we decided to avoid the crowds and get there right at open, even if some places were still serving their Early Bird Special. After a short wait in the restaurant's adjoining bar, the Maitre D' opened the doors with a bit of panache, and I half expected him to bow in appreciation for the crowd.
The Old-School Sign Out Front...Credit: Bloomberg

If you're in to places that kick it old school - did I use that phrase properly? - then Joe's Stone Crab will be right up your alley. Our appointed server escorted us past a receiving line of his colleagues, all of which were in black tie, and to our white linen covered table. Contrary to that first impression, however, the dining room has a very casual feel, and definitely fits its South Beach location. As I looked around the room, it was easy to imagine J. Edgar Hoover at a corner table while fellow regular, Joe Kennedy, discussed the family business a few seats away.

Although there are plenty of other options on the menu, we were of course there for the stone crab. This was good, because the server gave us about 22 seconds to look over the menu before asking if we were ready to order. The stone crabs come in four different sizes - Medium, Select, Large, and Jumbo - and are naturally priced as Market on the menu. We decided to start with an order of Conch Fritters, and followed that up with two sets of "Select" claws.
Photos of Joe's Stone Crab, Miami Beach
The Menu - Credit: TripAdvisor

The fritters arrived just a few minutes after we placed our order, and before I had even finished my first one, our plate of crab arrived as well. The conch fritters were a great start, but once the crab hit the table they were like last year's present on Christmas day. As I picked up my first of seven claws, there was no denying I was in for something special.

With the first bite of crab and creamy mustard sauce, my salivary glands nearly burst in excitement. The crab was sweet and savory, but it was the sauce which made all the difference. As I finished my first claw, I knew we would struggle to eat the entire portion, but with a little bit of perseverance, we polished the plate clean.
Joe's Stone Crab Miami
Us with Our Plate-O-Crab

Since we were in South Florida, it seemed appropriate to order a slice of Key Lime Pie for dessert.  A few minutes later, our server emerged with our pie in one hand, and the bill in the other. In case you haven't picked up on it already, the entire experience at Joe's is rushed from start to finish. This isn't fine dining...it's turn and burn at its finest. Be warned, one could easily drop $200 on a meal that lasts less than an hour. Thankfully, I was prepared for this type of service, and just accepted it as part of the experience at Joe's. I'm sure there are many, however, that don't see it the same way.

In the end, I was glad to have scratched Joe's Stone Crab off my bucket list of legendary eateries. The recipe for a good experience is to get there early, expect to be rushed, and close your eyes when you get the bill.

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

 Joe's Stone Crab on Urbanspoon

Tag...I'm It - The ABCs of Travel

Thanks to the Adventures of Elatlboy for giving me the opportunity to participate in the ABCs of Travel blog series. Without further adieu, here's a look into my travel soul...Enjoy!


Age of your first international trip?
  • 12 - My family and I took a cruise with stops in Mexico, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and the Bahamas. The Caribbean counts right? 

Best beer you've had abroad??
    • My first experience with Guinness - St. Patrick's Day of 2005 in London. We've had an "on again, off again" relationship ever since.

    Cuisine (Favorite)
    • Can donuts be classified as cuisine? I don't really have a favorite type of cuisine, but I could eat Chicken Tikka Masala every day without a problem. 

    Destinations (Favorite/Least Favorite and why)
    • My favorite is easy...Paris. Why? Do I really have to explain Paris? Least favorite...Cozumel, Mexico. I hate the beach.

    Event you experienced abroad that made you say "Wow."
    • The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Nothing like the pomp and circumstance of Her Majesty's residence.
    Buckingham Palace
    Well at least I blended in...
    Favorite mode of transportation?

    Greatest feeling while traveling?
    • That moment when you catch a glimpse of something that until then you've only seen on TV or books. The Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Great Wall of China, the White House.

    Hottest place you've traveled?
    • Austin, Texas in the summer. More specifically, the hills outside of the city, while wearing a suit. 
    Chapel Dulcinea Austin
    It may look pretty, but it was hot as $%#&
    Incredible service you've experienced and where.
    • The Four Seasons in Atlanta...They gave a traveler in distress a room for $100.

