Follow by Email

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Reims, France: Architecture, History, Champagne!

With its 13th-century gothic cathedral, its rich historical significance, and its vast array of champagne caves, the city of Reims makes a great day trip from Paris.  Located 80 miles north-east of Paris, in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, this historic city is easy to reach by car or high speed train.

Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral
Notre-Dame de Reims
Rising up from the cobblestone streets in the center of the city is the magnificent Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral.  Known as the coronation cathedral of France, French kings were crowned here for centuries.  The cathedral itself boasts many historical treasures including exceptional statuary, rich tapestries, and amazing stained glass windows.

I personally enjoyed my visit to this cathedral better than Notre-Dame de Paris.  It was far less crowded and touristy.  Not to mention the fact that the Chagall stained glass windows are beautiful!

Chagall Stained Glass windows Notre Dame de Reims
Chagall Stained Glass- Notre-Dame de Reims

Although Reims has a modern day feel, it is a city steeped in history.  On what was formerly a 4th century Roman chalk quarry, and later the site of The Saint Nicaise Abbey run by 13th century monks, Champagne Taittinger now makes it mark on history and wine making.

Champagne Taittinger Champagne Caves Tour
Hand-carved stairway circa 13th century
A tour of the champagne caves is well worth the trip and lasts about an hour.  As you descend into the caves, you take the same journey into the cellars the early monks did before you, as they carefully crafted their wines.  True to tradition, every bottle of champagne stored here today is still hand turned and cared for with exacting detail for a minimum of six years prior to being released for distribution. 
Taittinger Champagne Caves
Champagne Taittinger storage process
Champagne Taittinger wine caves
Champagne Taittinger caves

 Although many champagne houses in Reims offer tours, the Champagne Taittinger tour is excellent and available on a walk-in basis.  Tours are offered in English as well as French, morning and afternoon.  Check local listings for the tour schedule.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Not For Those of Nervous Disposition!

The Catacombs of Paris
The Catacombs
Sixty five feet below the city of Paris lies a macabre yet interesting display of history.  This underground necropolis know as The Catacombs, houses millions of bones belonging to cadaverous Parisians.

The Catacombs
Bone display inside The Catacombs

Although far older than 228 years, The Catacombs were officially blessed and consecrated in April 1786.  It was then that city officials deemed the above ground cemeteries a public health hazard due to overcrowding.

Taking two years, and thousands of man hours, the bones from the Cimetiere des Innocents graveyard were transferred to this unique underground golgotha. Subsequent transfers from additional boneyards are represented in this gruesome crypt below the city. 

Bones from St. Jean Cemetery-The Catacombs
Bones from St. Jean Cemetery

Today, The Catacombs are officially part of the History of Paris Museum. They showcase millions of years of geological history, as well as the charnel house holding the remains of over six million Parisian souls.  The bones are stacked and arranged in provocative displays in an attempt to honor the lives of those entombed here.

Catacombs of Paris
Inside The Catacombs of Paris

 If you go:
  • Plan to arrive early.  For safety reasons only 200 visitors are allowed in the tunnels at one time.  Crowds circle the block waiting to purchase tickets for this intriguing tour.
  • There are no restrooms once inside The Catacombs.  Be sure to use the washroom before you go.
  • The Catacombs are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 AM to 5 PM.  Closed Mondays and public holidays.
  • Wear good walking shoes.  A steep winding staircase takes you into The Catacombs, and once inside there is a 2 kilometer walk through the ossuary.
Remember, The Catacombs are not suitable for small children, those with heart, respiratory or mobility problems, or those of nervous disposition!


Monday, February 24, 2014

A Few of Our Favorite Places
Sharon McKarns and Kendra Thornton

With all the great options available for travel these days it can be difficult to choose where to go and what to do when you get there. Some of the best places I have visited were recommendations from friends, fellow bloggers, and travel experts who have been through the trenches looking for that perfect trip or outing. Travel expert Kendra Thornton and I thought it would be fun to share some of our favorite places with you.

Family Fun on the Strip by Kendra Thornton
Las Vegas is both a great place to live and a spectacular destination for a family vacation. There is literally so much to do here that you might find yourself feeling a little torn about what to experience next. Don't waste a single minute of your trip trying to decide.

Learn to Golf Like Tiger Woods
When my husband and his buddies tried this, they had a great time! Tiger’s swing coach, Butch Harmon himself, teaches the Butch Harmon School of Golf in the Rio Secco Golf Club. While his expert staff heads most classes, Mr. Harmon teaches in person once per year in three-day stretches. This activity can be purchased along with a stay at Caesar's Palace, and transportation is included. It's an ideal surprise for the man in your life, and it gives you an excuse to hit the spa!

