The year 2015 started off with plans to travel to a couple of locations,
but not the extent of the travel that I enjoyed in 2014. As it
turned out, I had
some great experiences and more travel than had been originally planned. It was truly a good year for my travel as I have noted in my blog posts and Facebook posts throughout the year.
Unlike most of my travel, which I like to do by car on back roads, the year’s travel adventures saw me traveling by airplane on a number of occasions. I don’t mind flying, honestly, but I prefer driving because I can see more of the landscape. However, schedules and other things necessitated my flying to many of the destinations I went to this year.
In a nutshell, in 2015 I was blessed with the opportunity to travel
to the West Coast twice. Once to the Seattle area and once to the
San Francisco area. I also made my way into my old home stomping grounds in Salt Lake City and was able to visit old friends and the beautiful mountains near Sundance Resort on a business trip.
And, one of my travel highlights of the year was being able to go to New England with my wife, my daughter Marissa and her children and visit the last three remaining states of my 50 states adventure. So, I finally
could say that I have set foot in all 50 states before I turned 60 (see my 50 State Review Here). We also had a couple of smaller road trips including one to Cincinnati and one to Louisville and were able to see if things on those trips as well.
Some of the major highlights of this year’s travel include:
Along with all of this travel, I was able to see a number of unique and quirky sites. I ate at a couple of unique restaurants. Got to
spend time at one time or another with all of my 10 grandchildren.
Along the way I saw mountains, zoos, wildlife, coastal sunrises and sunsets, famed bridges, big cities, small villages. Some of the more “unique” places can be seen below in pictures. It was a great year!!
Following are a few shots of some of the more interesting places
Over the years, I have traveled to a number of what I call “Theme Towns.” These would include places such as Vulcan, Alberta with its Star Trek theme (see post of my visit in 2007); Metropolis, IL and its Superman theme (see post of my visit); Hershey, PA and its chocolate theme (see post about recent visit in 2015); Roswell, NM with an alien theme; Douglas, WY and its Jackalope theme (see post here); and Hell, MI with its Devils and hell-fire (see post here). Another one I visited back in 2012 was Santa Claus, IN with its Santa and Christmas inspired themes. That visit was a short pass-thru visit on my way west to Kansas City.
On my grandson Landen’s 7th birthday, Dec. 17, we gathered up Landen, his sisters and his cousin Rockwell, along with my daughter Marissa and my wife and took a day trip to visit Santa Claus during the holiday season. It was a lovely, though quite cold, day to take the two and a half hour trek from our own horse and bourbon themed Lexington up to Santa Claus.
Our trip up was uneventful. It was cloudy in the morning so we didn’t
see a sunrise. However, by the time we got to the Santa Claus exit off
of I-64 west, the skies was bright with sunshine and a few spotty
We got into town about 11:30 EST, but it was Central Time there. Our
intent was to head to lunch first and then visit the town.
One might think that Santa Claus would have a quaint little rustic
downtown area with Christmas-like cottages and a Gatlinburg-esque
atmosphere. Unfortunately, this is not really the case. Though there
are Santa statues throughout the small town, the actual town consists of a strip mall (Kringle Place) with a few Christmas-themed shops, then, a couple miles down the road there is a museum, the original post office, an old church and the “Candy Castle.” The town has a hotel called Santa’s Lodge, with a restaurant called St. Nick’s. There is a campground at Lake Rudolph. Besides the Santa-themed attractions, the biggest drawing card to the town is the Holiday World Amusement Park with its huge roller coasters and water slide amusements. Obviously, at this time of the year it is closed for the season.
Thus, this visit to Santa Claus was really in the “off season” though,
for three weekends in December the town is bustling with Christmas
visitors and its variety of Christmas activities, some of which were
still available on this particular Thursday visit. (Mind you, the
County Tourism office recommended I visit on Saturday, but that wasn’t going to work for us).
We got to St. Nick’s restaurant at 10:45 and it didn’t open until 11,
so we kind of hung around the lobby of the Santa’s Lodge hotel, which
was nicely decked out for Christmas. The town really has sparse
dining options. Besides the obviously Santa-themed St. Nick’s, the only other options appeared to be a Subway (with a Santa out front) and a Pizza/Sandwich place in the Kringle Plaza strip mall. If you want to eat vegan, good luck!
