Showing posts with label kayak. Show all posts
Showing posts with label kayak. Show all posts

Monday, September 9, 2019

Ready for Rockford

I was looking for someplace not too far to go for a last-minute trip. I had never been to Rockford, Illinois, and a quick look at the tourism website showed me there was a lot to do there.

After getting in touch with Andrea Cook, the CVB’s Associate Director of Marketing & Communications, I found out there was more than I ever imagined.

Andrea put together a great itinerary for Brittany, Amanda, and me. It had the right amount of adventure for them and accessible and enjoyable things for me. We also had a big selection of restaurants to try out together.

Our home for the weekend was the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center.  The location was central to the places we were visiting, and our room was big for a standard hotel room.

We had lunch at Mary’s Market Café & Bakery. The description is in the name as there was plenty to chose from. Everything there was made from scratch, including a variety of breads, and used mostly local ingredients.

The sandwiches were very good and Brittany raved about her fish tacos. I really enjoyed the Watermelon Cucumber Mint Fruit Refresher with my turkey sandwich. We had some chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

One of the things that surprised me about Rockford is all the parks and beaches they have. We couldn’t possibly go to all of them. A stop at the 3,000-acre Rock Cut State Park satisfied a kayaking urge for my friends, and Brittany even saved a little girl’s plastic unicorn boat while on one of the lakes.




After a break at the hotel and a chance to change, we took a walk through the Downtown City Market, which is open Fridays, from June 5th through September 25. The market has some hot food, but also products from nearby vendors such as Raines Honey Farm, Rockford Art Deli, and Bear Moon Soap.

We then went a few blocks to the very popular restaurant, Octane InterLounge, which has been in Rockford for 20 years. This would be the first of many Cheap Trick related stops in Rockford, the place the band got started.

Robin Zander’s son, Ian, worked here for a while. They are also well-known for the Budokon Burger. I concur that the concoction of a beef burger with pineapple, roasted onion, and white cheddar, with teriyaki aioli, was delicious.

We also loved the Pork Dumpling appetizer, which we paired with some of their specialty cocktails, including the Espresso Martini and Ginger Pineapple.

Brittany and Amanda liked their flank steak and seafood pasta choices too.

When it came time for dessert, the choices made it tough, so we decided to get three different ones and share.

The Chocolate Crepe Cake, Nutella Peanut Butter Bao, and Chocolate Nachos (Do you note a theme?!) were all fantastic.

We were pretty tired and had a very full day coming up, so we headed right back to the Radisson Hotel in Rockford for a good night’s sleep.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Fairmont, Kayaking and BBQ in Chicago

Brittany and I were heading to Chicago for a quick getaway. We had an early morning adventure with the team at Shedd Aquarium so decided to stay over the night before.

I had never stayed at the Fairmont Chicago before and was excited when they decided to host me. It is a luxurious hotel in an ideal location, overlooking Millennium Park and Lake Michigan.

As someone with allergies, I also loved the idea of their “Pure Room,” which are hypoallergenic, using sanitizing technologies to improve the air quality.

Our room was great, and we enjoyed dinner and cocktails at The Bar, the hotel’s lounge.

In the morning, we headed to the Kayak Chicago location. It was a beautiful day for a trip on the Chicago River and I was a bit jealous that I was not longer able to do anything like that.

I did get to watch and photograph, as Brittany learned about the Kayak for Conservation program through the Shedd Aquarium.

This was just introduced in 2018 and is rapidly expanding. Its purpose is to teach visitors about the waterway while working with the non-profit Urban Rivers to build a new habitat.

Through this program (which you can sign up for on the Shedd website), guests kayak along the river and collect water and plant data that can help bolster future biodiversity.

While you do this, you also learn about the birds, wildlife, and vegetation that can grown here.

Eventually, the end result will be a mile-long eco-park.

After Brittany returned from her kayaking, we headed over to another place I had been wanting to try for a while, Jake Melnick’s Tap. We were not disappointed.