Unique and Interesting Museums
Despite the plethora of casinos and bars, Las Vegas isn't lacking in the finer things. With a variety of unique and interesting museums to visit, you'll find it easy to get your culture fix. My kids really enjoyed the Discovery Children's Museum. I particularly enjoyed the Neon Museum downtown, which is an outdoor attraction designed like an artistic junkyard. It features walkways, ramps and stairways that do a great job of highlighting the city's neon tradition. Another great place to visit is the National Atomic Testing Museum, only 65 miles from the Nevada nuclear test site.

Rock Star Mini Golf
My children are huge fans of miniature golf, and I love taking them to new and interesting courses. Although Myrtle Beach features pirates and dinosaurs, Las Vegas is home to Monster Mini Golf's KISS course, a tribute to one of America's greatest rock bands. Here, you'll find 18 holes of KISS-themed glow-in-the-dark indoor mini golf. The course consists of monstrous electric guitars, an animated imitation of the group and a 12-foot Gene Simmons head to putt the ball into.

Family Vs. Food
Las Vegas affords ample opportunity to engage in your own version of Man vs. Food, so be sure to come very, very hungry. In the BRAND Steakhouse at the Monte Carlo, you can choose to take on a whopping 7.5 pounds of steak, which comes with two special sauces and a side dish. At a staggering $250, you have every incentive to finish it all, because it's free if you do. The Monte Carlo also offers another challenge: an 8-pound burger. It's so much fun to watch people test their mastication mettle with these delicious challenges!

Las Vegas is truly a unique place with one of a kind attractions and restaurants. Even the hotels are unique and new ones are being built seemingly everyday. With so many options of places to stay, sites like Gogobot make it easy to read user reviews so you can find the perfect hotel for you and your family.

Beauty and Adventure in the Red Rocks
by Sharon McKarns

As one of my favorite places to visit, Sedona, Arizona has something to offer everyone.  There is plenty to do to keep you amazed, entertained and challenged during your visit to this unique, world class destination. You can bask in the glory of a beautiful sunset as it reflects off the majestic red rocks of Sedona, or you can enjoy one of these great activities:

The Verde Valley Wine Trail
Sedona is a great starting point to indulge your passion for wine in Northern Arizona. You can visit one of several exceptional wineries in the region including Alcantara Vineyards, Page Springs Cellars, Oak Creek Vineyards, and Javelina Leap Vineyard and Winery.  All four stops offer a unique variety of wines to satisfy any taste.  Consider taking a tour with your girlfriends, or quench your palate with that special someone in your life.  The Verde Valley Wine Trail makes for a great day or weekend!

The Verde Canyon Railroad
Verde Canyon Railroad
Verde Canyon Railroad
Travel back in time as you and your family enjoy the beauty of the Verde Canyon on what some call Arizona’s longest running nature show.  Young and old alike will enjoy this twenty mile train ride as it winds through the most pristine part of Verde Canyon.  Sip champagne, grab a snack, relax in your vintage locomotive, or spend time on the open air car listening to a narrator share the remarkable history, geology and wildlife of the canyon.  Keep your eyes peeled.  You might spot a bald eagle, a great blue heron or some fascinating rock formations on the Verde Canyon Railroad.

Slide Rock State Park
Beat the heat as you experience the exhilaration of cool mountain water thrusting you down the natural rock water slide at Slide Rock State Park, in Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona.  Just a short drive from Sedona, Slide Rock is a thrilling way to spend the day with family and friends.  Pack a picnic and enjoy the picturesque surroundings of northern Arizona.  Don’t forget to take your bathing suit and a pair of water shoes. You’ll be glad you did.  If you go, plan to arrive early as the park often fills to capacity.
Sedona is a scenic, extraordinary destination with noteworthy resorts, restaurants and activities.  Visitors from all over the world savour the beauty of the red rocks and all that northern Arizona has to offer.

Now that we have shared a few of our favorite places, feel free to comment and share some of your favorite places.  We would love to hear from you.

Contributing writer, Kendra Thornton, appears as a travel expert on television stations across the country to offer travel tips and deals to millions of people every year. She makes regular appearances on ABC, NBC and CW stations in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. She has also made special guest appearances on The Nate Show, Fine Living Network and The Tyra Banks Show. Her firm, Thornton Public Relations LLC, is an independent, boutique public relations firm providing personal service and proven results. The agency’s distinguished work ethic and deep industry knowledge have earned it credibility with the media and respect from industry leaders.  Contact Kendra Thornton

Sharon McKarns is a travel writer eager to explore the world and share her travel experiences. Her goal is to pack her blog with interesting stories, beautiful pictures and useful travel information. Guest bloggers/contributing writers are encouraged to contact Sharon at  She is also on twitter: @travelpacked1.

