Tag Archives: travel

When Good Restaurants Go Bad!

SarahRocks.jpgWe just returned from a wonderful trip to Willsboro, NY after a wonderfully relaxing family vacation on the shore of Lake Champlain.

After settling in and unpacking we headed out for something to eat.  We stopped first at a small grocery store attached to a gas station (which seems to be the norm in this neck of the woods) and asked the employees for a good family place to eat. Two of them recommended Zeke’s pub and, not seeing a huge amount of options, we decided to give it a try.

From the start the signs were not good.  A surly waitress waved a hand to the near empty restaurant and indicated we should take our pick.

(Warning sign #1)  The fact the restaurant was empty at dinnertime on a Saturday should have been a sign to turn tail and run, but we toughed it out and sat down at the only table that could fit five.

The menu contained the usual pub fare and so the men selected the usual assortment of burgers, while my daughter and wife went for pizza and fish and chips respectively.

(Warning sign #2) We were a little surprised when the french fry options were presented as “hand cut or frozen”.  I honestly thought I had not heard correctly because I have never been to a restaurant that offers you frozen french fries, even if that is what many of them actually do provide.  We all opted for the hand cut.  Perhaps that was a mistake as we will see later.

There followed a long delay in which we sat in direct line of the A/C and tried to stave off hypothermia.  We made it…just.

The food finally arrived and we tucked with gusto. It had been a long day and we were famished.  That enthusiasm soon faded when we discovered the food was tasteless. The menu said that Joanne was supposed to get two pieces of fish with her fish & chips, but she only got one. She was going to complain, until she tasted it and decided to just let it be.  Then we found the first long black hair in Joanne’s fries…then Greg found a long BLONDE hair in his burger…and at that point we were pretty much done.  We paid the bill and left vowing NEVER to return to Zeke’s again.

A couple of days later we stopped at Johnny’s Family Smokehouse just a little way down the road from Zeke’s.  What a difference!  The place was packed and we had to eat in the bar area.  We were greeted warmly, the menu was interesting and the food was excellent.  The pulled pork sandwiches were wonderful, the calzone tasty and we left feeling full and happy with a new discovery.  This place definitely warranted a second visit before we headed home!

As always happens on vacations the last day arrived far too quickly and, before we knew it, we were heading out for the last meal of the trip.  We asked the kids where they wanted to go and Johhny’s was a unanimous and resounding favorite.  They received no argument from us and off we went.

(Warning sign #1)  We pulled into the parking lot and, despite being Friday night, it was mostly empty.  Odd but this meant that the large open air section near the carpark was available and we opted to sit outside as it was a beautiful night.

zekesAs we walked to the door one of the kids pointed at the new sign which read “Johnny’s and Zeke’s”! The “Zeke’s” part was more of a footnote at the bottom of the sign… they seemed to be trying to make that part look unnoticeable. We should have turned around right then but the sign nearby read “The best of both worlds” so we figured that they must surely have kept all the good stuff…right?

(Warning sign #2) The menus arrived…they were the menus from Zeke’s. They were even the same cheap white paper, rather than the high-quality Johnny’s menus. The glasses were the cheap plastic glasses from Zeke’s also.  Both places had pulled pork so Joanne asked if this was the pulled pork we had the other night only to be told “No, this is a different recipe”.  I eyed the car parked nearby and absentmindedly fingered the car keys.

(Warning sign #3) The first thing out of the waiter’s mouth was a long list of things they were out of, which covered about half of the menu.

(Warning sign #4) The french fry options…you guessed it…now it was hand cut or frozen! Not only that, but you now had to pay an extra two dollars to just get the french fries, unless you would prefer your burger with cheap Lay’s potato chips straight from the bag (a Zeke’s specialty) .

I chanted the optimistic mantra that surely they would keep the best while we waited for the food to arrive.

(Neon warning sign #5) My optimism lasted right up to the point where the only other table requested to speak with the manager and then spent the next 30 minutes blasting her and then what I presume to be the co-owner with phrases such as “Disgusting and unsanitary”.  He reminded them that “shrimp scampi isn’t normally served as a soup” and that it was “not normal for the chef to decide what he would serve someone after realizing that they were out of what he had ordered.”

