Traveling Thursday – Get outdoors and enjoy freebies

Saturday, June 9 is National Get Outdoors Day. What, you haven’t ordered a cake or mailed your cards yet? I know it is a made-up holiday but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying free admission to select national parks and public lands.

For a list of participating National Parks, visit this site. This link lists other days when admission to these parks is free.

For a list of the 56 public lands waiving admission on June 9 visit here.

Enjoy the sun and the freebies.

Photowalk – University of South Carolina

I must admit, it’s been a crazy month since I’ve started my job. I’ve fallen behind on a few things, like keeping every baseboard in my house dust-free, trying every new thing on Pinterest and blogging. I am committed to managing my time a bit better and staying on top of this blog, even if it means letting a bit of dust accumulate on the baseboards.

The photos in this post were taken at the University of South Carolina on Good Friday. Enjoy!

University of South Carolinaveterans memorialThis is adjacent to the World War Memorial on campus. When the building was constructed in the 1930s, it was believed that there would never be another World War. The building now houses University Publications.

Brick walls and palmettos

The Memorial Fountain (aka three-dish fountain) in the Caroliniana Garden was sporting garnet and black when I visited. The fountain is a memorial to South Carolina’s patriots who served in the Revolutionary War.

horseshoeThis photo looks onto The Horseshoe, the oldest part of the campus dating back to 1805. The monument seen in the distance is in memory of Rev. Maxcy, the first president of the then South Carolina College. Yeah, it’s a lot different from The Horseshoe, I’m used to talking about.

pineappleThe pineapple has long been associated with hospitality so it’s fitting that this one greets visitors at the Memorial Rose Garden.

fountainLooking toward the Thomas Cooper Library

torch bearer

The “Torchbearer” was donated to the university in 1965 by sculptress Anna Hyatt Huntington.

The campus was really lovely. I enjoyed the big, shady trees and old buildings.


Traveling Thursday – Tell them about it.

When you are traveling, it’s a great idea to share your itinerary with a family member, friend, or trusted neighbor. Not only does this mean they can easily contact you in case of emergency, it also gives them details to provide authorities should something go awry on your trip.

Ideally, you should share your lodging details including address and phone number along with some kind of daily schedule. If you are traveling on a group tour, just make a copy of your itinerary and share it with your contact. Many tour companies also offer “where to reach me” cards that include lodging details or cruise ship contact information. If you are traveling independently, share transportation details (flight/train/bus schedule or the planned driving route for the day) and a tentative schedule of any planned activities.

I know this might seem like overkill but imagine that your contact needs to get in touch with you immediately and your mobile phone doesn’t have service. Though we depend on our mobile phones, who hasn’t been without service when they need it most? Your contact has the hotel number and can try calling you there. Maybe your contact knows you’re expected to be at a museum and can call to seek their help in tracking you down. You never know when an emergency will require your immediate attention.

Your contact(s) can also find relief in knowing your itinerary when a natural disaster strikes. Imagine you are touring in South America and visiting a number of countries when an earthquake hits Chile. With a quick check of your schedule, everyone is relieved to find out you were safe in Argentina that day.

No one wants to think about it, but by sharing your itinerary, you could also help provide useful clues if something happens to you. Say you are traveling solo and planned to go out for a little hike during the day. Your family member is a little worried about you hiking on your own so he/she decides to call and check in later that night or the next morning but you don’t answer your cell. He/she calls your hotel and you don’t answer the phone. He/she can now decide to ask hotel management to knock on your door and if you’re still not there, it might be time to call the police or the park service in order to track you down. You can see where you might not want to give your schedule to the “nervous Nellie” of your group, but you can also see where this information would come in handy if something bad happened.

As with everything else in life, use your best judgment but strongly consider giving your itinerary to someone you can trust.