This family-friendly restaurant has been named the “Top Chicken Wing Spot in the U.S.” by the Today Show. While the wings alone are worth a trip, this place has plenty more to offer.

Jake Melnick’s Tap graciously brought us a selection from the menu that turned into  scrumptious feast, with plenty of leftovers to take home. Everything that came out was so good!

We started with drinks, Peach Sangria (made with sauvignon blanc) for me and Ace Pineapple Craft Cider for Brittany, while we nibbled on the Loaded BBQ Nachos.

Then, a platter of wings arrived. We were able to try everyone of the nine sauces and decided the Firecracker, a sweet Thai chili with siracha, the Nashville, which is hot and sweet at the same time, and the PB&J, Thai peanut sauce with raspberry chipotle jelly, were our favorites.

We had a lot of wings left, but we had a feeling there was a lot more to come. That is when Jake’s Ultimate Feast came to the table.

The platter is easily enough for six and includes brisket, hot links, baby back ribs, and pulled pork. It came with cornbread, coleslaw, baked beans, and mac & cheese.

It was all tender and flavorful.

We were pretty stuffed and couldn’t even imagine dessert but tasted the Fried Oreos when they arrived at the table. They were done in a sweet funnel cake batter and worked perfectly with ice cream and chocolate sauce.

It took a while to get up from that table after such a meal. We took our bag of leftovers and vowed to come back. Jack Melnick’s Tap is definitely at the top of my Chicago restaurant list.

Friday, June 29, 2018

History, Food and Kayaks in Sault Ste Marie

After a good night’s sleep in our spacious suite at the Superior Place in Sault Ste. Marie, Brittany, Jamie, and I got ready for our morning breakfast meeting.
We were getting together with Linda Hoath, Executive Director of the Sault Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

She had graciously put together this trip for us last minute after one in a nearby area did not work out.

We met Linda at the Lock View Restaurant downtown. It was right across the street from the Soo Locks and you could see both the American and Canadian sides from the building.

Everything on the menu looked great, but our host recommended the pancakes and I went for the chocolate chip ones.

They were as good as she said.

The other ladies had eggs and we were all quite full as we learned more about the area and the plans about other activities on our list.

After we finished eating, we walked around town and looked through some more shops.

Linda pointed out the Michigan Made store and we went inside to pick up some souvenirs. (I bought some Michigan maple syrup and made a note to stop at Cherry Republic later in the week.)

From there, we all went across the street to see the Soo Locks again from the Visitors Center.


The Soo Locks Visitors Center, which is a National Historic Landmark, is overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It was expanded in 1995 and provides an excellent lesson into the history of this important waterway.



We had gone through the Locks on a boat tour the previous day, but you can see the boats go through from an observation deck (which locks more like a stadium) behind the Visitors Center.

Both the deck and the center are free of entry fees, but be sure to bring your ID because you must show it to get in.

We left the center and drove down the road to the Tower of History. This 210-foot sculpture was finished in 1968.

There is an elevator to the top, where the view is spectacular.


We were lucky to have a clear day and were able to look from various angles – inside and outside on the balcony – at Sault Ste Marie in the U.S. and its namesake in Canada.

Before we got back into our car, we also saw a beautiful rainbow in the middle of the tower.

The River of History Museum was our next stop. This museum pays tribute to the Native Americans, who were the first to live in this land.

Here you can also look at the history of the land and the water, including the glacier from 8,000 years ago that eventually formed the St. Mary’s River.

We had learned a lot about the area’s history, it was then time to have a little fun on it.

Linda took us to Birds Eye Outfitters, a conglomerate of fun under one building that includes a bar, coffee shop, restaurant, and a place to buy and rent bikes and other outdoor equipment.

Our purpose was to get kayak equipment and a guide, but first we indulged at the Superior Café there. 

The menu was quite varied, and we filled our table with a ham sandwich, pulled pork and shells with cheese and Cheetos, and a quesadilla. There was also smoothies and lattes.

Lake Superior was the major body of water we had visited and talked about while in Sault Ste Marie


Our next one was the St. Mary’s River, where our guides set us up to kayak.