(Flashing neon warning sign #6) Our neighbor said he couldn’t understand it because he knew the chef…and that was when we heard that we heard that the old chef had quit because he didn’t like the new arrangement.  Yes…it seems we were back to the “Chef” from Zeke’s!

We had plenty of time to listen to this tirade in detail because about 45 minutes had passed since we placed our order with still no sign of it appearing.  The waiter did come and tell us they were backed up, which was hard to understand considering they place was nearly empty.

I was now actively campaigning for an immediate exit after leaving enough cash to cover the drinks.  Joanne was much more hesitant as she had never left a place after ordering food.  That continued right up to the point where we pointed out that one of the things our neighbor complained about (and the reason for the disgusting comment) was that he found hair in his food.  The look on her face was priceless, followed by a comic swirling dust cloud as she headed for the car at top speed.  I pushed some money under a glass and, without a second glance, peeled out of there in a tire smoking dash for safety. We went to another restaurant and, admittedly, the food there wasn’t that great either. But it was hairless, and that was good enough for us.

As we were driving home from that other restaurant, we passed by the sad building that was once home to a wonderful restaurant. The parking lot of this PUB was completely deserted… at 9:30 on a Friday night. That was a sure sign that something had gone horribly wrong.

We now have a new phrase in the household.  To be “Zeke’d” is to take a great restaurant…and destroy it thoroughly. Also, whenever we pull into a restaurant, we double-check to make sure there’s no “and Zeke’s” on the sign.

Ahh, family vacations, they are all about making memories…and this one is going to stick with the family for a while!

 

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Filed under Children, Life - or something like it, Travel

Tail of the Dragon – Part Deux – Wheels Through Time Museum

Wheels Through TimeWhile taking in the awesome roads  in North Carolina I felt compelled to visit the Wheels Through Time Museum, and I’m so glad that I did because I’ve never experienced a museum quite like it.  

The Wheels Through Time Museum is home to the world’s premier collection of rare American Vintage Motorycles.  Located 5 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway, in beautiful Maggie Valley, NC, this All-American motorcycle museum houses over 300 of America’s rarest and most historic classic motorcycles, with over 24 marques on display, including the likes of Harley-Davidson, Indian, Excelsior, Crocker, Henderson, and much more.  Featuring dozens of motorcycle-related exhibits, ranging from board track racers, hillclimbing, and original paint machines to American Dirt Track racing, choppers and bobbers, and one-of-a-kind motorcycles, this is a must-see place if you are a motorcyclist.  And if you are Harley Davidson fan then this must be as close to Mecca as one can find.

Riding from Deals Gap I once again found myself surrounded by amazing riding roads and the most gorgeous scenery.  This was also my first opportunity to ride a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway and riding the full length of that was immediately added to the bucket list.

From the outside the museum seemed a little disappointing.  I’m not sure why but standing in the parking lot looking at the entrance it didn’t seem that big and I was wondering whether I should bother.  I went and was immediately greeted by staff that were so genuinely happy so I paid my $12 and headed through the gap in the wall that serves as an entrance.

On the other side begins an Aladdin’s cave of motorcycle treasure and the atmosphere and attitude of the staff was beyond friendly.

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Only when heading upstairs and looking out across the whole space did I truly start to appreciate how vast the place is – truly TARDIS like.

I wandered around with no particular goal but just taking in the wonders of the place.  Every nook and cranny is filled with motorcycle memorabilia and, just when you thought you had seen it all, another aisle would appear with something new to behold.

While standing and admiring one particularly beautiful old Henderson one of the staff came by and the following conversation occurred:

  • “Beautiful machine isn’t it?”
  • “It sure is.  I’ve always loved Hendersons”
  • “Yup….Want to hear it run?”
  • “What?….Ummm…really?  SURE!”

At which point he fiddled, twiddled, tickled and twisted a few things and then spun the rear wheel.  Immediately the bike roared to life sounding both raucous and silky smooth at the same time.

I can’t think of any other auto museum that I have been at where they are happy to actually start the vehicles right in front of you, but that happened multiple times during my visit.  Sure every so often it made your eyes sting a little…but it was worth it to see and hear those amazing machine run!