Traveling Thursday – Airport Guides

While I’m not a big fan of the ads and pop-ups, I find the airport guides at iFly to be very useful. With a few exceptions (including TRI, the airport closest to my parents) you can find information on almost any airport in the world. The guides typically include information on when the airport opens, security, parking (locations and rates), maps, and listings of services and amenities. There are also suggestions for activities should you chose to leave the airport during a particularly long layover.

In addition to the airport guides, the site also has links to flight trackers and a section devoted to travel advice including a special section for inexperienced flyers. More seasoned travelers can benefit from reviewing other sections on getting bumped, customs/VAT, and EU travel regulations.

Again, it’s not the most visually appealing site and the ads are a nuisance but it’s a great (free) resource for travelers.

South Carolina State House

I’m such a bad blogger and traveler. I just found the SD card with photos from my exploration of Columbia, SC back on Good Friday. With Mr. McB out of town, I’ve had plenty of time to edit the photos so I can get them posted here. I covered a lot of ground during my time in Columbia so I expect to have at least another post devoted to my adventures.

My first stop, well after Starbucks, was the South Carolina State House.

The story of the State House is as rich as the history of the state itself. The “new” State House’s original architect, P.H. Hammarskold, proved to be incompetent and was relieved of his duties in 1854. He was replaced by Major John R. Niernsee. Neirnsee had to completely dismantle the work started by Hammarskold before he could begin his own structure. Construction slowed during the War Between The States Things took a bad turn for everyone (except the Yankees) on February 17, 1865 when Sherman’s troops captured the city and began campaign of destruction.

As you can see from this marker, the citizens of Columbia are still a wee bit upset by the actions of Sherman’s men. The Union soldiers completely destroyed the old State House and set fire to the unfinished “new” State House. While the structure was damaged, it was not completely destroyed. Bronze starts mark the spots where cannons and other artillery damaged the outside of the granite structure.

George also shows his battle wounds. He originally carried a long walking stuck (not a baton) but the end was broken off when Union soldiers threw bricks at the statue.

The war left South Carolina in financial ruin. When the State House was completed in 1903, the Greek Revival structure didn’t match Niernsee’s vision. Instead of a stunning tower topped with a pyramid-type structure, the State House has a dome similar to those seen in other states. The changes to Niernsee’s designs were very controversial. There were bitter debates and even a lawsuit that ended in a mistrial. The State House went through a major renovation in the 1990’s to bring it up to fire code, improve accessibility and add required earthquake protection measures.

South Carolina State House interiordissolution “Dear Union,
This isn’t working. We’re breaking up with you. Please leave us alone.
Sincerely, South Carolina.”

stained glass inside the state houseThe stained glass window is found inside the State House. It was constructed by a friend of architect Niernsee.

pink flowers state house south carolinaThe State House grounds feature several lovely garden areas and a number of monuments and memorials.

white pixie iris

strom thurmon statueThis is a photo of the base of the Senator J. Strom Thurmond statue on the State House grounds. Strom was the oldest man to serve in the Senate and is well known for his racist politics and record-breaking filibuster against the Civil Rights Act in 1957. As you can see, the statue was placed before it was revealed that Strom’s oldest child was actually Essie Mae Washington-Williams who was conceived after a liaison between a young Strom and his parent’s African American maid.

law enforcement memorialOn to a less controversial topic, this monument memorializes South Carolina law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty.

South Carolina oldest monumentErected in 1858 to honor the heroism of South Carolina’s Palmetto Regiment during the Mexican War, this is the oldest monument on the State House Grounds.

confederate women's memorialErected in 1912, this monument recognizes the contributions of the women of the Confederacy. The statue has a long and beautiful inscription. Here is an excerpt:
“At clouded dawn of peace / they faced the future /undismayed by problems
and fearless of trials / in loving effort to heal / their country’s wounds
and with conviction / that from the ashes of ruin / would come resurrection
and truth / with glorious vindication…” To read all of the inscription panels, visit this page.

