Friday, December 30, 2011

Recollections of 2011 Part 1: The Places I've Been

As the flame that is 2011 which burns on the candle of life waxes and wains and slowly disappears as it is carried by Father Time down the corridor of of eternity (nice metaphor huh?) it is time for me to look back at the special memories of the year that was. This will be a 3 part series.

Part 1 will be a review all the road trips, vacations and other outings from throughout the year. I will review them in a "Top10" format counting them down as they stand out in my memory. Some of them required driving several hours to get to but others happened right here in our local area. 

Before I begin the actual list let me start with some "honorable mentions" that didn't make the list.

Take Me Out To The Ball Game: I'm not sure exactly how many times I went Bowling Green ballpark to watch the Hot Rods (the Class "A" affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays) this past summer but I know it was at least 10. It's a great place to sit, relax and enjoy a nice night out with family and or friends.  The Hot Rods  had a great season too. They made the playoffs for the first time in their history. Thanks for the season ticket package, Paula. 

At The Movies: As has been the habit since I moved here in 1999 Paula and I went to the movies a lot this year. Some of our favorites included: "Super 8", "The Help", "Rise of the Planet of the Apes.". We also liked "The Lincoln Lawyer" a movie we only went to see after we went to the wrong theater.  I liked two out of the three Disney features we saw  this year. "Winnie The Pooh: and "The Muppets"(which I saw twice) were very enjoyable. I was disappointed with "Cars 2". 

Other films that get our "thumbs down" are: Contagion, Green Lantern, and Paranormal Activity 3." This by no means is all the movies we saw; but it does summarize our 2011 film experience. Perhaps if I find the time I'll make a list of all movies I saw this year. 

So much for the "honorable mentions." Now it's time to countdown the 10 favorite places I went in 2011. 

10. CATS: On Friday March 19 Paula and I had the worst theater experience we have ever had. The show was at the Lexington Opera House. It was Paula's 2nd time there and my 3rd (more on that later). While we didn't know a lot about the actual show we decided to go see "Cats" because it was an award winning musical and several people told us it was good. We hated it. 

There were several factors which contributed to this rejection. First of all it was all singing. There was almost no dialogue at all. To make things worse, you had to really pay attention to what the characters were singing to understand them. Part of the problem was that the music was a lot louder than the singers so you couldn't really hear them. 

Although we were tempted to leave at intermission but decided to stay. The 2nd act was a little more tolerable and at times even enjoyable. The two best know songs ("Memory" and "Mr. Mistoffelees") were sung after intermission. Nevertheless, overall it was a bad experience. 

9. WKU Football Game: After more than a decade of intending to do so;  I finally made it to the Western Kentucky University football stadium to see a game. We went with our friends Mark and Patty Quigley. The game was as exciting as a football game can get. The Hilltoppers kicker put a 32 yard kick through the uprights with no time left on the clock for a 10-9 WKU win. It was the most exciting game of their entire season. 

8. Meeting Alistair Begg: One of the preachers God has used to help me in my spiritual growth these past few years is, Alistair Begg; featured speaker on the "Truth For Life" podcast.. On June 9 I drove to a church in South Nashville near the Cool Springs Galleria where Pastor Begg was making a guest speaking appearance.

Getting to meet him after all he's helped me learn was an honor. I even got to ask him a couple of questions after the service was over.  

But the most memorable thing about that night happened before the event even began. Having arrived a bit early I found myself sitting in the church hallway waiting for the sanctuary doors to open. As I sat there I noticed an older couple who had come early and were volunteering to hand  out programs. As I looked at them I couldn't deny the fact that they looked familiar. 

As I watched them I soon realized that this couple were Frank and Carol Jarboe. They used to be part of the "Down Home Friends" puppet ministry in Bowling Green, In 2008 They sold me my first Axtell puppet, who is now Cecil the Turtle. 

I hadn't seen them since. I'd always wanted to tell them what a blessing their little puppet has been to me for these last 3 years but could never contact them. That night I had my chance. It was a "two for one" memorable road trip for me. 

7. Dory's Days Out : This past spring my dog Dory and I went on a couple of special outings. On Saturday April 16 we participated in and completed the Bowling Green Humane Society's 5K walk. It had been 5 years since I'd gone to the fund raising event. Back then I wasn't healthy enough to finish the entire walk. This time we both made it with energy to spare. 

About 3 weeks later we went to the "Bark In The Park" at the Bowling Green ballpark. Dory wasn't much interested in the game but she did like drinking from the big water bowls and resting on the cool concrete in the shade. We also got out picture taken with Roscoe the team's mascot.  