We were an interesting group: Brittany, who had done it a few times before; Jamie, trying it for the first time; and me, who had kayaked quite a few times, but was no longer able to physically do much of it.
The guides were patient with all of us. I didn’t want to hold anyone back, so I decided to just do a short jaunt across the lake to Voyageur Island Park.

The park is a small island which is not a government property. It is funded by donations and taken care of by volunteers.

I found a quiet spot and enjoyed the scenery, peace, and quiet, with the exception of a few colorful birds. I also followed Jamie and Brittany with the camera as they passed around the island.


We headed back to the Superior Place after the kayaking to shower and get changed for dinner at Karl’s Cuisine.

This restaurant has its own beer and wine selection and we all really liked the White Cranberry Pinot Grigio.

I was able to enjoy the Whitefish Dip since I was assured it came directly from the lake, which has no seafood.


In addition to the food, we were able to see a beautiful sunset from the deck of the restaurant.

We finished up and enjoyed the sunset a bit longer as we walked to the car. It would be our last view of the Soo Locks of Lake Superior.

After a few hours more in the area, we’d be heading down from the Upper Peninsula to the Petoskey area the next day.

Photos and videos on this page were taken by Marcia Frost and Brittany Lambright 


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Kayaking, Music and Lots of Food in Branson

We got up early at the Radisson Hotel for our first full day in Branson and had a quick breakfast.

Marsha, Brittany, Amanda and I got in the car and headed to Table Rock Lake, where we were going kayaking at Flat Creek Resort in Cape Fear.

It was a scenic drive on winding roads, something we didn’t see in Central Illinois.

Flat Creek Resort is Just outside the city of Branson and we had been invited to check it out, specifically the kayaking.

It was something new they started this season and everyone was excited to be out on the brand-new boats, especially Brittany, who was trying stand up fishing from a kayak for the first time.

The staff helped us get started.

After Brittany did the fishing kayak for a while, she joined Amanda, while Marsha and I in the other tandem kayak.

They were much sturdier than kayaks I had previously been in.

It was the perfect partly cloudy and warm day to be out on the water. It was the most relaxing hour I’d had in a very long time.

Flat Creek Resort itself isn’t very big, but the lake availability is huge, as is the very popular restaurant and bar.

After kayaking we went to the restaurant and found out why so many people, especially locals, come out here.

The drink menu was so inviting, Marsha, Amanda, and I (it was still two days until Brittany’s 21st birthday) had to give some of their signature cocktails a try and they were delicious:

The Relaxer-Blue Chair Bay Coconut Rum, Peach Schnapps, Skyy Vodka, pineapple juice, and cranberry juice.

Bahama Mama-Captain Morgan White Rum, Blue Chair Bay Coconut Rum, banana liqueur, pineapple juice, orange juice, and grenadine.

Grateful Dead Margarita-Skyy Vodka, Tanqueray Gin, Captain Morgan White Rum, Cazadoras BlancoTequila, Chambord, and house made sweet and sour.

Everything on the menu looked fantastic and we were really hungry so we got a little carried away.

We started with the Pulled Pork Nachos Supreme and the Loaded Potato Skins while we made our decisions for main dishes. We chose the right ones.

Amanda and I had the Hawg and Slaw, a pulled pork sandwich topped with cole slaw, and the mashed potatoes.

Marsha had the brisket salad.

Brittany had an assortment, ordering the Flat Creek Trio: Ribs, Brisket, and Catfish with two sides (she had green beans and baked beans).

As full as we were (our “doggie bags” were quite big), we could not resist the desserts our waiter was offering.

We succumbed to Red Velvet Cheesecake, Chocolate Tuxedo Cheesecake, a Cherry Fried Pie, and (fried bread pudding)

After we left Flat Creek, we went back to the Radisson Hotel to chill for a while before our 4:00 pm Showboat Belle Branson dinner cruise.

We made the short drive to White River Landing for the boat. We were disappointed that it was starting to drizzle, but I noticed that the boat was very large and mostly indoors.

