Entertainment

Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous

Arena

Two things in life I like as much as I love traveling: hair metal and spontaneity.

And those three things came together in a perfect storm of awesomeness.

Many months prior to this trip, I saw the lineup for Rock the Arena. I saw that it was in Toledo, not far from the Columbus suburb I grew up in and where my brother is raising his awesome family. So I bought the concert ticket, and told myself I’d figure out the rest later. Here was my Facebook post after the trip:

Post

That’s right. That brief moment of spontaneity – and not letting myself worry about the details – ended up producing a trip that was WAYYYYYYY better than simply a killer rock show.

Here’s how it happened, and why you should always stay creative and flexible when traveling – so you don’t miss something awesome:

When I got around to planning the trip, the trouble started early. I had planned to fly into Columbus, where my family lives, and visit with them and then just drive up to Toledo for the show and spend a night. But the Gods of Airfare & Rental Cars were not kind to me.

First, I made the Cardinal Mistake of Travel Planning: I booked a flight before researching rental car rates. This doesn’t seem to be that big of an issue, but it really can be. Why? Rental car rates vary wildly from city to city because of the local taxes assessed on them. So even if the rental car company charges $20 a day for a car in, say, Columbus and Cleveland, local taxes in each of those cities can make for a significant difference in what you end up paying for that $20 rental. It’s for this reason, that I always research rental  care rates before booking airfare. On a number of occasions, I’ve found that the total trip is cheaper if I fly into a more expensive airport with a much cheaper rental car.

And that’s exactly what happened here. The Columbus rental car rates were sky high. Fortunately, I booked on Southwest Airlines and one of the tips in my Fly section is that Southwest doesn’t charge change fees. If your plans change, you can’t get a refund, but you can change your flight and only pay the difference in fare, or cancel it and store what you paid as travel funds that you can use for a future flight. After I finished my researched, I settled on booking a different airline and flying into Detroit, where my rental car would save me literally hundreds of dollars. It was inconvenient, but I decided my time was worth less than my dollars.

Once I got all that worked out, two surprises made it all worth it.

First, Lita Ford, my all-time favorite rocker who was on the Rock the Arena bill, announced a show the night before in Cleveland, just a couple of hours from Columbus AND Toledo. Score! Ticket bought.

And just days before I left on the trip, a  good friend who had bought a six-person tasting menu at a great Cleveland restaurant and was struggling to find a sixth guest, on a lark sent me a message to see whether I’d be in Cleveland on March 17. I hadn’t planned to be there until Lita’s show on the 18th, but when travel opportunity knocks, I open the door.

Doing so meant booking two nights in Cleveland, which wasn’t cheap, being the holiday and all. It meant changing my hotel reservation in Toledo. It had been dirt cheap, but when changing it, it allowed the hotel to charge me the now-jacked-up rate based on new demand, so the detour easily cost me a couple hundred of dollars. But it was worth it. Read on ….

noodles

COLUMBUS

I grew up in Gahanna, one of the northeast suburbs of Ohio’s capital cities. Columbus has changed mightily since I left for college in 1990, and now it would be one of my favorite cities to visit even if it wasn’t my hometown. One thing I had never gotten to do there was see a Columbus Crew soccer match in its new soccer-specific MAPFRE Stadium. It’s a great place to catch a soccer match, and you can even get noodles at the concession stand. The following day, I did something else in my hometown that I hadn’t done before: Visited the Columbus Museum of Art which, like many museums, often offers a free admission day. Worth a visit.

Parade

CLEVELAND

From there, it was on to Cleveland. All the years I lived in Ohio, I had no idea how seriously the folks in Cleveland take St. Patrick’s Day. There’s a massive parade that shuts down much of the city, and plenty of drinking to be had (and an occasional fight, so be careful.)

menu

That night, I met my friend and his posse at Michael Symon’s Lola Bistro, one of the city’s hot dining spots, for that private six-person tasting menu.It was an experience worth every penny of the extra hotels. We had a private table overlooking the kitchen, so we got to see everything prepared and talk with the chefs. I took a look at the menu, and was a little worried that not much on it was in my wheelhouse. And some of it (can you hear my, cauliflower?!?!) is on my choose-death-over-consumption list. But, when in Rome (or Cleveland), I opened my mind – and my taste buds – to all of it. And I loved every single bite. Another reminded to myself to always be open to trying new things.

