The first place I look...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Texas Shangri-La

August in Texas is very, very hot.  It gets so hot that the chickens start laying hard boiled eggs!  And that’s when all of the South Texans (and anyone looking for relief from the brutal summer sun) head down to the Rio Frio near Uvalde.  Rio Frio literally means “Cold River” in Spanish and was aptly named due to its spring-fed coolness and consistent flow.  It snakes thru Garner State Park and is surrounded by the Texas version of mountains, in the beautiful Hill Country.  The little town that has now sprung up around it, Concan, hosts cabins, homes and resorts that enable you to vacation in this little slice of heaven.  We stayed at a home less than a mile from the river itself called Shangri-La, which can be found at  Nestled at the base of a mountain and surrounded by trees and wildlife, you can sit on the huge back porch at Shangri-La and take in the tranquil atmosphere.  From the porch swing, to picnic tables, to fire pit seating area, you have ample shade and space to relax and watch the deer, jackrabbits, armadillo, birds, and misc. unnamed critters in their natural environment.  The inside of the home doesn’t disappoint either with multiple downstairs master bedrooms with baths, a nicely decorated living room, dining room, and a large kitchen and laundry room.  Upstairs you will find a game room with pool table and two more bedrooms and baths.  As an added surprise, one of the bedrooms has a walk-in closet with a secret door leading to a cozy kid’s space complete with room to sleep four, a trunk full of children’s books and a TV complete with a large selection of Disney movies.  The house was extremely clean, featured rustic style fixtures, and came equipped with dishes and other necessities to make your stay there easy and comfortable.  Our king size bed mattress was very comfortable and appeared new.  That, along with the quality furniture pieces really enabled this house to live up to its name.  For those of you that can’t quite place where you’ve heard that name before…Shangri-La was originally a fictional land of harmony and perpetual youth, a setting for the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton, along with movie versions based on the book.  I’m holding out hope on the perpetual youth idea, but this is surely God’s country where you can’t help but to absorb the peacefulness and serenity that abounds there.  It truly is a remote and beautiful place where life approaches perfection…as long as you continue dipping your toes in the Frio River to beat the Texas heat!

Bonus!  When your time at Shangri-La comes to an end, be sure to stop in at Frio’s Dry Fifty, right off Texas Highway 127, for souvenir shopping.  You will find a HUGE (and I mean massive) selection of unique and updated T-shirts, many with phrases you surely thought to yourself as you were enjoying your vacation on the river.  This store has it all from flip flops to gifts and antiques.  After shopping, take a short break at their snack shack and enjoy some ice-cream or a Texas size snow cone in their shaded outdoor lounge with giant board games for the kiddos and fun “Kodak moment” backdrops.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bally's Las Vegas Hotel and Casino

What happens in Vegas...Isn't Staying in Vegas for this Travel Loving Girl!  When you are traveling to Vegas on a small budget, THE VERY BEST place to stay is at Bally's!
1.  Location, location, location.  Bally's is located smack dab in the center of the strip directly across from the Bellagio Hotel.  TIP: Be sure to ask for a room in the back tower (the cheapest) but directly facing the strip.  You will have a beautiful picture frame view of the amazing fountain show that the Bellagio is so very famous for!
2.  By booking with (I made this easy for you with a link at the top of my page) I received a free breakfast buffet and two free drinks in the main restaurant during my stay (that was the promotion at the time--all you have to do is call Bally's and ask!)
3.  Connected to the back of Bally's is a small shopping mall and fast food court which is very nice when you want a quick snack or to get away from the casino for a bit.
4.  Just off the casino, you will see an indoor cobblestone road (I'm not kidding!) lined with boutique style shops.  Follow this winding path past more shops and cafes and suddenly you are inside Paris Las Vegas!
5.  Bally's also has the traditional Vegas style shows complete with ultra fancy showgirls (and for great prices compared to other comparable shows)!
6.  And last but not least, I found Bally's to be a very clean hotel and nicely updated as well.  Our room was VERY large!  It had a king size bed, couch, armoire, and dresser...with room to do a few cartwheels still.

