Thursday, February 26, 2015

This blog has moved! Here's where to find it now

This blog has joined others at The Charlotte Observer in relocating into's new and improved website.

You'll find now find it at

See you there!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

It's two-fer time at Myrtle Beach

Discounts at Myrtle Beach? This is the time of year to look for them ‑- when the big-venue holiday shows are done and before Can-Am Days -- March 14-22 this year -- officially opens the 2015 vacation season for frost-bitten refugees from Ontario., a group of 14 oceanfront resorts, is pushing a Stay+Play Free Family Fun promotion: Book at one of the hotels and get free or two-fer admission deals to various area attractions.

The details:

Buy one, get one Legends in Concert ticket for stays through May 31.

Buy one, get one ticket to Alabama Theatre‘s  “ONE the Show” for stays through March 31 and for May 1-31.

Buy one, get one free Banana Boat ride in the Atlantic with Downwind Sails for stays April 1-May 21.

Buy one, get one free ticket to WonderWorks museum (shown at the top of this post) through March 15.

One free entry to select House of Blues events, including March 14 Badfish concert and March 21 Local Brews, Local Grooves event.

Check out the promotion here.

The 14 resort hotels: Beech Colony, Beach Cove Resort, Captain's Quarters, Caravelle Resort, Carolina Winds, Crown Reef Resort, Forest Dunes, hotel BLUE, Landmark Resort, Ocean Creek Resort, Palace Resort, Palms Resort, Sea Watch Resort and South Wind on the Ocean.

Check out the resorts here. And keep your eye peeled for off-season lodging discounts.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Culinary tour in Charleston points up city's French heritage

Just seeing "Huguenot" doesn't make it easier to say. (Try "HUGH-ga-not.")

It's a French word, and it turns up on tourist maps of Charleston: The downtown's French Quarter ‑ the warren of streets east of King Street, from Market Street south to about Tradd Street ‑ is sometimes called the Huguenot Quarter.

And west of there, on West Street near Logan Street, is the Huguenot Society of South Carolina.

Here's the skinny.

Religious wars in the 1500s tore up French society. French Calvinists, called Huguenots, included members of the nobility, many in the middle class, and a share of the peasantry.

They became a political as well as a religious force as different nobles lined up to contest who would become king as the tottering Valois dynasty was about to crash.

The mother of King Francis II, Catherine de Medici, was ardently anti-Protestant, and her faction organized the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre on Aug. 23-24, 1572, which resulted in the murder of 5,000 to 30,000 Huguenots in Paris and elsewhere in the kingdom.

Huguenots began leaving France in huge numbers for refuge in Protestant lands, notably Great Britain, settling in London and in the West Country.

It wasn't always the best fit: English Protestants weren't Calvinists; also, the language and culture were quite different.

When the American colonies were being settled, many Huguenots left England for the New World, especially Charleston.

A list of family names posted by the Huguenot Society of America lists many surnames still common in the Carolinas: from Ballinger and Bodine to Ravenal and  Vincent. Many who settled in Charleston lived in what came to be the French Quarter.

The  first 45, who came in 1680 ,played a role in shaping Charleston's culture and food -- a contribution celebrated March 11 with a Huguenot Tour and Cooking Class staged by Charleston Culinary Tours.

The rain-or-shine walking tour includes tastings at Brasserie Gigi, In the Kitchen ( the restaurant of tour leader and chef Bob Waggoner, shown above), Cafe Framboise and ends with a sugary flourish at Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier.

It's French. It's Southern. And it's a different blend of those cuisines than you'll find in the Creole fare of New Orleans.

Moreover, attendance is limited to 12 individuals who must be 21 or older. Tickets are $150 and are available at Charleston Culinary Tours.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Coolest small town in America? The vote could come down to Hillsborough... or Blanco, Texas

The coolest small towns in America? It's not anybody's guess... but  anyone's vote can count in a Budget Travel promotion.

The annual civic beauty contest runs through 11:59 p.m. Feb. 25; it is open to municipalities that have less than 19,000 residents.