It was a couple of days that were a lot of fun and Dory really liked being out and about. I plan on going to both again next year. 

6. Orchestra Of Kentucky Concerts: The first outing of 2011 was also one of the most enjoyable, at least for me. On January 11 Paula and I went to Van Meter hall on the WKU campus to hear the Orchestra of Kentucky's concert featuring the music of LeRoy Anderson. Mr. Anderson wrote and arranged quite a few songs that remind me of going to the movies when I was a kid. If you're interested in the details go back and read my January 12 post. 

A little over 2 months later near the end of March we went to another Orchestra of Kentucky concert featuring Disney music. Of course we enjoyed this concert as well. But I will always remember it as the concert that helped me get over that previously mentioned  awful theater experience. The Disney concert was the day after we went to see "Cats."

Although I was a little disappointed that "When You Wish Upon A Star" wasn't played at the concert I really enjoyed hearing the classic Disney songs played live. There was also an very interesting post script to my concert experience. For more details check out my March 23rd and March 28th posts. 

5. Monty Python and The Circus: Nothing has thrilled me more this year than the opportunities I had to spend time with my sons and their wives. There were quite a few times all of us were together as a family. But my favorites were the times we went in specific groups. Here's what I mean. 

For Christmas 2010 Michael, James and I each got a ticket to see the musical play "Spamalot" at the Lexington Opera House. The show is based on the popular movie "Monty Python and The Holy Grail." 

On Sunday January 16 the 3 of us drove to the Opera House in Lexington (Yes, the same venue where Paula and I would see "Cats" 2 months later) to see the show. It as a lot of fun and a great "father and sons" outing. 

After that day my daughters in law began telling me that because I took the boys to Lexington I "owed" them a daughter's night out. I decided that I would appease them with a trip to the circus when it came to a local venue.  

On Friday March 25 the 4 of us (of course I had to include Paula in this outing) went to see the 2011 version of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus at Diddle Area on the WKU campus. You can read the details in my March 31 post. 

Let me just mention that to this day if the 4 of us who went talked about that night  the one thing all of us would still remember would be a lion who was sitting in a cage on the area floor during intermission. He was really angry about something on the right side of the arena. All throughout the mid show break he roared for all his might at whatever he perceived as a threat. It was kind of scary and very memorable. 

4. My Solo Trip To Holiday World: I've gone to the movies, professional baseball games, a ventriloquist convention, and quite a few other places by myself over the years,  but until Monday July 23, 2011,  I had never gone to an amusement park alone. 

That was the day that I went solo to Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana. Ever since I went to Dorney Park for the first time in more than 20 years back in June of 2010 I've become an amusement park fanatic. 

Holiday World and it's water park, Splashin' Safari, is the most popular amusement park in our area. It has 3 of the top rated wooden roller coasters in the country as well as the Wildebeast, a highly acclaimed water coaster. 

These rides were the main reason I wanted to go to Holiday World. As it turns out other than the water coaster I really didn't like any of them. But there were other things about this holiday themed park that I really enjoyed. I posted the details of my day in Santa Claus in my August 2 post. I had a great time. 

At the time I took the trip I thought I was doing a test run for a 2012 solo trip to Walt Disney World. Those plans have since changed but for me this trip is the 4th most memorable outing of 2011.

3. The PA Family Comes To KY: At the end of July my two sisters, my brothers in law and my niece and nephew came to visit us in Kentucky once again. We had a wonderful visit with one exception. 

The Sunday they arrived my brother in law Gene tripped and fell while walking from the hotel to our house. He hit his face on the ground and really skinned up his nose. At first we thought it was broken but it wasn't. 

The visit included taking the guys to Bowling Green ballpark to see the Hot Rods play. They treated us  to an exciting walk off win by scoring 3 runs in the bottom of the 9th inning. The ladies paid a visit to The Paintin' Place in Bowling Green where they made their own ceramic craft to take home with them. Some of us spent one afternoon at Beech Bend park and Splash Lagoon water park. 

But my favorite part of the trip was the couple of times we went swimming in the Bryce Hotel's pool. What made those times memorable was a game we played. As part of my savings effort for our next Disney vacation I had collected about $50 worth of $1 coins. I took those bright shinny gold coins with me to the pool. Peggy, Shari, Teejai and I used 7 of them to play game. Then one night when more of the family were in the pool we played a "free for all" game. I threw all 50 of the coins into the pool and we all went after them. It was great fun. 

Their visit ended with our now traditional breakfast at the Cave City Cracker Barrel restaurant. The group pictures we took that morning are some of my favorites of the year. 