All too soon I was out of time and needed to get back on the road but what an amazing experience.

This is a must-do event for any gear head that is in the area.  Just make sure that you have plenty of memory in that camera!

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Filed under Automobiles and motorcycles, Travel

Permission to change your mind

routeIn the spring of 2011 I planned motorcycle ride from New Jersey to San Diego to visit some friends and see the country along the way. Unfortunately it had to be postponed due to a ridiculous work deadline – a decision I later came to regret.

Two years later the stars were finally in alignment and I had the green light to make the trip.

The day before everything was prepped, the bike was ready, bags packed and a comprehensive route planned   And then I woke with the realization that I just wasn’t into making the trip anymore!

There were logical explanations of course.  Being away now would mean missing my son’s 13th birthday, Mother’s day and possibly our wedding anniversary.  There’s also the expense, loss of earnings, risk etc.

None of those had anything to do with it.

Two years ago I couldn’t wait to get started.  I needed it. Work was incredibly stressful and I needed a break.  But after several weeks of working from home I find I’m the most relaxed I have been in years and the need to escape has evaporated.

I was moving forward with the trip because it was expected and I came to the conclusion that wasn’t a good enough reason to go.

The trip had stopped being an adventure and had become a chore, so I gave myself permission to change my mind.

It’s amazing how difficult it can be to give yourself permission to do that, even if every instinct tells you that you’re doing something for the wrong reason.  Instead we feel the need to keep going at all costs and pretend that everything is OK.

Why do we feel that way?  How often do people keep going in the wrong direction out of fear of criticism?  Whether in battle, politics, or relationships how often should something have been stopped that was not, and at what cost?

As for me when the decision was finally taken I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. More importantly I surprised that everyone involved not only accepted my decision but supported it.

Will I ever get around to making that trip?  Possibly.  But only if it starts to feel like an adventure again.

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Filed under Automobiles and motorcycles, Life - or something like it, The Human Condition, Travel

Pass The Salt (Lake City)

This year’s summer vacation started with a trip to Salt Lake City, where we met my Brother and Sister-in-law who came in from London.

As if to prove some of my earlier posts wrong, the flight was mercifully uneventful, and the kids were very, very well-behaved – although the noise-cancelling headphones might have had something to do with that.  What a thoughtful gift to give a man with three young children.

I can’t verify that Joanne was on her best behavior as we were in different rows, but the one time I did seek her out, I found her playing Uno and flirting with a young Stud Muffin Mormon Missionary.  Perhaps this is the Big Love that we all hear about making its presence felt.

We met up with our kin outside the hotel and were immediately introduced to one of the dominant features of Salt Lake City – Vagrants that would appear every time my sister-in-law tried to light a cigarette.  They were always polite, but I swear they were all ex-magicians, because they would materialize, blag a cigarette, and vanish in a haze of fresh smoke.  Pioneer Park seems to be a Mecca for these poor people.

We were only to spend one full day in Salt Lake City, so we set off early the next morning and made for Temple Square, which all of the guide books listed as a “must see”.  The walk there took us through what has to be the cleanest and, at the same time, most barren city I have ever been in.  There were almost no people around (unless you counted the homeless) and one had the odd feeling of being one of the last people on Earth.

After a short stop to let the kids play in a fountain to cool off (it was already starting to get warm), the sight of the temple peeked into view above some buildings.

We entered the gates and were instantly greeted (accosted might be a better word) by two pretty young women asking if we would like a tour.  Since we were right next to the visitors’ center, we opted to try that first. Once inside, we were greeted by two more young ladies, asking if we needed to be shown around. This was to be a recurring theme  – pairs of young women all eager (a little too eager actually) to provide information and show you around.

At first, it seemed very nice and friendly.  They would ask your name, the names of your children, where you were from etc. and then start to tell you about the area you were touring.  Woven into their dialog about a building, or the craftsmanship in a chair, would be little snippets of information about the vision of Brigham Young and how Jesus has been such a powerful influence in their lives.  Near the end of their tour, forms and pens would magically appear (there’s that magician element again) and they would politely ask for your details so that someone could visit you and provide information on how to join their merry band.  As I said, nice and friendly at first – downright creepy after a while.