    Journey that took the longest?
    • My trip to South Korea. One hour flight to Atlanta, 4 hour layover, 15 hour flight to Seoul, 4 hour bus ride to my final destination. 24 hours total travel time...

    Keepsake from your travels?
    • I rarely if ever buy souvenirs having learned that the best keepsakes are usually free. My favorite would have to be the pine cone I picked up from under the Eisenhower Tree at Augusta National, home of The Masters.

    Let-down sight...where and why?
    • The Mona Lisa. Totally overrated. It's actually kind of ugly, and there's always a huge crowd hovering around. Meanwhile there is an entire museum of far more impressive paintings to be seen.
    The Mona Lisa
    She really is quite ugly you know...
    Moment you fell in love with travel?
    • I'm not sure I can pinpoint a single moment when it happened. No doubt the experiences I had as a kid and young adult led me to where I am...a full fledged travel addict. 

    Nicest hotel you've stayed in?
    • Shortly after 9/11 my brother and I made a trip to New York to see Ground Zero in person. Due to a lack of tourists, New York was on sale big time, and we scored a one night at the Waldorf Astoria and the other at The Plaza. Both rooms were under $150....
     Obsession. What do you always take pictures of on trips?
      • Food...It is a little touristy, especially in nice restaurants, but I love taking pictures of food. More specifically, plates which could be considered works of art and make it hard to eat them...

      Passport Stamps...how many and where?
      •  6 - France (twice), Spain, Netherlands, UK, and South Korea.

      Quirkiest attraction you've visited?
      • The statute of the running bull in Lower Manhattan. Why I felt the need to visit this thing in the subfreezing temperatures still baffles me...

      Recommended sight, event or experience?
      • While Notre Dame gets all the attention in Paris, a far more awe inspiring cathedral is only a few blocks away...Saint Chapelle. The most beautiful stained glass I've ever seen.
      Saint Chapelle Paris
      The Stained Glass of Saint Chapelle
      Splurge - What do you spend big on while traveling? 
      • Again...Food. On every trip I make sure to plan at least one really big meal. And by big, I mean expensive. Some people buy souvenirs...I eat expensive food. 

      Touristy things you've done?
      • Every city that we visit, I make sure to stop by the Hard Rock Cafe and buy a pin. Sure they are built for tourists, but I started collecting these pins as a kid and enjoy keeping the tradition going to this day. I have pins from 28 different locations...

      Unforgettable travel memory?
      • The hike on the Simatai Great Wall of China. We didn't see another sole the entire 6 mile trek. Not to mentioned the unrestored state of this section of the wall. 

      Visas - How many and for where?
      • Only have the one...China.  Best page in my passport.

      Wine - Best glass while traveling and where?
      • A bottle of Stags Leap Cabernet at the Corner Kitchen in Asheville, North Carolina. It was 50% off bottles that night so I splurged a bit.

      eXcellent view from where?
      • The Lincoln Memorial is one of the most visited sites in the States, and has one of the most famous views looking across the reflecting pond toward the Washington Monument. What gets missed by 99.9% of the visitors is the amazing view on the back side of the memorial. There you've got a perfect view of the Potomac River and Arlington Cemetery. Better yet, you've usually got it all to yourself...
      Lincoln Memorial View
      Skip the statute, come to this...
      Years spent traveling?
      • The earliest memory that I can recall from family travels is when I was about 11 years old. So I'm going to go with 20 years...

      Zealous sports fans and where? 
      • I am an unapologetic fan of the Florida Gators and Manchester United. Both have incredibly passionate fans, and I've been lucky to experience that passion first hand.


      Tag...More Kids than Suitcases...Four Jandals...and Active Planet Travels. You're it!

      ~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

      Deej

      Check Out Time - The Week in Travel

      Well just like that, January is already in the books, and the all knowing groundhog has predicted six more weeks of winter. However, the first week of February can only mean one thing...Super Bowl Sunday! Will you be watching the game? Who do you hope takes home the Lombardi Trophy? 

      Here's what you may have missed this week in The World of Deej and beyond...