2. Our Chattanooga Vacation: The week before the Memorial Day Paula and I took a 5 day vacation to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It's only a 3 hour drive from our house. My trip report is covered in the four RH Factors posts from June 2 through June 19. 

We had a good time in Chattanooga but other than a few of them, the level of entertainment  venues, attractions, and restaurants are not on the level of other tourist areas. 

Some of my favorite things in Chattanooga were: Rock City and the Lover's Leap area; Ruby Falls,not the overall experience but the waterfall itself, the model railroad at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, The "River" portion of the aquarium, and the pedestrian bridge. 
I also surprised Paula with an afternoon at the spa treatment at the Chattanoogan hotel. 

Our most memorable dining experience was at the restaurant called "Cheeburger, Cheeburger." 

We had a good time but we probably won't ever go back. There's just not really anything we'd be interested in doing again. Still spending the 5 days together and  being able to do things that 2 years ago we wouldn't have physically been able to do makes our Chattanooga vacation my second favorite outing of the year. 

1. Smokey Mountains Weekend: While it was the shortest trip of the year, in terms of length of time, our trip to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area in Tennessee is my favorite excursion of 2011. 

This trip started out different from any other we'd ever taken just by the fact that we used to book our hotel room. We did a lot of things in a couple of days. We left about 4 o'clock on a Saturday evening in October and returned home that Monday evening. 

We did a lot of shopping, visited a haunted house, watched a 3D movie while it was "snowing" in the theater, and taste tested our choice of hundreds of types of flavored popcorn. We were "trapped" by a dead pharaoh inside a pyramid as part of an interactive attraction called "The Tomb", at at a "Five Guys" fast food restaurant, and revisited one of the most famous oceanic disasters in nautical history. 

We had breakfast at the Old Mill restaurant in Pigeon Forge on Sunday and spent the morning browsing through the surrounding specialty shops. 

My 2 favorite parts of the trip was the visit to Ober Gatlinburg and (the marquee reason for our trip) the Titanic Museum.

To get to Ober Gatlinburg we had to drive almost 3 miles up the side of a mountain. It was very close to the cabin area where we stayed during our first trip to the Smokies back in 2001. 

Ober Gatlingburg is a tourist area with specialty shops, restaurants, an ice skating rink, a carousel, a small zoo, an alpine slide, a water slide and more. 

The zoo, while not really all that great as far as zoos are concerned, provided the best otter encounter we've ever had. We spent a long time watching them and the 3 black bears. 

My favorite part of Ober Gatlinburg I did by myself. It was a ski lift ride to the top of Mount Harrison. The reason I went alone is because Paula doesn't like riding on those types of things.  The ride to the top took a bit longer than it was supposed to take. There was a lot of starting and stopping to let people off at the bottom of the ride. I videoed the entire trip with my camcorder. A lot of those videos are a bit embarrassing but I was a bit bored and just trying to improvise the documentation of my trip up the hillside. 

When I finally got to the top I rewarded with the most awesome view of the Smokie Mountains I've ever seen. I took pictures and shot video but it doesn't really convey the beauty of what I saw in the twilight of that autumn evening. 

On the second day we went to the Titanic museum in Pigeon Forge. This was the highlight of our trip. Housed in a building that's partially a replica of the infamous ocean liner the self guided tour takes you on a journey through the history of the RMS Titanic. It starts with the concept,  design, engineering, and building of the ship and ends with a memorial to those who lost their lives that fateful night in April 1912. 

This museum is a quality experience and could very well hold its own with "big city" museums. The recreation of the grand staircase based on the architect's original plans is amazing. The designers of this museum saved the best for last. The replica of the ship's bridge area really brings you into the Titanic experience as much as you can be. There is a recreation of the deck area where the air temperature at 32 degrees and a trough of water is chilled to the same temperature as the ocean was that fateful night. There's also an actual iceberg that visitors are encouraged to touch. 

We planned on spending only an hour and a half there but the exhibits and artifacts were so compelling  that we spent more than 2 1/2. 

After a final buffet lunch we headed home. It was exhausting but a very fun couple of days. 

So there you have my top 10 adventures of 2011. Half of them were  road trips and the other half happened right here near my home. Nevertheless they were all trips to places I wanted to go. Whether it was a trip to the ballpark, spending time with my sisters in my own house or a ride on a ski lift in the Smokie Mountains they were all great experiences. Years from now when I look back on 2011 these will be the trips what comes to mind.

Come back for Part 2 of my Recollections of 2011. 

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