The East Coast’s Largest Holiday Spectacular
Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Festival of Trees, the most massive and extravagant holiday event on the East Coast, benefits the special-needs children of Kennedy Krieger. It’s held at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, Maryland.
Festival of Trees
Shoppers selected from over 700 hand-decorated trees, wreaths, and gingerbread houses; and they perused more than 100 boutiques packed with gifts and holiday decor.
When they weren’t browsing, they viewed the train garden and gingerbread house display.
The festival featured live entertainment, a carnival with rides, arts and crafts, games, pony rides, and much more. Some competed in a scavenger hunt, while others purchased raffle tickets, and bid on silent auction items.
The event was held the weekend after Thanksgiving at the Timonium Fairgrounds in Timonium, Maryland. It’s the top fundraising event for Kennedy Krieger, and if you didn’t attend this year, please consider a donation.
The dates for the 2018 Festival of Trees are November 23 to November 25, and you can reserve your tickets and hotel room now.
Kennedy Krieger Institute
Kennedy Krieger Institute specializes in “disorders of the brain, spinal cord, and musculoskeletal system.” They serve over 16,000 patients annually.
The Festival of Trees benefits an excellent cause and is worth the trip.
Spectators sip on apple cider and inhale the scent of horse musk as the hunting horn calls. The Elkridge Harford Hunt Club riders and hounds are off to the fox hunt.
St James Episcopal Church in Monkton, Maryland, has hosted the Blessing of the Hunt, Blessing of the Hounds, since the 1920’s. This tradition is a family event that begins with a 10 a.m. Thanksgiving Day church service.
Those that don’t attend the service, tailgate near the Pony Ring where the priest blesses the hunt at 11:00 a.m. This year, St James is requesting $20 for parking to support the Historic Preservation Fund.
Mixing with family and friends while witnessing this blessed event is a special way to start the holiday. Happy Thanksgiving.
In Columbia, South Carolina, the pace slows, and the palmettos exude warmth like the locals. Don’t be surprised if you are called mam or sir, especially by someone younger, good manners are the southern way.
In late February, the temperature begins to warm, and trees start to leaf-out and bloom. Purple and yellow pansies brighten the landscape and scent the air indicating that spring is approaching.
After visiting the city several times over the past five years, I listed my favorite things to do and some must-sees in Columbia. For lodging, recently we have stayed at the Hilton Columbia Center in The Vista. We like the location and the Ruth’s Chris Steak House near the lobby.
Things to do in Columbia, South Carolina
Attend a University of South Carolina Football Game at William Brice Stadium
“First you smell it, then you step in it.” This was a local’s response when I asked for directions to Clemson, South Carolina’s arch-rival.
Most Columbians are dedicated Gamecock fans and the school colors, garnet and black, unite the city.
If you tailgate with the students don’t plan on food. However, if you know someone in Cocks Corner, you can party in style with live bands and feast on shrimp, brisket, homemade desserts, and more.
During the game, feel the electricity and pageantry as you watch the USC marching band, Mighty Sound of the Southeast, cover the field and parade to the beat. Listen to them play buoyant fight songs. You are experiencing college football, southern style.
Hold your white towel after a touchdown and twirl it in unison with the crowd to “Sandstorm” while chanting USC! USC!
The University of South Carolina Campus
Tour the University of South Carolina campus and walk the Horseshoe where historic buildings line the permitter and students study or play frisbee in the common area.
Get decked out for the game. Stop in the Russell House and grab a coffee then enter the University of South Carolina Bookstore and shop their extensive selection of Gamecock merchandise including hats, jackets, sweats and more.
Check out the Longstreet Theatre where Hootie and the Blowfish, former Gamecocks, shot their first album cover. Darius Rucker is an avid fan, and he had promised free concerts on campus providing the University of South Carolina football team won at least six season games. Last Spring he played at the Colonial Life Arena on April 5.
The South Carolina State House
Throw yourself back in history and tour the State House and the grounds and see the civil war statues and the South Carolina State Flag designed in flowers.
South Carolina Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum
Explore South Carolina’s military history that starts in the colonies and continues to today.
Transport yourself to the South by biting into a Carolina vinegar and mustard sauced pulled pork topped with coleslaw and pickles sandwiched in a fresh roll. Lean over your plate as you crunch the pickles and coleslaw and the sauce drips from the tender pork. It seems like you can’t go wrong with pulled pork anywhere in the Carolinas, but Palmetto Pig tops my list.
Stop in Grill Marks for a juicy burger on a freshly baked bun, and a milkshake laden with homemade ice cream. If you choose to add alcohol ask for a“Shaketail.”