St. Nick’s has a few Christmas designs and the menu is certainly Christmasy. The menu items were typical American faire. We were there on a slow day and found little that we could eat (as far as vegetarian options were concerned.) We ordered the tri-color tortellini with artichoke pesto, kind of excited about the Christmas colored noodles. But, much to our dismay, our server came back a few minutes later to tell us it had been discontinued and that the “new owners” we’re getting “new menus” soon. So, we opted for the salad bar, which sufficed (somewhat). All the kids got kids meal chicken fingers and fries, which were hefty. I asked about the “Reindeer Paws,” which were advertised on the Santa Claus, IN website (see here), and our server had never heard of them. Apparently they used Reindeer Paws as the name of their Buffalo Wings but no longer.
By this time, my wife was already noting another “Sandwich Fail,”
referring to our September 2015 trip to New England and our out of the way drive to Sandwich, NH to get a sandwich (and our ultimate discovery that there are no places in Sandwich to get a sandwich).
Though the waitress was pleasant, the food was lackluster. But, in a town with few choices, it was probably better than the other two places. Thankfully, they gave us a 10% discount due to all of the troubles. That was helpful considering the cost of meals for seven people.
Now that tummies were full, we were ready to venture into town and see all of the offerings of this small Indiana village. Our first stop was some photo shoots inside and outside of Santa’s Lodge. The interior is nicely decorated for Christmas (perhaps year around). And, outside, they have the 10 foot tall “Angry Santa” statue — that’s what I call it anyway. He doesn’t look too friendly, though he did pat me on my head!
From Santa’s Lodge we decided to head over to the Santa Claus Museum and Village, which was east on IN 245 a bit past IN 162. The old historic Post Office and old Santa Claus Church are located there, along with a 20 foot tall Santa Statue. The Santa Claus Museum features historical documents, photos and artifacts illustrating the progression from the tiny settlement of Santa Fe (pop. 65) to the present day town of Santa Claus. Exhibits feature the story behind the town’s famous name, the history of tourism, and artifacts highlighting the town’s unique history. The town was established in 1854 and known as Santa Fe (pronounced “fee”). In 1856, when the town was working to establish a post office, the United States Postal Service refused their first application as there was already a Santa Fe established with the USPS. Several town meetings were held, during which the name Santa Claus was selected.
The town now has the world’s only post office to bear the name of Santa Claus. Because of this popular name, the post office receives thousands of letters to Santa from all over the world each year. A group of volunteers known as Santa’s Elves ensures each child receives a reply from Santa Claus; this tradition has been in existence since at least 1914.
The kids sat the old style desks to write their letters to Santa. It was a nice little unique atmosphere.
After each child completes their letter, the parents (or children) include their mailing address on the letter and Santa will send them a letter to respond to them. There is no charge for this. It is a fun concept for the kids (and donations are accepted for those wishing to help out Santa’s volunteers)
Just behind the old Post Office is the old church. It is a small, cozy building. It was built in 1880 and still is heated by a wood burning stove.
The inside is sparse, but warm. There is a nice nativity scene at the front. The grandkidz went in and sat down in one of the pews and all sang Silent Night together. It was really sweet!
A little on further down the road is “Santa’s Candy Castle,” the perfect place to pick up some goodies for the kids. And during the Christmas season, they also provide an opportunity for the kids to chat with Santa’s Elves in the North Pole online and find out if they have been Naughty or Nice. Its a nice interactive thing for the kids to do and they get a certificate afterwards that is encased in plastic! (There is a cost involved, but I was able to get coupons online and save a few dollars at santaclausind.org)
We had already determined who was Naughty and Nice between Mom and Daughter….but the grandkidz needed to wok with the north Pole elves to get that determination.
The interactive program on the computers requires a special code and each child is assigned to a specific elf for their interview. The Elves ask a few questions and then make some advice before they finalize the certificates. The kids have fun with this and so the adults!
Then came the BEST part of the visit to the Candy Castle….yep, the Candy!! The store has a Jelly Belly Room, a giant PEZ wall and a huge assortment of favorite goodies, even some that are not typically seen in the eastern US (such as the Rocky Road Bars). Each of the grandkidz got to choose ONE thing for being on the good list (per Grampz).