The buildings themselves were beautiful and a lot of work had obviously gone into making the place spectacular.  In fact, we learned that the pews in the Tabernacle were pine that had been hand painted to look like oak because they didn’t have ‘the best’, but wanted it to look that way.  Honestly, I couldn’t tell that it was paint even on closer inspection.

Unfortunately the temple itself is restricted to entry only by Mormons, and even then only on special occasions.  There is a large model of it in the visitors center that you can look at, along with descriptions of the various rooms that can be accessed using touch screens.

But, as the day wore on, the word ‘creepy’ started to be used quite regularly.  Everything somehow felt too controlled and artificial.  The Stepford Wives movie came to mind on more than one occasion.  I had the strangest feeling that peering beneath the veil of excessive politeness would unearth some horrible truth – a bit like those pew seats really.

Eventually we managed to escape Temple Square (without giving our names to anyone!) and, other than a request for gas money from a man who pulled a large, red, gas-can from a top hat just as we walked past, we made it back to the hotel unmolested.

Since we still had a bit of time left in the day we decided to head to Antelope Island, which one of the guide books had said was beautiful.  I can only assume that the person writing that had either succumbed to the cool-aid or had lived in a dumpster, because that place was hot as hell and as barren as the moon – and not in a good way.

The visitors’ center has to be one of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen, and gave the impression that it was really designed as a place from which to watch nuclear weapon tests.  Which, thinking about it, might not be a bad idea…

Eventually we left the visitors center and headed to the beach of the Great Salt Lake, with the plan of letting the kids swim before an early dinner.  Walking from the car to the lake involved a schlep across about a mile of hot sand and a carpet made of billions of tiny black flies.  Yuk! One man who I passed looked back at the fly barrier at the water’s edge, shook his head in wonder and said “And they [Brigham Young and his band] chose to stop here???”

We let the kids swim for a while but, since those of us not swimming were simultaneously being cooked and attacked by flies, we kept the swim (err…float) short and headed for the “restaurant”.  I put restaurant in quotes, because it turned out to be another bunker – this time with a fridge.  I think they had hot-dogs too, but we decided to limit our feasting there to an ice-cream before heading back into town.

The next morning we loaded up the Rolling Turd and headed for Yellowstone via the scenic route.  It wasn’t long before we were surrounded by the awesome natural beauty of the Grand Tetons, which played a stark contrast to the place we had just left behind.

Salt Lake City certainly has some beautiful buildings…but I’m still not convinced that the people there are real.  Honestly…I was glad to see the back of it.

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Mini-van – The Ultimate Performance Enhancer

I love just about anything that has wheels but, in particular, I have been a huge fan of the Porsche 911 since I was a kid. I still remember holding a model of a 911 as a young child and wistfully wondering what it would be like to own one.  These were cars for rich people – which we most certainly were not!

Performance driving became a passion of mine from the moment I first got behind the wheel, and if I wasn’t upgrading my car, then I was using snow-covered areas as make-shift skid pans or spending money on track days.  I then turned to the ‘dark-side’ once I discovered that motorcycles offered a far cheaper way to get in touch with The Force, and I still dabble in those black arts today with my BMW R1150GS.

Joanne tried to save my soul in 2005 when an alignment of the stars (a mid-life crisis, a wedding anniversary and vodka induced spousal approval 🙂 ) brought a ‘pre-owned’ 2003 911 C4S my way. That car is now my daily driver, clocking up around 15k miles each year.

The car is fast but, after months of every day use, it all  starts to feel a little…ordinary.

I used to solve this problem by buying new cars, or by spending money that I could ill afford on performance parts.  Carburetors, tune up kits, cold air intakes, free-flow exhausts and that gold standard for teenagers, the K&N air filter, have all seen use on vehicles I have owned.

But a few years ago I stumbled upon the secret of getting my jolly meter back into the red without spending large sums of money on things that do little more than invalidate the car’s warranty.  The solution…use someone else’s car for a couple of weeks!