As an added bonus...I got lucky with a John Wayne slot machine at Bally's and loved it when he told me "there's 5 of a kind partner!" (use best John Wayne voice)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Bandito's Tex Mex Cantina in Dallas, TX

Right around the corner from the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, is quite possibly the best chips and salsa in the Great State of Texas!  After our visit to the George W. Bush Presidential Library, we stopped at Bandito’s Tex Mex Cantina at 6615 Snider Plaza for an early dinner.  The ambiance was perfect…half restaurant, half bar, with a splash of college hangout thrown in.  The building that housed the restaurant was old but redone, and with all of the cool factor of the past left to be seen, and with an outdoor seating area set against an old brick wall covered in murals.  Upon entering, we were given the traditional friendly Texas greeting and told to sit wherever we wanted.  Our waiter came over straight away and we each ordered a draft beer, which came out VERY COLD, and it was an absolute perfect complement to their amazing cilantro lime salsa with fresh homemade style tortilla chips.  We ordered chicken fajitas, which was served just as we LOVE them with tons of grilled onions and peppers, a plate full of rice and refried beans, as well as another plate mounded with sour cream, cheese, guacamole, and pico de gallo.  The fajita chicken breast had an exceptional juicy marinade taste and was perfectly sliced and displayed over the veggies.  Our bill came to only about $27 which was super for the meal that we received and the nice experience we had while visiting Dallas.  I must also note, that there was adequate free parking right in front of the restaurant, which was also surrounded by many boutique style shops and quaint neighborhood which was only 1 street off the main street (Hillcrest Avenue) which runs right along the SMU campus.  It is definitely an area to stop and spend a little time and, of course, have some chips and salsa.

NOTICE the ice crystals in the beer...  (It is August in Texas...and these are small joys to this Texas girl)

The George W. Bush Presidential Library

September 11, 2001, the day that changed America forever.  I can still remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news, and the next few days we were all in a state of shock as we were glued to our televisions for some kind of explanation.  I was reminded of these events today as we visited the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the Southern Methodist University (SMU) campus in Dallas, Tx.  My first impression of the building itself was that of simple, straight lines, but with a majestic undertone set amongst native trees and grasses.  Although we did arrive right at the noon opening, we waited in line about 20 minutes to get inside (be prepared for metal detectors)  Adult admission was $17 per person (but I did get $3 off with my student ID) and parking was $7.  While in the lobby be sure to stop at each of the glass displays to see many of the VERY interesting gifts that were given to the President and Mrs. Bush from leaders from around the globe.  I personally was mesmerized by the diamond and sapphire necklace set given to Laura Bush by Crowned Price Abdullah from Saudi Arabia.  Once you enter the gallery, it is akin to walking along a timeline of President Bush’s years in office.  As you can imagine, the 9/11 exhibit was emotionally staggering and difficult to relive as you came face to face with a massive piece of steel beam, taken from the World Trade Center site, that was twisted and burned.  Looking back, as a nation we were all fortunate to have such a strong, and morally sound leader in office at the time that we suffered those attacks.  His library also included a replica of the White House Oval Office (which I just had to have a picture of myself sitting at the desk), exhibits of his and Laura’s and their daughter’s lives behind the scenes at the White House, the Texas Rose Garden, and many interactive exhibits about his humanitarian efforts and decision points during his Presidency.  It took about 4 hours to go through the entire exhibit, with so much more than I listed here, but of particular interest to me was the actual Glock 9mm pistol that was in Saddam Hussein’s possession at the time of his capture and a full size African lion that was given to Bush by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete in 2008 (it was as tall as I am standing on all 4 legs).  As with all museums, you exit through the gift shop, although this one was very tastefully done and includes many interesting reads.  I encourage everyone to stop here at least once in their lifetime to remember such a significant time in our nation’s history.  
 (Yes!  I am that girl that spent 4 hours walking around a museum in cast, all while refusing multiple offers of a wheelchair from the very helpful staff there.  ....All for the love of travel!)