This monument honors South Carolinians who died during the Civil War. The Confederate Flag flies at the rear of the monument. It originally flew from the dome but was moved to this location as a compromise.

African American MonumentSouth Carolina was the first state capitol to feature a monument to African Americans. The photo above shows the monument. The low structure in the center of the walkway represents the cargo-hold of a slave ship. The panels show a timeline of African Americans in the state.

african american monument south carolina

The panels are a wonderful representation of the struggles and sacrifices of African Americans in South Carolina. The monument is well-done and quite moving.

As you can see from this post, the South Carolina State House is a place of controversies and contradictions. There are aspects that inspire pride and others that make you feel uncomfortable. I’d say it’s pretty representative of the state’s long history.  I encourage you to visit the South Carolina State House and take it all in for yourself. To plan your visit, click here.

Mojo’s Famous Burgers & More

When McB and I decided to try a new restaurant, we headed over to Mojo’s Famous Burgers & More, 2541 N. Pleasantburg Drive in Greenville. There’s a good buzz about Mojo’s and after reviewing the menu, I was eager to try one of their very unique burgers.

Mojo's Famous Burgers & MoreThe food is made-to-order. There are free peanuts for hungry dine-in patrons to enjoy while they wait. McB selected the “chubby cheeseburger” with bacon and an order of fries. I had the “Texan” with onion rings. As you can see from the photo, the portions are quite large. Neither of us came close to finishing our meal but then, I didn’t really want to.

The Texan Let’s start with my burger which came with jalapenos, cream cheese, avocado, and salsa. I know it seems like a bit of an odd combination but it’s also the kind of thing that could work if the ingredients were combined in the right measure. It’s not the case with the Texan. There is a thick slab of cold cream cheese stuck on the top of this burger. It’s roughly half the thickness of the burger patty itself. I think the cream cheese is meant to add a tangy flavor and balance the heat of the jalapenos. What it succeeded in doing was adding a cold gelatinous mass to the burger. The bun was so puny that it couldn’t begin to stand up to the heavy-duty ingredients. It was a messy, greasy sandwich that cooled down far too quickly. The onion rings were large and fresh but they were fried a bit too hard. The onion on the inside of the breading was hardly recognizable as an onion. It became a tough, transparent circle of nothingness.

Chubby cheeseburger with baconMcB’s burger was really thick. Even before he took a bite, he regretted getting the double patties. His bun also disintegrated. He did not think the bacon’s sweet, hickory flavor tasted right when combined with the oddly spiced burger meat. He also found the fries to be under-salted and just a bit lackluster.

Despite how others feel about the place, we found it to be bad Mojo indeed.

Traveling Thursday – Handy dandy notebook

Great travelers are committed to lifelong learning. For me, the best souvenirs are the lessons and interesting facts that I learn while traveling. That’s why I always carry a small notebook and pen while I’m on the road. I keep it tucked just inside my camera bag or purse.

It’s a great way to capture the facts that I want to remember and share – especially those that I might want to use to caption photos. Often I’ll jot down the photo’s number from my digital camera and make a note beside it. It’s also a good place to record topics I want to research more when I get home.

I love going through my old notebooks. They provide great memories of the many trips I’ve enjoyed.

Greenville Zoo

elephants Greenville ZooAfter moving from Columbus, home to one of the nation’s best and largest zoos, I didn’t have high hopes for the Greenville Zoo. At just 14 acres, it’s tiny but it’s also home to a nice collection of animals including elephants, giraffes, primates, leopards, and lions.

Just a few of the primates at the Greenville Zoo…

This legless lizard lives in the reptile house. Yes, it’s a legless lizard and not a snake.

The rhinoceros iguana lives there too.rhino iguana

Visitors can throw feeding biscuits to the giraffes. It requires good aim.