And as of Tuesday, North Carolina had two burgs in the top 15: Hillsborough and Washington.

Here are the rankings so far:

1.  Grand Marais. Minn.  (24.3 percent)
2.  Chincoteague, Va. (21.0 percent)
3.  Hillsborough  (9.9 percent)
4.  Washington  (7.9 percent)
5.  Allegan, Mich. (7.0 percent)
6.  Delhi, N.Y. (6.4 percent)
7.  Fort Myers Beach, Fla.: (5.8 percent)
8.  Old Orchard Beach, Maine:  (4.2 percent)
9.  Snohomish, Wash. (4.1 percent)
10. Berkeley Springs, W.V. (2.8 percent)
11. Huron, Ohio (2.6 percent)
12. Pismo Beach, Calif. (2.1 percent)
13. Crested Butte, Colo. (0.9 percent)
14. Ka’anapali, Hawaii (0.9 percent)
15. Blanco, Texas (0.3  percent)

Sorry, but the deadline has passed for nominations, and write-ins are not allowed.

This being an election, there of course seems to be skullduggery at the crossroads. Various tourism sites in northern Minnesota (,,, etc.) are plugging Grand Marais.

Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar send out a  note on this via Twitter. And she has 49,900 people following her. That's far more than either of North Carolina's have when combined (Richard Burr: 30,400; Thom Tillis: 28,900).

Hillsborough and Washington are both lovely towns. Then again, Grand Marais -- the only other place on the list that I've visited -- is pretty cool. And when the wind tries to blow Grand Marais into Lake Superior this time of year, it can be pretty frigid.

You can vote at this website

To prevent robo-voting, the election is set up to allow one vote per 24 hours per IP address (this is to cut down on ballot stuffing).

You will, of course, have to wend your way down the page around ads and other things plugging Budget Travel pages and offers.

You know how elections are.

The photo at the top of this post, by Harry Lynch of Raleigh's News & Observer, shows the Hillsborough Riverwalk, along the Eno River in Hillsborough.

The photo below, courtesy of the municipal webpage, is of city hall in  Blanco, Texas. I'm not sure if the town is better known as "Gateway to West Blanco" or "Home of the Blanco Burger."

Monday, February 16, 2015

Columbia marks 150 years of being "famously hot"

Will Columbia be hot Feb. 17?

It has been and, as a historical occasion, just might be this year.

It's the commemoration of the conflagration that destroyed a part of the capital of South Carolina as it was being abandoned by Confederates and occupied by federal forces toward the end of the Civil War.

Tuesday is the 150th anniversary of what came to be known as the "Burning of Columbia," and events are scheduled throughout the day.

* At 9 a.m. is a historical reappraisal of what happened there in February, 1865. The 90-minute panel discussion by scholars will be held at the Columbia Museum of Art, 1515 Main St.  The session is free, but registration is required.

After a $30 noon luncheon, there's a second free panel discussion from 2 to 4 p.m.

At 4 p.m., a historical marker about the 1865 fire will be unveiled at the 1200 block of Main Street. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

At 5 p.m. at Boyd Plaza, 1515 Main St., there's a public commemoration that includes comments by politicians and historians, performances by the Benedict College Concert Choir and the Sandlapper Singers, performance art and other music in addition to exhibits and readings.

At Tapp's Art Center, 1644 Main St., there are 7 p.m. readings by poets and writers, followed at 8 p.m. with a live performance by the jazz-funk band The Dubber.

What does it all add up to? An easy afternoon in an attractive downtown. And a gathering of question  marks about who caused the figure, and what the blaze signified in both the short and long run.

Experts are divided over whether the fire was the work of
1. retreating Confederates, under the command of Gen. Wade Hampton
2. local looters.
3. enraged federal troops, under the command of Gen. William Sherman, who had just liberated a Confederate POW camp in West Columbia.

After a century and a half, it's all academic. And more than a tad ironic.