I had been on a lot of dinner cruises, but the food and entertainment on the Showboat Branson Belle was top notch.

We had a choice of steak, fish, or pork chop with vegetables and potatoes.

Soft drinks and dessert, turtle cheesecake or chocolate cake. Didn’t eat much.

The boat is beautiful, clean, organized and very well kept. Our table (premium section) was in the perfect position to see the show. Performers were fantastic.

I loved the Billy Joel medley as I had been about overcome with country music prior.

The clouds were quite ominous, though it didn’t rain hard. We took a walk outside. No sunsets on this night.

We had talked about doing something after the show, but we were all wiped out so we just enjoyed the pool and jacuzzi when we got back to the Radisson Branson before bed.

We had another full day ahead in Branson, Missouri to come.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Kayaks in Sonoma and Tasting Time in Marin

I usually make a few trips a year to Northern California to visit family and wine country. This year has been more hectic than usual and I haven’t made it at all, so as soon as I had the chance, I was ready to visit some two of my favorite Marin eateries before heading off to Napa and Sonoma.

The weekend actually started with a wine country preview, but not my usual kind. I had my first taste of kayaking on the Russian River in Healdsburg thanks to my friend Tracy. I had lots of fun and wish I could have stayed out there as long as my niece and nephew, both of whom are quite the adventurous athletes.

I realized just how beautiful this area of Sonoma was and I had just driven by it all for years on my way to wineries. I vowed to do some more exploration in the future of more than just the grapes along the Russian River.

While I did discover something new in Sonoma, I was perfectly happy returning to the old while spending the weekend in Marin.

I first visited the Panama Hotel in San Rafael back in 2010, when Christine Bohlke of the MarinCounty Convention and Visitors Bureau took me there for dinner. I loved the quaint restaurant with the piano player crooning on the weekends.

While this “hotel” only has a handful of rooms, the restaurant offers an array of surprises. This is especially true when it comes to brunch. I’ve never been disappointed and this time was no different.

We started passing around the Trio of Housemade Scones, accompanied with mascarpone, strawberry jam and orange jam. I started with a little piece dipped in mascarpone and didn’t want to stop. They were much lighter than most scones and flavorful even without the jam.

Most of the family went for the seafood dishes they were always happy with. The Panama Restaurant offers three eggs benedict varieties that are very popular, the standard with Canadian bacon, Eggs Florentine with smoked salmon and spinach and Eggs San Francisco, with the poached eggs on top of Dungeness crab cakes.

I enjoyed the Mediterranean Scramble, three eggs with garlic, sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese and basil, served with tasty Panama Potatoes.

To make sure everything goes down, I recommend ordering “Make Your Own Mimosas” for the table. You’ll get a bottle of sparkling wine with a half-liter of fresh squeezed orange juice ($40).

The other spot I don’t want to miss on a trip to Marin is Iron Springs Pub &Brewery in Fairfax. Owner Mike Altman went to school with my brother back in New York and he and his wife built a place that’s popular for its food, brew and involvement in the community. Since 2008, the pub has had a “Give Back Tuesday Program,” donating 10% of the day’s sales every Tuesday to a local nonprofit.

Those sales have continued to increase over the years thanks to interesting beers on tap (have you ever tried Oyster or Oatmeal Stout?), which can be delivered by the Ambrewlance.  You can also pick up bottles at local stores and Whole Foods throughout Northern California.

Of course, the Iron Springs beers are available at the pub and we had a couple of samplers on the table, including the Golden Blonde Ale, winner of a bronze medal at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival. It went well with a table favorite, the Fish Tacos.

I went for the Dark Ale Braised Pulled Pork Sandwich this time, a tough choice over another pork favorite here, Miguel’s Famous Poc Chuc (grilled marinated boneless pork loin with red onions, tomato salsa, Mexican rice, guacamole and black beans, served with corn tortillas).


I wished I had a few more days to explore Marin, but I was off to Napa and Sonoma with my first stay at Vintner’s Inn.