Peruse The Vista’s boutiques, bars, and restaurants. For upscale dining, though attire is mostly casual, try Cola, a former RC Cola plant that still looks like a brick warehouse until you step inside and think that you had entered an adrenalized New York restaurant.
Another choice is Blue Marlin that has consistently served excellent steaks and seafood. After dinner, stop in the Cupcake Down South on Lincoln Street and choose from their 50 selections of decadent cupcakes, like Southern Red Velvet with cream cheese icing, that they bake daily in three sizes.
Try Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe that is attached to Claussen’s Inn. It’s a casual atmosphere with upscale food without New York prices.
Claussen’s Inn was a former bakery repurposed for lodging. Inside, the hallway on the second floor overlooks the lobby from a balcony, like an outdoor motel. In our second-floor room, a spiral staircase led from the living room up to the bedroom.
However, I felt like I was in “I Love Lucy” when trains chugged by and engineers blared their horns after midnight. I waited for my bed to jump around the room. With that said, I still enjoyed the hotel’s ambiance, and I sadly learned that it’s for sale.
Stop in a Five Points’ restaurant for a beer and a bite and mix with college students. If you wait until St. Patrick’s Day, Five Points throws one of the best celebrations in the country.
Dine outside at one of the sidewalk cafes. One of my favorites is the Mexican inspired restaurant Cantina 76.
Have a seat and play a tune on the transformed artistic steel drums on Main Street that were created with propane tanks and tractor seats.
Stop in the Sheraton’s rooftop bar for a drink and watch one of South Carolina’s renowned sunsets.
Where to stay
Hilton Columbia Center
The Hilton Garden Inn
Sheraton Columbia Downtown
Visit Columbia, South Carolina and experience the warmth.
Germany Tips and Surprising Facts
Nudity in Munich’s English Garden or Englische Garten
Leave the city behind and enter Munich’s English Garden that rates as one of the largest parks in the world. You can walk, jog, or bike on the pedestrian path, stop in the Japanese teahouse, catch a football game or watch the surfers ride the river.
If the weather is warm, don’t be surprised if you see nudists in the park. Nudity is cultural and welcomed at designated public parks, swimming pools, beaches, and saunas. If you are clothed in a “textile free” location, an authority figure may ask you to undress.
Three-Story Slide in the University of Technology in Munich
Stop by Munich’s University of Technology on a weekday where the efficient-savvy Germans had developed a functional piece of art. It’s a sliding board that transports students from the third floor to the first within seconds. Visitors are welcome to give it a try.
Car loyalty is a lifestyle in Germany, and it’s not uncommon for adult children to choose the same make of car as their parents. The Mercedes-Benz Museum capitalizes on this loyalty by offering hands-on-design opportunities and activities for children and their families.
Car competition is stiff, and some car brands made in Germany include Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Opel, Porsche, BMW, and Volkswagen. While traveling, look for cars covered in camouflage. When manufacturers test prototypes, they disguise their design from the competition.
Also, when you climb in a taxicab, chances are it’s a Mercedes-Benz.
Marienplatz or Mary’s Square
Marienplatz Town Square, named after the Virgin Mary, offers an excellent place to shop or drop by a cafe for a bite. The golden sculpture of Mary was created in 1590 and rises in front of the New Town Hall.
New Town Hall or Neues Rathaus
While in Marienplatz, note the famous glockenspiel on New Town Hall. The bells chime reminiscent of a xylophone while figurines, emblematic of Bavarian historic figures, revolve around balconies marking the time at 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. daily, and 5 p.m. from March to October.
Beer is considered food in Germany. In worldwide beer consumption, Germany is ranked number three and tied with Austria.
Try the local beer and tour a brewery like Hofbrau. The beer that we had sampled at various locations was not too filling though robust brew was available.
For an authentic Bavarian experience, try Zum Augustiner and dine with the locals. It’s a social event where tables can seat 20 plus patrons. Though the food was substantial, we chose a beer that lightened the meal.
Maypoles date back to the 13th century when illiteracy was prevalent. Each maypole is unique and portrays the borough’s trades and crafts.
Beer, produce, vegetables, dancing, music and a carousel decorate the maypole at Victualienmarkt indicating that it is a place for food and events. Peruse the outdoor market for local meat, cheese, sausage, condiments, flowers, herbs, and home decor, then stop in the beer garden for refreshment.
Bavaria Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles
If you can take your eyes off the countryside, notice that many homes are attached to barns. Connecting the buildings enables the farmers to avoid Bavaria’s severe weather when they access the barn to work and feed the animals.
Bavaria Wies Church or Wieskirche
Visit the Bavarian Rococo style Pilgrimage Church of Wies. In 1738, a relic of Jesus the Scourged Savior was reported to have shed tears, and pilgrims streamed to visit “the miracle of tears in the Wies.”
