The Spooky Ooky Side of Jefferson

Since I’ve been sharing my trip in Jefferson on the blog, and today is Friday the 13th (Oooh), I thought it’d be a great opportunity to share with y’all the spookier side of Jefferson, TX! And um, my very own ghost experience while staying in this “sweet” little town. Boo!

One of the ways my mom first pitched this trip to me was by saying it was one of Texas’s most haunted towns – but then she wanted nothing to do with them of course! She made sure to book us the room that “wasn’t” haunted, even though we stayed in between the “most” haunted rooms in the Excelsior. Haha!

While shopping around town in one of the boutiques, we started talking to the store owner, Madame Claire and she asked if we were interested in having her doing a tarot reading. She explained she’d been doing it since she was sixteen, and she’d always been real good at being an “empath” and reading people. It was out of my budget, but I really urged my mom to do it so we could see a psychic in action.

After some hesitation and more shop browsing, my mom caved as long as I could go in with her. Madame Claire said that was fine, just cautioned me to try and calm any emotions I’d bring into the session. She took us into this (cute, honestly) side room where she brought down her cards and tried to relax my mom. While this new age stuff was totally my vibe, my mom was much more cautious about “messing where you don’t need to be messing.”

Let’s just say by the end, both me and my mom were super impressed. Not only did Madame Claire describe my mom and her major life stressors completely, she also sensed my dad’s personality and talked about a possible new growth to strengthen the tight bond they already had. We were so impressed, I almost thought about blowing my budget and seeing what she had to say for my cards. Spooky!

Later that night it was time for the Ghost Walk. This involved a walking tour, where the guide led us around for four whole hours and told us all the death and murder stories of the town’s history, including which sites had the most “activity” – haha!

Since it’s such an old (and well-preserved) town, there’s a lot of good stories on the record. Plus some parts of it just look scary. It was on this tour that we were asked about the Jefferson Hotel lobby, and well…

Our first night in town, we grabbed dinner in this little Italian restaurant, which was connected to the lobby of another old hotel, the Jefferson Hotel. After dinner, we were walking through the lobby and spotted an antique phone booth, with actual separate mouth and ear pieces. It was cute so I told my mom I’d grab a picture of her posing with it.

She picked it up, me instructing her to pretend she was using it, and I even asked her if we could make a call. But there was no dial tone. So she puts the receivers back and we’re about to head out on our merry way, when it rings. RINGS! The phone that didn’t have a dial tone, was then ringing! I told my mom to answer it (I’m too curious), but of course my mom did not want to do that. Just as I convinced her to pick it up – after three rings – she reached for it and the ringing stopped. Listening to it again, this time she heard just static white noise. And by that point was very much ready to leave!

So, no, no actual ghost sightings in the small old town of Jefferson. But maybe we were getting a call from…beyond? Oooh! I just love scary stories – I wish I’d been the one close to the ghost phone. Ha!

A Trip After My Old Lady Heart

My mom called me one day to ask if I wanted to go to a little town called Jefferson, located right on the east edge of Texas. I think her old lady club (love ya, mom!) had been talking about it and she wanted me to go with her because she knew my old lady soul would enjoy it too. Spoiler alert: she was right!

We got in Thursday evening, just in time to check in at the Excelsior Hotel, which had been in business (and historically protected) since the 1850s. My mom booked us in the “Ladybird” room, which Ladybird Johnson had actually stayed in. It was so cute! Besides the antiques in the room, including a massive four poster bed and a magnificent wardrobe, the floral wallpaper was exactly my style.

Friday morning had us up early to start the day, enjoying the “Plantation Breakfast” provided by the Excelsior. The funny thing we soon learned about Jefferson, was that nothing really opened until ten in the morning. So after a rather lazy start, we made our way to the Museum of Time and Measurement.

Here we walked through the three rooms, guided by the owner himself, as he answered my mom’s questions and showed us his massive antique clock collection. He had just opened a special music room where he had a new collection of music boxes and phonographs. Everything there was so cool!

Next it was time for our first home tour! We explored the “House of Seasons,” a beautiful three story home with as much done as possible to keep it true to its past. At the top, facing every cardinal direction was a pane of stained glass, all different colors to relate to the different seasons. This stunning detail is how the home got its name. The sun would hit the panes of glass at different times, creating a really beautiful color effect down the center of the house.

After a quick pit stop for lunch at the Bayou Cafe, we hurried back to the Excelsior to catch their tour. This hotel is taken care of by the Garden Club, who give a tour not only of the rooms that are unoccupied, but of a stationary train car across the way. This train car was the personal train car of Jay Gould, who was an infamous mogul back in the day. The rumor is he stayed in the Excelsior and when the town wouldn’t go for his train route deal, he left and cursed the town. (Soon after the dam that kept the river high was destroyed and Jefferson could no longer be the major outpost it was trying to be.)

We explored the town some more by doing a carriage ride tour. It was a nice break from walking around doing a bit of local shopping. By this time we were famished and I’d heard good things about Austin Bistro. Boy, I’d heard right! You have to get their homemade bread if you go. We started with the assorted bread basket, and it was so good!

My mom and I were having such a blast, but we’d packed in a lot of activities! We were learning so much, seeing so many homes, and taking a true tour through the past. Just as the town opened at ten, it closed by five – and that was fine by us! We were ready to embrace the old lady spirit and relax as much as we needed.

Trail Review: John F Burke Preserve

I only stumbled upon this trail after passing it a few times while grabbing lunch on my work break. The entrance is tucked under a major highway on the edge of Dallas. So one morning before work, the weather was nice, I had on sporty sandals, and I decided, heck, why not?

It really is a tucked away hidden gem. When I arrived, the parking lot was empty so I knew I had the preserve to myself. It was a weekday morning though, so maybe no one gets quite as adventurous as I do before work – ha!

Right away you pass under the highway and the trail opens up into a large seating area. There’s a few tables for picnicking and whatnot. I passed by this to continue on the trail, realizing it would basically be a pretty good sized loop around a little lake.

Along the trail there are little openings to better view the lake; for the most part the trees cover the view. These openings were really great, with different wooden structures like benches and trellises. Perfect for a quiet viewing of a peaceful lake.

But. Well, I won’t lie. You are very close to that highway. It’s hard to really escape the city when the traffic is heavy. The preserve is really well kept, but if I had to guess, probably mostly empty because of it’s proximity to the noise of city life. Even the lake was suspiciously void of ducks and other birds.

Besides my lack of run-ins with any kind of wildlife, there are cute little wooden posts along the trail that let you play an animal guessing game. On the top it has painted animal tracks that you can try and figure out the animal. Then you flip up the wooden sign and it reveals which animal the footprint belongs to.

Overall, I love it because of how conveniently close it is to my work and I also appreciate the neatness of the trails. It’s an easy walk – perfect for not getting too sweaty before I need to go be a professional!

Pro tip: Go when the traffic up top will be light!

(DC) What You Can Before You Go

My friend Derek’s wedding was terrific (so great I took zero pictures) and we were down to our final hours in Washington DC. The friend group had varying flights out, but I had almost a whole twenty-four hours left to see what I could get up to! A few of us left on Sunday decided we would check out the International Spy Museum.

Since we’d be in the area, I took a quick solo jog over to Ford’s Theatre, which was another National Park site for me. The unguided tour was timed, so I waited with a group of school kids in the gift shop until they finally called our time. I skipped a lot of the general information, honestly, to get to the “day of” Lincoln’s death. It was pretty cool to see a side-by-side of both Lincoln’s and Booth’s final hours. Then of course, you actually get to step into the theater’s seating to take a look at Lincoln’s box where he was shot.

Then I met back up with my friends at the International Spy Museum and tested my merits as a potential spy. In the beginning of the museum, they give you a few simple facts about an identity you are to take on to try your hand at deception. Long story short, I did not do well at this. I have such a poor memory, the simple questions I was asked at the computer I failed, not remembering my hometown or what specific business I was in London for. Definitely would not make it as a spy.

This museum focused heavily on the fictional spy, James Bond, which seemed unnecessary. I really enjoyed the many gadgets and spy inventions they had on display. Even the ones that had come from the James Bond franchise – ha! Personally seeing tiny concealed cameras and compartmentalized weapons was pretty awesome.

Finally, there were just three of us left to explore DC in the final hours before my flight. We started with my last National Park site, Frederick Douglass’s home. We watched a little informational film, which did not do justice to the man’s fantastic autobiography (which I’d read several years before).

Then we climbed the little hill to look at his house, still in excellent condition, and with a great view across the river into downtown.

Our trio then headed to the Renwick Museum, which I’d heard was really fascinating and worth stopping in for the current art installation. The contemporary art museum featured several pieces from Burning Man.

Overall it was pretty trippy. As most art is, a lot of it was thought-provoking. I think the giant paper moving jellyfish were my favorite. The technology incorporated into so many of the pieces was so impressive!

After grabbing quick bites at a collection of food trucks, we knew we had just enough time to check out the Presidential Portraits at the Smithsonian. It’s weird to know all the faces of these famous people and not really know them at all as people. Checking out all the portraits, they’re familiar and yet still strangers. I enjoyed Obama and Kennedy’s more artful portraits just as much as the more traditional ones of Washington and Lincoln.

Thus, my trip to DC came to its end. I had seen so much history it was hard to process it all. It’s so weird to think about these famous historical figures walking and seeing the same things I’d seen over the course of my long weekend. And it was also such a blur with all the time spent with such a big friend group! I was glad to have spent my time with a healthy mix of tourism and friendship.

DC, What a Drag (Brunch)

Besides monuments and museums, there was only one other highly recommended activity in Washington DC: Drag Brunch at Nellie’s Sports Bar. The local who had given us tourist tips had said it was a must if we had time – and it was one of the top activities on TripAdvisor.

The day of the wedding left only the ladies of the group available (guys were groomsmen) and it seemed like a perfect way to spend the morning. We needed a little pick me up from the busy day and night before – plus the brunch was a buffet. No better way to stave off a hangover.

I was excited to finally experience something that for years I’d been hearing was a blast. Not only that, but it was everyone in the group’s first drag brunch, and quite a few first-timer’s to experience a drag show. We were all pretty hyped, to say the least.

Let me add a quick side note to say that the food was so good! They had not only your typical continenetal breakfast spread, but also stuff like hummus and grilled veggies. Truly something for everyone! Also, as a non-foodie, honestly the best food I had while in DC. The drinks were fruity and delicious – what more could a girl going to a show ask for?

The show pretty much starts as soon as you arrive, because these talented performers were “on” from the get-go. They were sassy, quippy, and overall hilarious. Our host, the “Fantastic Plastic” never missed a beat, especially when she’d get noticed by the walking passerbys outside. Once everyone was settled with food, drinks, and tip money (of course) the music started up.

The show consisted of four performers who alternated, lip-syncing and dancing to the music. They performed mostly Top 40 hits, showcasing songs by Whitney Houston, Nicki Minaj, and Ariana Grande. Every queen was fully commited to every turn, spin, and shimmy.

We had such a great time, even the videos we took don’t really do it justice. We wanted to keep the ball rolling, so after a group picture at an outdoor DC mural, we hit up the local rooftop bar, Takoda.

Of course, we still had to get ready for a wedding, so early afternoon we headed back to our Airbnb. Naps, then coffee, then a mad dash to the Lyft with one shoe on (me) had us all headed to the wedding. DC was treating us great!

National Mall, Having a Ball

On our first full day in Washington D.C., we had plans to play tourist! After lacing up our comfortable walking shoes and grabbing a breakfast which included homemade poptarts at the cutest diner, Ted’s Bulletin, we made our way to all of the nation’s capital’s hot spots.

Conveniently, D.C. has something called the National Mall, which lies right in the heart of downtown and holds almost all the monuments and memorials on a massive four blocks of lawn. Our goal was to hit them all!

We started with the White House and planned on working our way counter-clockwise through the gardens. These were all famous from our history books, such as the iconic Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. For me, I had the added bonus of collecting all the National Park site stamps for every one of these monuments, basically doubling my collection in the span of a few hours.

I won’t list them all, but I’ll tell you my highlights. The Lincoln Memorial was impressive, both smaller and bigger than I’d imagined it somehow. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was really great – I was surprised to have never seen or heard of it before. And oddly enough, the Korean War Memorial was strangely impressive; it was weird to see big statues of soldiers scattered through a field imitating real war.