The toucan is one of many birds found at the zoo.toucan
There are also several flamingos. The wind caused this one to have a bad feather day.FlamingoThe gators are a popular attraction.gatorsOur friend is feeding the goats using special crackers purchased at the zoo. The small barnyard area allows visitors to feed and pet several animals including goats, a pig, ducks, and chickens.
goat feeding

If I were to use one word to describe the Greenville Zoo, it would be comfortable. It’s easy to navigate and never seems too crowded. We were zoo members in Columbus and would often target just a few areas of the zoo for each visit due to the size of both the zoo and the crowds. Even then, it was easy to get tired and a bit crabby. Greenville is small enough that you don’t have that experience.

In addition, the animal enclosures are well-kept and make viewing the animals very easy. The gentle hills of the walking paths allow visitors to enjoy a bit of exercise while enjoying the animals. The typical zoo visitor can plan to spend 60-90 minutes. Those who want to extend the visit, can bring lunch and enjoy the picnic area or get lunch at the reasonably priced snack bar.

The zoo also offers a good number of educational programs at a reasonable rate. It would be nice to see more adult events but I understand that childless couples really aren’t the zoo’s target audience.

It might not be the biggest or the best but there’s something very appealing about the Greenville Zoo. With a planned expansion, the zoo is growing and I’m one member who can’t wait to see what happens.

Traveling Thursday – Credit cards

Credit cards are a very popular form of payment for both international and domestic travels. Cards allow us to spend money without the risks associated with carrying loads of cash around and they often provide some protection from theft and subsequent fraud.

Here are a few tips on using credit cards on your next trip.

Make a call to your credit card company before you start your trip. Good credit card companies are constantly monitoring for signs of fraud. Imagine your card has been used only in Topeka and the surrounding area for the last decade and suddenly, there are charges in Buenos Aires or a string of charges at gas stations along the Pacific Coast Highway. These charges could trigger a hold on your account. This can easily be prevented by calling the customer service line for your card before you leave. In order to put the travel notice on your account, you’ll need to answer a few questions about your travel dates and itinerary.

Some may brush this off as overkill for domestic trips and in many cases it might not be necessary, but why take the chance? I know from experience that fraud departments are very sensitive to gas purchases made in multiple states during the same day. It’s easy for card thieves to check the validity of a card by trying to run it at a gas station so these charges are particularly suspicious. Make a proactive call and don’t cause yourself grief by having your card declined during your trip.

Check into a pin-and-chip card for international travels. Americans like to be different. You know how we use the standard system versus the metric? Well, our magnet strip credit cards are also not widely used in other countries these days. Many countries, particularly those in Europe, are changing to the pin-and-chip cards. These super secure cards have an embedded microchip that authorizes the charge if the correct pin is entered. Some vendors have machines that will only accept pin-and-chip cards. I didn’t run into a problem with this during my travels to Switzerland or Greece last summer but I know others who had problems in France and Belgium. Generally, large hotels, shops, and restaurants will be able to run your magnetic strip card but gas stations, train station kiosks, and smaller shops may not have the capability. When in doubt, ask. Of course most merchants will do whatever they can to help you pay because they do want your money.

While there is news of more American card companies issuing these cards upon request, it’s still not the norm. I tried to obtain one last summer and learned that I would have to change my account type and wait two months. If you’re worried about this, and again I had no trouble using my card, plan ahead. Call your card company early and ask about a pin-and-chip option. They’ll be able to give you information on the specific countries you are visiting and other tips on how to ensure that your card will be accepted.

Don’t lose the customer service number for your card. If your card is stolen during your vacation, you’ll want to contact the card company ASAP. Keep the customer service number in your phone or with other important paperwork.

Ask about the fees. Learn what your card company is charging in fees on international transactions. Some of these companies charge obscene amounts. If that’s the case with your company, consider getting a new one. You can do a little research at Bankrate.

Don’t convert. A kindly shopkeeper may ask if you’d like to have your purchases converted to US dollars. It sounds like a nice offer but say no to dynamic currency conversion. You’ll get the least favorable conversion rates and wind up paying more than you’d hoped.