In 1745, to accommodate the crowds, construction had begun on the Wies pilgrimage church, and that same year the bishop established a commission to investigate the miracle. The group determined that they could not deny or confirm the event and concluded that it was a matter of opinion.
Today, pilgrims travel from across the world to pray to the statue of the Scourged Savior displayed in the Wies Church sanctuary.
While in Germany, drive the autobahn. In congested areas, signs post a recommended speed limit usually between 68 and 80 mph, though there are stretches where the driver chooses his speed.
The left or fast lane is for passing. If a car approaches in the left lane, the vehicle ahead moves over.
There is plenty to do in Munich from dining, shopping, visiting historic castles and buildings, and viewing the magnificent countryside. Germany, with its many points of interest, is an excellent destination.
London Travel Tips
Below are a few must-see London attractions and fun things to do, along with tips and interesting facts.
I would buy my tickets online for the tourist attractions to save time and sometimes money. For your convenience, I linked to the sites.
Borough Market has stood at the same location for over 1,000 years, making it one of the oldest markets in the world.
While I walked the aisles listening to the buzz of chatter, I spotted tables displayed with brightly colored fresh fruit and vegetables. As I continued, I caught whiffs of coffee brewing, then a hint of curry, then sausage and burgers sizzling on the grill. I love food, so this was the place for me.
Vendors sell almost everything you need for meal preparation, or you can buy freshly- made food to eat there or take home. You can find selections from appetizers to desserts including seafood, game, meat, artisan food, pastries, confectionery, beer, wine, liquor and more.
In addition to filling your pantry, you can deck out your home and tabletop with ceramics, textiles, art, and flowers.
Give yourself time to shop and sample their traditional and international selections. Go hungry and enjoy.
The George Inn
Established in Southwark in 1542, The George was a resting stop for travelers and their horses. Famous patrons like Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare frequented the inn, and Dickens mentioned The George in his book “Little Dorrit.” Today, it’s still a fun place to stop in for a pint and some pub food.
The Rose Playhouse
Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, and Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part I. were among The Rose Theatre’s regular performances. Though it was built in 1587, the local competition put The Rose out of business by 1603.
In 1989, archeologists uncovered the fourteen-sided theatre and the inner and outer foundations. The theatre’s floor sloped down to a drain that removed standing water, and its pitch improved the audience’s view. During the dig, they discovered jewelry, coins, tokens, and money box pieces.
The red lights seen today indicate The Rose’s size, its pit, and the locations of its two stages.
Chewing Gum Art
When you cross the Millennium Bridge, look down at the colorful chewing gum art that is wedged in the grooves. “The Chewing-Gum-Man,” Ben Wilson, stooped or reclined on the bridge and created scenes and abstracts from discarded gum. As you traversed the bridge, did you know that you were treading on art?
London Eye or Coca-Cola London Eye
From the London Eye Ferris Wheel, you have 360-degree views of London. Most people share a capsule, and depending on the promotion, prices start at 19.50 euros. If you want a private party, you can hire your own module that can hold three to 25 people for 550 euros.
Experience an Arsenal football match at Emirates Stadium. The crowd hangs on every kick and ball that the players head. You can learn and sing the group chants, some of these songs have been cheered for almost a hundred years.
Arriving and departing the stadium using the tube with thousands of Arsenal fans is part of the experience.
For centuries, Westminster Abbey has been used for coronations, royal weddings, and a site of burial or commemoration.
The first Coronation at Westminster Abbey was in 1066. The Coronation Chair that dates back to 1296 is still used in the monarch crowning ceremony.
Westminster Abbey’s first royal wedding was held in 1382, and the last royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton was in 2011.
Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, and Queen Elizabeth I are among the 3,300 buried or commemorated at the Abbey.
Her Majesty The Queen lives at Buckingham Palace that has 775 rooms. When the Royal Standard Flag flies, The Queen is home. The palace is open to the public between April and September, and it’s one of the top places to visit in London.
Churchill War Rooms
While Hitler encased himself in concrete, Churchill learned that his underground bunker or the Churchill War Rooms that was ten feet below the ground offered little protection from a bombing raid. Nevertheless, Churchill and his team lived and plotted their war strategy in this shelter.
The Churchill War rooms provide a look into bunker life where Churchill had a private room with a direct line to President Roosevelt, and where gas masks were part of the office decor.
The Tower of London
You could spend a day learning how royalty lived and died in the Tower of London. Before visiting, download the interactive smartphone apps to enhance the experience, or take a tour with one of the Yeomen Warders.
These were some of my favorite places and activities in London, and I hope that this list helps you plan your itinerary.