      Random Photo of the Week: A Busy Day on South Beach

      And did you see?

      • The Travel Chica went planking in Patagonia...Warning: The post goes downhill toward the end.
      • Runaway Juno visits Macau, a place firmly near the top of my travel wish list.

      Here's to a great week ahead, wherever you might be in the world. 

      Oh, and GO GIANTS!

      ~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

      Deej

      Deej's Picture of the Week

      Atlantis Resort Water Slide

      The famed Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. I'd imagine the conversation during construction went something like....

      "And I want a pyramid....With a water slide....And the slide should go through a giant aquarium....With sharks!"

      ~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

      Deej

      A Visit to the Best Hotels in Barcelona

      Barcelona, despite not being the capital of Spain, has managed to grab itself a great deal of the mainland’s tourism cake and is nowadays one of the most famous and visited cities in Europe, if not the world. The attractions are well known – beach access, the Camp Nou stadium, the buzzing nightlife. But what of the accommodation options in the city? What do some of the top hotels have in store for its guests? 

      I have been lucky enough to visit Spain a few times and stay in some of its more luxurious hotels. What follows is a rundown of the finest hotels available in the great city of Barcelona. 

      Hotel Arts 

      Hotel Arts is one of the city’s better known five star hotels, and is owned by the Ritz Carlton Group. The hotel's guest rooms offer three unique views, with Barceloneta beach on one side, Port Olimpico marina on another and the less impressive Avenue Icaria on the other. Luckily my room was on the beach side and offered a great view of the sea and palm tree lined street.
      Hotel Arts Barcelona

      One slight downside to the hotel is its location just outside the heart of Barcelona. While this means the area is quieter than in central Barcelona, it does require a short trip on the metro to visit the touristy areas. However this actually became a blessing in disguise, as it is possible to walk along the beach and tree lined promenade into the center of the city – a most enjoyable bit of exercise. The hotel itself is everything you would expect from a five star hotel – excellent service, clean well ventilated rooms and first class facilities. 

      Casa Fuster 

      This hotel screams class as soon as you see it. The Casa Fuster is a huge mansion that is as elegant as it can get. I was very impressed with my stay, and any hotel which has a rooftop pool – particularly in a location like Barcelona which has lovely warm temperatures – will always score highly in my book. The roof terrace is perfect for a relaxing drink at night and offers great views of the surrounding area. 
      Casa Fuster Barcelona

      As a word of warning, it can cost around 30 Euros per day to park your vehicle by the hotel if you have one, although it is worth the charge to know that your vehicle is safe, as I am sure you will agree. As someone who cannot switch off from the outside world, I was very pleased to find out that all rooms have high-speed internet access, perfect if you, like me, bring your laptop or iPad with you when you travel. The complimentary daily newspaper is a nice touch too. 

      W Barcelona 

      If you really want to experience the high life, I urge you to consider staying at the W Barcelona hotel. You cannot miss it – it is 26 stories high and shaped like a sail. One of the reasons it appealed to me was its location right by the beach and is an easy 25 minute stroll away from Las Ramblas. 
      W Barcelona

      Upon arrival I expected the best and once shown to my room I was not disappointed. Large, magnificently decorated and completed by a large bed, there is not much more you could want. It is also possible to book one of the top floor suites – just make sure you have around ten thousand Euros in hand! One thing that is abundantly clear when arriving and exploring the W is that this is where society’s high fliers and so called ‘cool’ people stay. Spanish and English elite rub shoulders with each other in the roof top bar – it can be a bit overwhelming if you are not used to such company! The Eclipse bar on the 26th floor keeps going until 3am if you want a bit of a late night party after an evening meal – just do not expect to get back to your room with too much left in your wallet. 

      As expected Barcelona certainly has its fair share of luxury accommodation, to go alongside the B&B’s and guest houses which are perhaps more suited to more budget conscious travelers. The location of these hotels – away from the hustle and bustle but still close enough to easily reach the buzzing center of town, is a big plus. And with a beach on your doorstep everywhere you turn, there is much to like about Barcelona’s top hotels. 

      Special thanks to Rickey Durrance from Beat the Brochure for this excellent guest post.