Butch Harmon School of Golf

Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 Fiesta Bowl Parade

2013 Fiesta Bowl Parade
Fiesta Bowl Parade

Onlookers lined the streets of Phoenix, AZ today to watch the 2013 Fort McDowell Fiesta Bowl Parade.

Fiesta Bowl Parade float
Fiesta Bowl Float

Locals and visitors alike, including fans from Central Florida and Baylor, and Kansas State and Michigan cheered as floats and marching bands representing their teams passed by.

Fiesta Bowl Parade
Tostitos Balloon Floats


It was a beautiful day for a parade! 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Papago Park-Part 1: Hole-In-The-Rock

Hole-In-The-Rock at Papago Park

What do unique sandstone formations that mark the passage of time, a prisoner of war camp, lagoons, desert flora, and a vast array of animals have in common?  They are all part of the diverse history and present day activities associated with Papago Park, located in Phoenix, Arizona.  Today’s post marks the first in a series of interesting lore and points of interest about this unique urban retreat.
With the winter solstice just around the corner, I thought it would be a great time to feature an ancient time piece known as Hole-In-The-Rock, located within Papago Park. Hole-In-The-Rock is a beautiful sandstone butte with large cave like holes in it.  The holes, called tofani, are the result of water eroding the minerals in the sandstone over time.
Hole-In-The-Rock at Papago Park
Visitors enjoying the view from Hole-In-The-Rock
Archaeologists believe the Hohokam, a native tribe of ancient desert farmers who inhabited the region until the mid-15th century, used Hole-In-The-Rock as a way to keep track of the seasons.  During the Winter Solstice, a ray of light from the sun interacts with a seam in the sandstone rock.
The Summer Solstice, which occurs on June 21, is believed to have been marked by the sun shining on a metate grinding slick on the floor of the opening.
For pagans and non-pagans alike, Hole in the Rock is a fun easy hike with great views of the city. There is an easily accessible trail on the back side of the rock formation. The climb takes about 10 minutes.  Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes and take your camera.  You could even pack a picnic!
Hole-In-The-Rock hiking trail
Hiking trail on the back side of Hole-In-The-Rock
If you go: 
Papago Park is located at 625 N. Galvin Parkway
And remember, stay tuned to Travelpacked for part two of this urban park series.
Papago Park-Hole-In-The-Rock
Hole-In-The-Rock at Papago Park

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Travel Quote Slide Show

Please enjoy my favorite travel quotes paired with pictures I have taken during some of my travels.  Comments are welcome.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Travel Tips for People with Hearing Loss

October is a great time to travel. The leaves are changing colors.  There is a crispness in the air.  It is also National Audiology Awareness Month in the U.S.  As such, I thought it would be a good time to address the challenges that people with hearing loss experience while traveling.  After consulting several professional resources, I compiled a list of the best travel tips for people with hearing impairment:

  1. Do not pack your hearing aids or cochlear implant in your checked luggage. Carry them on.
  2. Bring an extra set of hearing aids with you, especially on long trips. Consider purchasing an inexpensive set of hearing aids as a back up.
  3. Keep paper and pens handy for communication. You can also use various apps on your smart phone if you find yourself in a situation that is too noisy to verbally communicate.
  4. Take a vibrating alarm clock with you. Not all countries have special accommodations for people with hearing loss.
  5. Take extra batteries, cleaning tools, wax guards, domes, and a mini dry aid kit with you.
  6. If you have a cochlear implant or other implantable device make sure you take your medical ID card with you.
  7. You do not need to take your hearing aids off as you go through security.
  8. Train stations and airports can be very noisy. Do not rely on your ability to hear boarding announcements or directions. Check monitors often for changes in flight or train schedules.
  9. Make sure your travel documents are in order and handy. If you can't hear the customs officials, just hand them your documents and let them know you have a hearing impairment.
  10. Check ahead of time if your hotel is equipped for the hearing impaired. If so, book that room, if available. In the U.S. larger hotels are required to have handicapped accessible rooms. This includes amplified telephones and visual alerts for both the phone and smoke alarm.
  11. Use your T-coils while traveling, especially in Europe. Looping is very popular there.
  12. Ask your tour guide to use an Assistive Listening Device (ALD).
  13. Set your phone to vibrate or go off near departure time in case you can't hear the boarding announcement.
  14. Take the name and phone number of your audiologist or customer service department of the device manufacturer with you. They can ship spare parts or direct you to a professional near your travel destination in case of emergency.
For further information and helpful tips for travelers with hearing impairment consult these resources: