Browsing Articles Written by

Renee King

City Views, North America, Trip Reports

The End of an Era? The Seattle Gum Wall

November 19, 2015 • By

I heard about it while doing some quick research on a city that I had longed to visit and quite frankly, my stomach did a somersault at the mere thought of it. The gum began appearing right outside the entrance of a little hole in the wall, the Market Theater, thanks to the creativity of patrons lining up for the next show.  It’s located right beneath the main entrance of the Pike Place Market, one of the must sees of any first time visitor to Seattle.


As with all bad habits, the idea caught on. Over the course of twenty years, it began to mimic some version of abstract art. This colorful, gaping wound of three dimensional graffiti soon took on a life of its own.



Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to using Google Flights to search for the best fares

October 26, 2015 • By

Planning trips can be confusing to the inexperienced.  But if there is only one thing that you take from this post let it be this: “Booking your flight is the absolute first thing that you must do when planning your vacation.”  Why?  Because airfare will arguably be the most volatile expense that you will incur.  The cost of gas (as of this writing) is steadily declining, so airlines are offering fantastic bargains as a result.  However, these great fares aren’t available for all destinations.

That makes it all the more critical to plan ahead, monitor flight prices, be flexible with your departure dates and destinations as much as possible because some times are better than others.

Once you’ve decided where you want to go, my suggestion is that you start with “Google Flights“.  Much like its search engine counterpart, it allows you to search for the best flight deals to any destination.

Here’s how it works:

Once you have reached the Google Flights home page, you will see a search box.  The first screen will give you the option of selecting a round trip (where you travel to one destination and take a return trip back to where you started), a one way (is just as it sounds, you go to a destination with no plans to return or if you’re not exactly sure when you will, you can purchase a return one way ticket at a later date) or you can choose the multi-city option if you are planning on visiting several locations during the course of your vacation.

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Take a risk by believing in yourself

September 7, 2015 • By

life is short

Recently, I’ve experienced a significant number of losses in a relatively short span of time. I guess it’s inevitable that such things would give anyone pause and start them on a journey of self evaluation. It becomes clearer and much more magnified how fragile life truly is and it makes us rethink our choices, the people that we associate with, the things that we’ve put off in one way or another and without fail, the amount of needless bullshit that we’ve tolerated on an on-going basis.

It’s often thought that with age comes wisdom; that through surviving a vast number of experiences – both good and bad – that you become stronger as a result. However, once you throw in a myriad of variables, quite the opposite could happen. Years of conditioning – positive or negative – can either build or breakdown a person’s will and spirit. If the latter occurs, it could literally take years to find your way back to some equilibrium.READ MORE

Budget Tips, Travel Advice

Introducing “Eat With” – The new way to eat locally and deliciously

August 31, 2015 • By

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Traveling can sometimes be a lonely endeavor.  Sometimes, you’ll find yourself in a strange town surrounded by people you don’t know.  

At dinnertime, you will call down for room service, pull out a menu from one of the local restaurants from your hotel nightstand or you venture out into the darkness hoping that something will spark your interest.

Well, it doesn’t have to be that way.  If you are familiar with how the online website, AirbNb works, then Eat Withmay be just the thing for you.   The website describes itself as “ a technology platform that brings people together. Sharing a meal, sharing stories, sharing laughs with new people in someone’s house is deeply personal, authentic, and intimate… it also happens to be the original social network.”

You can enjoy a home-cooked meal specially prepared for you and other guests in the private homes or exclusive private venues of chefs and cooks who’ve registered with and have been vetted by the site’s owners.READ MORE

Travel Advice

20 Top Tips for planning a dirt cheap vacation

June 30, 2015 • By


Plan ahead!

* The sooner that you decide where you want to go, the more likely you are to realize your best deals. Visit travel oriented websites like Frommers, Fodors, Virtual Tourist, Lonely Planet and Rick Steves among others to get solid ideas of where you would like to travel. Once that has been established, start looking for airfare and hotel deals to the destination.