It had gotten surprisingly hot on our trek around the National Mall, so after the last memorial, we were glad to head to grab a bit of eat at the Jazz Garden that was in front of the Smithsonian. We were a bit early for the jazz to start, but just sitting there in the shade, sharing a pitcher of sangria was super great. We had seen so much, read so many quotes, been both inspired and disheartened by history.

After a bit of a nap and freshening up, we decided to hit up an Ethopian restaurant, Dukem. Almost all of us (myself included) had never had it, so it was a great new cultural experience. I had a tray of sambusa, which was very delicious! And, you could’ve guessed it, I made everyone walk to get the local homemade ice cream (Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams) after dinner. Yum!

We met up with the bride and groom after their rehearsal dinner for some amazing mint juleps at the Willard Hotel downtown. Coming from a pretty casual group of people, we were all feeling pretty fancy having gotten all dressed up to have drinks at a really nice hotel bar that was located in downtown D.C.  Also after the delicious foods and the introduction to the best mint julep I’d ever had – there was no way the night could’ve gone wrong. Celebrating our long-time friend and his pending nuptials was just a fantastic bonus!

How I Plan a Travel Itinerary

Trip planning can be complicated depending on how much time you have and how many people there are to please. But, while I do like a bit of spontaneity, having an itinerary when I travel is always a big help! It makes sure I get done the big things on my list and can also save time and money. Below is the easiest way to lay out a trip!

  1. Figure out arrival and departure time
    This will help you frame your travel (obviously)! You’ll need to know exactly how much time you’ll have, which includes airport nonsense. Don’t plan anything for an hour after “flight arrival” and plan to be at the airport 2-3 hours before “flight departure.”

2. Do your research; create a list
This is my favorite part. I can spend hours on Tripadvisor and other blogs reading reviews of what there is to do in a city. I will definitely look into museums and nature areas (gardens and National Parks), but I also like to try to find the unique stuff. I want to fill my time with stuff I can only do at the place I’m visiting. Make a list – and try and rank it, that way you know what you won’t want to miss.

3. Plot everything on a map
This is how you figure out your locations. You’ll find you can sometimes learn the “burroughs” this way in a big city. Grouping things by location will help you plan how you’re getting to places. If you know they’re close to each other you can save time knocking them both of your list. You can also save money by walking if two things are close enough together. Sometimes something will even drop off my schedule if it’s too far and/or by itself.  Don’t forget you’ll also want to plot the airport and where you’re staying every night!

4. Planning for time
Once you have a vague idea of the location you’ll be in on a certain day, you can start trying to plan for how much time you’ll need at a certain attraction. If I have three things in one area, I will check out opening times. Whatever opens first will start my day and from there I decide how much time I think I’ll be at one thing. Don’t forget to also check out closing times! You don’t want to have something that closes the earliest as the last thing on your schedule.
Important: Leave wiggle room in your schedule! You want to plan more time than you think you’ll need at every place. Plus you don’t want to forget “travel” time between destinations. 

5. Leave space as a catchall
You took more time than you thought at place 2, so you missed place 3? No worries! Create time in your schedule for things you missed or things you only discovered once you got into town. Creating “blanks” in your schedule can be very comforting. While I do like to accomplish a lot on trips, I still like to have a good stress-free time! This time can also be used to be lazy, if everything else is going according to plan. (I tend to plan more “blanks” the more people there are.)

So that’s the basics of trip planning (specifically city travels)! You’ll notice I’m not very good at planning eating – I usually just don’t care that much where we eat since I get a Caesar salad petty much everywhere. Sometimes though, there’s local spots that have something rare- like in DC one breakfast spot had homemade poptarts. And if you know me at all, you know I love finding local homemade ice cream. It’s always a must-have on my list!

There’s one last thing I’ll say about trip planning: Things will go wrong. I’ve not had one flawless itinerary to date. No matter how much research I do, how flexible my schedule is – there’s some things you can’t plan for no matter what you do. So you have to be flexible! Be willing to move things around or drop items off your list. It’ll make a much more enjoyable trip, trust me.