Since World War II, Columbia has gladly welcomed thousands upon thousands of federal troops: Camp Jackson, on Columbia's southeastern outskirts, is the Army's training facility, a 52,000 acre compound that, according to wikipedia, employs "almost 4,400 civilians and provides services for more than 115,000 retirees and their family members."

It goes on to say that the installation pumps more than $716.9 million into the area economy.

"Famously Hot," is nowadays the slogan  used by the Columbia Convention &Visitors Bureau, notably for the "Famously Hot New Year's Eve" bash on Main Street.

About the engraving at the top of this post: The POW camp in West Columbia  was called Camp Sorghum. Two months before it was liberated, 500 captured Union officers were moved there from a smaller compound, in downtown Columbia, on the grounds of the old State Lunatic Asylum.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Strange restaurants? Here's a menu of 10 of them

Going to an out-of-town restaurant on Valentine's Day?

The website Tripadvisor last year posted a story called "10 of the weirdest restaurants in the world."

Feb. 14 of course being a food-oriented holiday, the list has recently found new live on a variety of sites, including EatOut.

Here's the list.

1. Modern Toilet Restaurant, Taipei City, Taiwan. Seating is on porcelain thrones; serving dishes apparently are miniature toilets.

2. Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, Kenya. This is at a giraffe-themed B&B; the dining room windows are open so the residents outside can peak in.

3. A street vendor in Pitsanalok, Thailand, who flings your order up in the air for you to catch.

4. Sky Dining SA, a chain said to be operating in more than 30 countries; dining chambers are apparently attached to  tall cranes and apparently pulled aloft.

5. Disaster Cafe, in Lloret de Mar, Spain. The entertainment? A fake, plate-shaking  7.8 earthquake during your meal.

6. Eenmaal, Amsterdam. The pop-up restaurant only has tables-for-one.

7. The Stinking Rose, San Francisco. Everything from appetizers to desserts is heavy with garlic.

8. The Safe House, Milwaukee. The gimmick at this long-established bar is getting in:  After walking down an alley, the person at the door asks for the password. Since you don't know it, you are required to sing a song not of your choosing, or do something stupid with a hula hoop.

9. Kayabukiya Tavern, exurban Tokyo. The wait staff includes two monkeys.

10. The Clink, Cardiff, Wales. It's in a prison and serves as a training facility so those paroled can find employment at nice restaurants.

The photo at the top of this post? It's from the "I Travel With the Observer" archives and shows readers Ron and Donna Jean Deshaies at Giraffe Manor in 2006.

I personally have only been to one of the places on the list -- The Safe House, in my hometown.

That was years ago, so I called some old friends back in Sudsville and learned the son of one had been there recently.

The young guy -- we'll just use his Facebook alias of Henry Winklehymer -- said the person at the door made him do the "I'm a Little Tea Cup" song and dance.

Henry said he hadn't done that since he was a 5-year-old, and had to follow the door monitor's prompts.

And of course, it's all being videotaped and shown live to the patrons inside. Once in the door, Henry was greeted with hoots and howls.

Ordinarily, people in Wisconsin only guffaw like that when the Chicago Bears are on TV. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Annual guide points up beauty of Western North Carolina's Jackson County

If Jackson County doesn't immediately pop up on your mental radar, these beautiful destinations in that area of Western North Carolina will: Cashiers, Cullowhee, Dillsboro and Sylva.

Or think of the gorgeous stretches of highway that take you there, notably U.S. 74 and U.S. 64. One of the top scenic drives in that part of the state is the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway -- a four-lane divided stretch of U.S. 74-19-23-441 -- that connects Bryson City, Sylva and Waynesville to Interstate 40.

In the just-out 2015 version of "Our Town," the 10th edition of the annual magazine published by the Jackson County Chamber, you'll find visitor information for locales, attractions and more.

Articles in the 44-page effort highlight the return of fireworks to Sylva and a spotlight on the philanthropy practiced by nearby Harrah's Cherokee Casino, which is  just 20 miles northwest of Sylva.

"Our Town" is free of charge. You can read it online.

You can also request a copy be mailed to you via the Chamber's website -- --  or by calling their office at 828-586-2155.