Then there are the Bean Boozled Flavors – including such yummy goodies as Skunk Spray, Toothpaste, Booger, Vomit, Baby Wipes, Moldy Cheese, Stinky Sock, and Grass Clippings. YUM! And yes, we got some of these too. Take the Bean Boozled Challenge if you dare…I have and lived to tell about my vomit and skunk spray experiences.
The Candy Store also offers a variety of fudge, popcorn and taffy flavors all served up by Santa’s Nice Little Helpers who were there for us on this day. If you dare (which we didn’t) you could try out the famed Frozen Hot Chocolate.
The Candy Castle also has a few ornaments and books as well as a Santa Claus Hall of Fame wall. Here are a few more photos from this fun place.
My daughter in law Holly wanted us to pick up a nice ornament from Santa Claus. She SPECIFICALLY asked my daughter to get it and didn’t want to ask me. When I called her and asked her why she wouldn’t want me to do it she said “I don’t want you bringing home a pickle ornament or some other weird ornament.” Ironically, I had never heard of a pickle ornament. But, t my amazement, there were indeed pickle ornaments for sale at Santa’s Candy Castle. They even came along with a story.
According to whychristmas.com the story of the Pickle Ornament is as follows:
The tradition of the Christmas Pickle has got to be one of the strangest modern Christmas customs in that no one is quite sure why it exists at all! It was claimed that the Christmas Pickle was a very old German tradition and that the pickle was the last ornament hung on the Christmas tree and then the first child to find the pickle got an extra present. Some families now have the tradition of hanging the pickle on the tree, with the first person/child to find it getting a present. But it probably didn’t start in Germany!
Needless to say, we got Holly her nice ornament, but ALSO got her a Christmas Pickle ornament. I couldn’t resist. We read the little info sheet to all at the family gathering. “An age-old German good luck emblem, this realistic, hand-painted glass ornament adds a touch of legend and humor to holiday decorating. According to tradition, the first child to find the pickle ornament, which parents hide deep within the trees boughs, gets an extra gift from St. Nick.” Oh what fun it was!
Now that we determined that the kids were all good and that they were all candied up, we got back in the van and headed over to Kringle Place to visit some of the shops there and maybe, just maybe, get a chance to see the REAL Santa. The Santa Claus Christmas Store has a HUGE selection of Christmas collectibles including ornaments, nativities, Christmas decor items and a special room to visit Santa Claus…a really special one.
Then of course, there was the chance visit with the REAL Santa Claus. Marissa said it best… “This Santa was pretty awesome. Lyla wasn’t even scared at all- which has not been the case for the fast few we have seen. And I just loved the chair. After asking the children what they wanted for Christmas he asked them if they knew why we really celebrated Christmas. And then they had a conversation about Jesus. (And look at his chair!)“
By this time we were pretty zonked. Marissa and Julianne still wanted to do some shopping, so I took the kids and we took a drive around the rest of the town. We found a few unique surprises along the way as we did.
To my surprise and delight, we discovered a Santa Claus Police Car! I asked the kids why they would need a Police Car in Santa Claus and Landen piped up with “Santa needs someone to decide who is Naughty and who is Nice.” HA! And now, I have another unique Police Car to add to my collection as well. here are a few other Santa Claus fun places.
And then there are the many Santa Claus” statues in town. The town even has a hashtag “#SantaSelfie”. I saw at least a dozen Santa statues around town at the banks, the post office, the library, the Subway sandwich shop, and other places.
These are all themed to give that wonderful feeling as one travels around town. Even the City Hall is decked out with a Santa Claus and holiday decorations.
Some of the Santas around town are whimsical. Others are much more traditional. Some are life size and others are larger than life. Here are a few more of the Santas around town.
And finally, even Sumoflam gets to meet Santa Claus in person!! He told me I was a good boy this year!!
At the end of August we had a new grandson born into the family — Samuel Kravetz is now grandchild #10. He was born to my son Seth and his wife Holly, who, at the time, were living near Hartford, Connecticut. Naturally, this was a cause for celebration and for a trip to Connecticut to see this new bundle of joy.