I first achieved this trick with the use of my father-in-law’s Hyundai G350 a few years ago, and I have just detoxed again by using a rented VW Routan mini-van to take in the delights of Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Big Sky and the mountains of Colorado on our recent family vacation.  Since my kids have seen the film RV, the van was immediately dubbed the ‘Rolling Turd’ for the duration of the trip.

After two weeks of driving The Turd, I came home to re-discover the joys of my C4S.  Just backing down the driveway was enough to let me know that I was in something a little different and, once underway, even the slightest touch on the throttle would have the car leaping forward like…umm…a very leapy thing.   It is so addictive that other road users must think I’m drunk, because I find myself speeding up and slowing down again repeatedly, just for the heck of it.

My new enhancement method is far cheaper than a new car or adding a supercharger, and is unlikely to leave me stranded at the side of the road with oil dripping from the engine!

So, only one interesting question now remains.  If I have two vehicles at home that can cover the zero to sixty sprint in five seconds or less, then why is it that my first speeding ticket in ten years was acquired behind the wheel of a rebadged Town and Country mini-van? Doh!

Despite the speeding ticket, I have a hard time visualizing my kids longingly holding a hot-wheels Routan Mini-van and dreaming of the future.

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Filed under Automobiles and motorcycles, Travel

Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

In a few short weeks the whole family will be jetting off to see the natural splendor of Yellowstone National Park.  While I have no doubt that the scenery will take my breath away and the activities will be great fun, I find myself dreading the flights. 

It is not just that flying economy involves squeezing my 6’2″ “big-boned” body into a seat designed for a midget.  History has taught me that flying with children is an experience that teaches you about yourself – mostly how much patience you need! 

Family flying is something that always generates such “fond” memories.  Such as the time I found myself trapped in my seat with my cupped hands full of child vomit, no free hand to undo my seatbelt, and desperately trying to get Joanne’s attention by waving my foot at her across the aisle while she was blissfully absorbed in the obligatory romantic comedy.

Or the time we flew to England and I found myself behind a person who smashed his seat painfully into my knees within seconds of takeoff.  When I politely asked if he could move it forward just a tad, he complied – but clearly we were not off to a good start.  He quickly fell asleep, only to be awoken when our 10-year old, Daniel, absent-mindedly played his hands across the headrests of the seats in front on his way to the bathroom.  This resulted in Daniel dragging his whole hand clear across the face of our sleeping friend, causing the man to wake up with such a start that I believe the only way he could have been more startled would have been if Daniel had thrust his fingers up his nose in the process.  If looks could kill, Daniel would have dropped dead – but this is Daniel we are talking about and the daggers merely bounced off of his shield of oblivion. 

In my travels I have been witness to fellow passengers whose behaviour was so obnoxious that, had I finally lost control and murdered them, I believe the other travelers would have provided an alibi.  And I also observed one young fellow who displayed astonishing grace and charm even after having a 1/2 litre bottle of water emptied into his lap by Gregory, followed by being repeatedly kicked by Sarah as she screamed and insisted that she would NOT put her seatbelt on.  Our “hero” even sat for hours with the sleeping (at long last!) Sarah’s feet draped across his lap.  (I wonder if this young man has been put off kids for life…) 

Things would probably go better if Joanne and I had similar views on travel, but my laissez-faire approach does not fit well with her ideals of everything being well planned and organized. 

One thing Joanne always tries to do during long journeys is find interesting activities to occupy the kids.  While well-intentioned, and sometimes successful, there have been a few misfires.  My favorite was on a drive to Florida, when she handed each of the kids sheets of silver foil.  The intent was to craft little silver works of art – a nice crown or swan perhaps?  What actually happened was that about 2 minutes after handing out the materials, a large silver ball came flying from the back of the car and crashed into the back of Joanne’s head…a lesson in humility for sure. 

So, keeping in mind the hours of flights and car journeys ahead of us, I’d love to hear your suggestions for keeping kids happy and quiet on a long trip – other than the obvious “Oh, you look like you have allergies, drink this cup of Benadryl.”  The life you save might be your own.

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Filed under Children, Life - or something like it, Travel