* Consider the possibility of getting a package deal which consists of air, hotel and some taxes and junk fees. It’s a kind of one stop shopping where you often realize discounts by purchasing them together.  Also, if you are going with a partner, you may find that this is the most economical way to travel because single travelers are often hit with a supplemental fee to offset the lost revenue that a couple would bring.


You may find that it is cheaper to book a package deal where you pay for a visit to two or more cities, round trip air, hotel, attraction tickets and train fare b/t cities for one low (or at least reasonable) price. There are several reputable online travel agencies that have exceptional package deals like Go Today, Gate 1 Travel and Nordique Tours, among others.

* The further out you plan your itinerary, the more lead-time you will have to locate deals, especially during your destination’s “off-season”. While there are last minute deals to be had via sites like Travelocity, it’s prudent to take a proactive approach and plan early. Once, I missed a great fare deal to Paris because I took to long to decide if I really wanted to go; when I finally decided the fare was long gone, which meant that I had missed an opportunity to save a lot of money because I was not decisive.

* Be flexible about your travel dates, fare amounts can be extremely volatile and change radically from one week to even one day to the next. If you can save hundreds by postponing your trip by a week, isn’t it worth it?READ MORE

Consumer Advice, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to booking accommodations – part 2

June 1, 2015 • By


Today we are continuing with the second installment of our three part series that breaks down the choices one has in selecting accommodations for vacations or holidays. We will now look at midrange options for those travelers who want a little more comfort than hostels can provide but at a more reasonable price than hotels.

If you think you are up to the task, I would recommend trying Priceline because it allows you the chance to place bids on the price of a hotel room.  However, if you don’t like taking risks, then I would suggest trying aggregator websites like Home AwayVRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) and AirBnB.  They list homes, rooms, guesthouses and cabins owned by people who want to rent them out to vacationers for a set daily, weekly or even longer rate.

Some of the aggregators will charge a service fee that will not be refunded should you cancel.  However, you should always note what the owner’s cancellation policy is because you are usually charged for the full stay as soon as you book it.  Most will refund your money if you cancel well in advance of your stay; some are generous enough to refund in full with one day’s notice.READ MORE

Fun stuff, Gardening

How to propagate hydrangeas in 6 easy steps

May 18, 2015 • By

What’s not to like about this beautiful blue and white, variegated leafed, lace-cap hydrangea?

I used to hate hydrangeas.  And roses.  But, let’s stick with hydrangeas for now because I hated them for the same reason.  My mother had so many that I became immune to their beauty.  They shared equal billing with kudzu and weeds, something else that we had a lot of.  Like many kids, I hadn’t yet developed an appreciation for all that they were.  Luckily, I grew out of my aversion to them and now welcome them gladly into my life and more specifically, my garden.

I have almost every variety too!  From lacecaps, mopheads, oakleaf to peegees, most are somewhere in my garden.  Whenever I troll the local garden centers, I am mysteriously led to the aisle where these lovelies can be found.  As you can imagine over time, it gets expensive.  So, I decided to ask my friend, Sharon, how she manages to have so many in her garden without going broke.

She gave me a really simple explanation on how to propagate hydrangeas so that they keep giving back.  I had my doubts because while I love to garden, I’ve pretty much stuck with digging a hole and planting a bulb or perennial in said hole.  My garden limitations were propagation and planting seeds.  I had managed to maneuver my way around not having to know how to do either until I decided, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained!”.READ MORE

Gardening, Inspiration

My English Cottage Garden redux

April 28, 2015 • By

Have you ever had a vision of creating something fantastic and the final outcome only registered a “blah”?  That’s precisely what happened when I bought my house in 2001.  I had just sold my townhouse because I had a dream of living in at least my version of an English Cottage Garden oasis and 300 square feet of outdoor space wasn’t going to cut it.

I needed something larger, something that would allow me to realize my vision of what a garden that was situated in the Cotswolds would look like.  Except, the location would end up being in a sleepy little town in North West Georgia.  I can’t say exactly what drew me to a little blue and white cottage but I knew that I wanted to buy it even before the realtor pulled up to the driveway.

I knew the land that it sat on, as imperfect as it was, would be the perfect setting for achieving my dream.

It met all of my requirements: It had a basement, a deck and a front porch.  The deal breaker would always be the porch.  As a lifelong southerner, it was imperative that I had somewhere to sit and people watch.  The best part is that it sat on one acre of land.  The yard was mostly remnants of what could be termed as grass but you could tell that the former owner had tried to add her own touch to it at some point.READ MORE

Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to Cruising, Part 3

April 13, 2015 • By

Now that you’ve actually booked your cruise, it’s important to make sure that you take care of a few things before leaving.  Here’s a handy checklist to assure that you will be ready before the ship leaves:


  • Check with your medical and renter’s/homeowners insurance to see if you and your belongings are covered by your current policies when traveling abroad.
  • Check with your cell phone carrier for international rates; beware of exorbitant roaming charges.
  • Notify your credit card company and your bank of your travel plans.  They will usually deny suspicious transactions from foreign locales if they weren’t forewarned about your plans.
  • Make from 2-3 copies of your passport, birth certificate and identification. Have one copy of the documents on your person separate from the actual documents when in port cities, place a copy in your luggage and if you opt to utilize a stateroom safe, place a copy within it as well.
  • Make sure your passports are 6 months or more before expiration when traveling.  Most countries will not allow you entry otherwise.
  • Be sure to purchase travel insurance.  It truly buys peace of mind in the event that you find yourself unable to travel after booking airfare, car rental, hotel stays, cruise fare, etc.  If you do not have it, if you have to cancel, you will lose any monies that you’ve spent.
  • Your Cruise Line will probably send you self adhesive luggage tags that will have your stateroom number printed on them.  Be sure to affix them to your luggage as instructed before leaving home.  


Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to Cruising, Part 2

February 20, 2015 • By

Alright.  You’ve decided that you want to give this cruising thing a go.  You’ve determined where you’d like to go and have already booked your cruise  with your preferred cruise line.  What should you expect the day of the cruise?

How do I check in?

Each Cruise Line is different but Celebrity allows you to check in well before your sail date.  If it’s possible,  I would recommend that you do that.  If you are familiar with flight check- ins at the airport, this works the same way.  You will go to the cruise line’s website, create an account and put in your information.  This in effect, pre-registers you for the cruise.  You will be able to print out your guest ticket which will give you pages of info on what to expect during your cruise, your cruise itinerary, etc.

We received luggage tags via regular mail with our stateroom number stamped on it and were advised to affix them to our luggage before leaving home.  One can only imagine the logistics involved in keeping up with the luggage of thousands of passengers, so we made sure that we followed their instructions to the letter.

I’ve heard that it’s best to arrive one day before your scheduled cruise departure.  Why?

Most cruises, particularly, Caribbean cruises depart in the late afternoon.  That might lead most people to think that it’s a safe bet to fly in on the day of the cruise.  My advice is to plan on flying in the day before, this will allow you breathing room to be prepared for embarkation the next day. Can you imagine booking a flight on cruise day and something happens to delay the flight?  Trust me, the cruise lines will not wait for you, so save yourself the stress and fly in the day before.


What if I choose to drive directly to the port from my home?

This has become such a “thing” that you will find that hotels located close to ports will offer “Park, Sleep and Cruise” specials.  If you pay for one night’s stay, they will allow you to park your car on site for free and reclaim it at the end of the cruise.  They will usually provide a complimentary shuttle from the hotel to the cruise port.

This might be the most desirable option should you choose to drive in because port parking fees are high (approximately $20.00 per day).  I rented a car during my last cruise and after dropping it off at the rental agency, I was shuttled to the port by the agency for free.

What can I expect when I arrive at the port?

We flew into Fort Lauderdale (FLL) because the flights were cheaper but our port was in Miami.  We hired a shuttle service to drive us to our Miami hotel and the next day we took the hotel’s shuttle to the port.  It cost $10.00 pp but it was worth it to assure that we’d get to where we needed to be on time.  As soon as you reach your particular cruise line, the driver will remove your luggage and you will then turn it over to the porter who works for the cruise line.