So, we planned the trip and our daughter Marissa and her three children would join Julianne and I for a visit to New England. On September 5th we headed east on I-64 for this “see grandson/see nephew/see cousin/see New England” trip. I was excited not only for the grandchild, but also because this trip would afford me the opportunity to knock off the last 3 states on my list…I would finally get to Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, to make it to all 50.
We were on the road before sunrise and arrived at the West Virginia/Kentucky border just shortly after sunrise. there is wonderful Rest Area a few miles east of Huntington, WV and so we stopped to give the now awake kids a chance to run a bit.
As for me, I walked around and enjoyed the flowers, the fresh morning air and a chance to stretch my legs as the day would be a long one…we planned to drive all the way to Connecticut and I would be the only driver (as always — because I am a road warrior of course!!)
After the break we were back on the road again heading east on I-64 to Charleston and then northeast on I-79 until we got to Cheat Lake, where the interstate switched to I-68 east towards Cumberland, MD and then eventually onto I-70/I-68. We finally stopped at the South Mountain Rest Area south of Greenbrier and South Mountain State Parks. This was a perfect place for the kids to get out and run around, stretch and play.
While they rested, I was out capturing sots of flowers and plants, of which there was an abundance.
After a nice rest and stretch, we were back on the road and heading towards Hershey, PA for a sweet visit to Hershey’s Chocolate World. The last time I was here was with the kids a number of years ago, when there was an entirely different facility. Now there is an amusement park, a HUGE building, and plenty of crowds. We had hoped for the factory tour, but the place was away too busy for us since we had to get back on the road…we were driving all the way to Vernon, CT. But, we had time for a little fun….
And Joselyn wanted to give Grampz a Hershey Kiss as well…
And then there is the Chocolate…
After sweetening ourselves up a bit on Hershey’s chocolate, we were soon back on the road eastward, with the next stop planned being Hoboken, NJ for a view of NYC at night and hopefully a visit to the famed Carlos Bake Shop from TLC’s “Cake Boss.”
Along the way we stopped for gas in Bethel, PA. While there, I grabbed a couple of shots of the iconic Midway Diner signs. It used to be in one of those silver diner styles, but has since been changed. But, I always love the old Neon Signs like the one below.
After fueling and restroom breaks for the kids (and adults), we were back on the road again. We pulled into Hoboken around 8:30 PM and drive straight to Frank Sinatra Park to get a nighttime view of the Manhattan portion of New York City. The kids had never seen it at night and this is probably one of he best places to get a great view of the entire skyline Manhattan.
Built in 1998, it honors Frank Sinatra, who was born in Hoboken. Sinatra Park is shaped in a Roman amphitheater style with an area that faces the former site of the World Trade Center.
After the great view, we made our way to Hudson St. and then down to Newark, turned right and then right on Washington to Carlo’s Bake Shop (Actually, they all walked over there and I dealt with the traffic mess!).
The place was hopping even at 9:00 PM. I had to double park on the street and Julianne came out to sit in the car so I could get out and get a few photos (and some cannoli!!). Carlo’s is a family owned bakery featured on the TLC hit show Cake Boss. Carlo’s, was originally opened by Carlo Guastaffero in 1910 and was acquired by Bartolo Valastro Sr. in 1964. After the passing of Bartolo Sr. in 1994, matriarch Mary Valastro and her children Grace, Maddalena, Mary, Lisa and master baker Bartolo Jr. “Buddy” Valastro have expanded the business with the help of their spouses. They actually have bakeries in 5 states!!
We picked up some goodies…and I wanted to try the Cannoli, since they are supposedly famous for them. I had mine, it was good, but not as good as the ones I had at Presti’s Bakery near my birthplace in Little Italy in Cleveland.
Nevertheless, the goodies were good and this made for a fun stopover before we finished the last leg of the trip to Connecticut and a much needed good night’s rest.
We pulled into the Holiday Inn in Vernon sometime after midnight…it was a long day.
I must say that the Noe kids have become seasoned travelers, even at their young age. Joselyn has been on long trips with me from Arizona to Kentucky and then all three have traveled to Omaha, St. Louis, South Carolina, Georgia and now the northeast coast. They are a fun lot to travel with! Grampz is always happy to be with them!