Lita

The following night was my Lita Ford concert, and the surprises kept coming. The venue announced a surprise meet-and-greet opportunity. In all the Lita concerts I’ve gone to, I had never been able to meet here. That would change today. And it happened because I remained flexible with my travel. Had my friend not invited me to dinner, I would have driven up just in time for the show, and missed this incredible opportunity. (By the way, the venue – The Odeon – isn’t going to win any awards, but if you’re looking an intimate venue where you can get close to the stage and not be robbed by the beer vendor, check it out).

From there, it was on to Toledo, for an amazing day of rock, followed by some quick sight-seeing in Detroit before heading home, all the time reveling in the good fortune that came from spontaneity.

 

 

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Categories: Airlines, Eating, Entertainment, Rental cars, Rock & Roll, Sporting events, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Trip Report: Key West for New Year’s Eve

Sunset

New Year’s Eve is my favorite holiday. Always has been. It might be because my parents always through a party at our house for their friends, and while I was quarantined in my bedroom for all of them, I could still tell it was a rockin’ good time downstairs.

So Laura and I make a point of traveling somewhere for New Year’s Eve every year. We’ve now spent NYE in all four Lower 48 time zones, and did the countdown in Vegas, Seattle, Phoenix, Chicago, Pensacola and many, many other places. I’ve even done the Times Square madness. Once. And only once.

This year, we chose Key West. It’s our kind of town, so it has to be our kind of NYE town, right? Yes, yes it was.

express

GETTING THERE

As the crow flies, Key West isn’t all that far from our house in Safety Harbor, Florida. But the crow doesn’t fly there, and the airlines that do charge a heart-stopping amount to get you there during NYE. Driving is out of the question, because it’s a seven-hour drive. SEVEN. So we finally took a trip on the Key West Express, and pretty much loved it.

The Express is a high-speed ferry from Fort Myers Beach to Key West, sailing back and forth daily. It’s a quite large vessel, and well appointed. It’s all open seating, you have your choice of airline-like seats or, if you board early enough, couches with tables perfect for groups. On the way down, they showed a movie, and on the way back, they showed Monday Night Football, so there’s some free entertainment on board. There’s also a bar with a small snack bar, so the couple-hour trip can go by quickly.

The only problem for us is that it leaves very early in the morning from Fort Myers Beach, so we decided to book a hotel there the night before to avoid the early-morning drive. On the way back, we could have done the same thing, but opted to drive home after it arrived back in Fort Myers Beach late in the evening.

Ibis

STAYING THERE

Somewhat surprising, considering that we didn’t decide on Key West until October, we were able to find a pretty cool hotel that didn’t break the bank. The Ibis Bay Beach Resort is an old motel that has been redecorated into a funky place to stay. We had a first-place room overlooking the bay, with a hammock and some chairs to watch the resident birds and tortoises from. It has a great pool area that includes a movie screen, with a nice restaurant and bar.

It’s a bit out of the entertainment district, but it uses old school buses to take guests to multiple stops in town and then back to Ibis.

turtle

PLAYING THERE

Drag Queen

The highlight is, of course, the multiple NYE celebrations and traditions, pretty much a different one for whatever type of person you are. We chose the Drag Queen Shoe Drop at Bourbon Street Pub, because it seemed the most fun. And it was. The streets were crowded, but hey, it’s NYE. If you’re not excited about crowds, choose a different favorite holiday. But quite surprising to us, we were able to find a lot of not-as-crowded bars in town all night, so it doesn’t have to be all shoulder-to-shoulder contact if you don’t want it to be.

butterfly

There are lots of great museums in the city, so I could tell you about Harry Truman’s Little White HouseErnest Hemingway’s house or the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, but if you’re going to Key West for NYE, you’re going there to drink. And drink we did! In fact, we held an impromptu contest for our Facebook friends to guess how many different bars we’d visit over the weekend. Did you guess 32? If so, you would have won a T-shirt! And don’t forget to visit Dante’s. It’s a great bar/restaurant right by the dock to the Key West Express. It has a full pool with waterfall, so it’s a great place to cool off while enjoying some drinks.

drinks

Categories: Drinking, Entertainment, Hotels, Museums, Pop Culture, Tourist Locations, Trip Reports | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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