Stumped For A Gift? Visit a Museum

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are one or two months away and if you are lucky enough to still have your mother and/or father around now is as good a time as any to think about what to get them. Rather than just picking up something at the last minute from the local drugstore you might want to try to find something a little more creative and relevant for your loved ones. I am reminded of this after visiting the Gift Shop at Leu Gardens last weekend.  The place is jammed packed (literally – it’s hard to move around too quickly in there) with all kinds of “gifty” things for your favorite gardener. From accessories to books the variety of items on offer was quite diverse and the store offers gift certificates if you can’t make a decision.

Of course, I bring this up because I love museum stores and I’ve recently visited a few interesting ones. Sometimes the merchandise can be pretty pricey but many have a wide range of items that are truly unique to the region or focused on a particular interest. I’ve purchased coasters from the Dali Museum in St Petersburg, Florida, a decorative ceramic tile from the Museum of Fine Arts store in Boston and jewelry from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

In New Orleans, we visited the Museum Store at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) and I was sorely tempted to buy a new scarf. I decided against it because I already have quite a collection of scarves. However, my friend did find some beautiful garden tags to label her herb garden. The brightly lit store has a significant children’s section with books, games and toys.

Many of these stores offer discounts to members which can be a reason to join if you love the merchandise enough to buy a significant amount of items over time. And, in some cases you don’t have to go into the Museum itself (either via the online store or via a separate entrance to the store on site) to visit the store, thus eliminating the admission to some places. 

So what follows is a list of some of my favorite museum stores.

The Dali Museum, St Petersburg, Florida. Huge store with Dali prints and Dali images reconstituted into all kinds of merchandise.

The Harry P. Leu Garden and Museum Store, Orlando, Florida. Small store crammed with decorative garden items and books.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Unique jewelry items. Art prints including limited editions, books, toys, clothing and accessories.

The Morse Museum, Winter Park, Florida. Tiffany Lamp reproductions and stained glass items. Stationery, apparel and accessories.

The Art Institute of Chicago. Beautiful prints and books. Unique jewelry items as well.

The Smithsonian, all the museums of this institution have a store but these, located in Washington DC stand out in my opinion.

World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta, Georgia. Okay this place is a living commercial for Coca-Cola products but I’m a Diet Coke fiend so if you love Coke memorabilia this is the place to go crazy.

Shanghai Museum of Art.  You won’t necessarily find any bargains here but what you find is genuine merchandise without the typical haggling and harassment you will find as a tourist in Shanghai.  A peaceful place to shop for quality items.

This is just a small sampling of what’s out there. Do you have a favorite Museum Store?

Priscilla Emery, one half of the Travel2some


The Other Orlando: Harry P. Leu Garden

Every now and then we like to highlight an area of the Orlando, Florida region that is not related to the amusements and attractions area, such as Disney and Universal. We have many friends that have been there and done that and are looking for a different vibe. The Harry P. Leu Gardens are a great place to not only look at foliage indigenous to the central Florida area but the Leu House provides a window into early Florida life. We finally visited this place yesterday after driving past it for the past 10 years and always saying, “we should visit this place one day.” With ideal spring weather we finally took the time to check this place out and we both agree that it is a gem.

The gardens are nicely laid out and provide a nice variety of focus areas for particular interests. I found the Vegetable Garden and Herb Garden to be particularly interesting since I’ve had some challenges with successfully growing anything edible in this hot Florida climate. I didn’t see tomatoes but I did see pole beans, cabbage, peppers and sugar cane. The herb garden had basil, culantro, cilantro, rosemary, lavender, and several varieties of mint. These weren’t farm size areas but the kind of size plot one would put together in a larger backyard. And if you are new to Florida and need a sense of what “works” and what doesn’t in this climate, this is a great place to get some ideas.

The Butterfly Garden wasn’t loaded with butterflies when we visited but was nicely laid out and was a nice place to sit while taking in the colorful early blooms of Spring. The White Garden seemed a little wilted in areas but the overall effect was nice. The Citrus Grove gave us a chance to see a variety of limes, lemons, grapefruits and oranges up close and it was good to see that the ripened fruit is donated to local food banks. If you like camellias this is the place to visit since it has the largest collection of camellias in the southeast. Leu Garden is also a popular location for weddings and we observed members of wedding parties wandering the park looking for the wedding party preparation area.

The present Leu House and Museum located on the grounds was built in 1888 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours of the house are given every half hour and they end at 3:30pm (the gardens close at 5) and they get more crowded as the day progresses. The museum tour is included in the price of the $10 admission to the Garden. The house is generally staged to look like it did in the 1920s with some of the original furnishings and photos included in the mix. Overall it was a nice way to break up our walk through the Garden.

We ended with a walk to the Wyckoff Overlook , a deck overlooking Lake Rowena. It was nice to observe turtles chasing each other in the water. I suppose that at times there are alligators in the area but there weren’t any at this time. May is alligator mating season so they should be more visible at that time. I’m looking forward to our next visit at another time of the year when different flowers and roses will be in bloom but I think I’ll avoid the alligators.

Priscilla, one half of the Travel2some


Butterfly Garden


Leu House


Vegetable Garden

Mani-Pedi: Prepping for Vacation

We are heading to Turks and Caicos soon and I decided I didn’t want to hit the beach with unpolished toenails and fingernails that had been beaten to a pulp during my recent trip to Trinidad. So I decided to go to Bahama Nails, a local nail salon that has a sort of tropical vibe and a mini-spa feel. I’d only been there once before but I liked the reasonable prices, the relaxed atmosphere and, most importantly, the cleanliness and professional service.

Decorated in tiki hut decor, this isn’t an upscale salon, but the service sure beats some of the more hoity-toity places I’ve been too. I was warmly greeted when I entered this storefront location and asked how I could be helped. Mid-afternoon on a week day wasn’t crowded but the place wasn’t empty either so I was happy that they could take me right away.

The pedicure came first. Seated on a raised massage chair I soaked my feet in fairly hot water – just the way I like it. I was offered a magazine to read while my feet were being not only prepped but massaged and pampered. I was also offered a complimentary soft drink. If I wanted a beer or mixed drink I could get that too for an extra charge. I was being lulled to sleep by the half leg massage and the tapping of the massage chair so I asked for a Diet Coke.

I do think the place would have more of a spa vibe or even a tropical feel if the music being piped in wasn’t that of a local radio station. Definitely not tropical nor relaxing. But the pedicure was top notch. The subsequent manicure was just as soothing and professional, complete with forearm and hand massage.

There is a separate area for clients to sit and allow their nails to dry and no one rushes you out. So how much did all this pampering cost? For the mani-pedi the total cost (with tip) was $46. A great deal for the quality of work done and the professionalism of the staff.

Now my fingers and toes are well appointed for vacation and I had a nice tropical prelude to my upcoming trip.


Valentine’s day at IKEA

IKEA may not sound like the most romantic place to celebrate Valentine’s Day but we get plenty of opportunities to be romantic every other day of the year, so we decided that a $9.99 Swedish buffet dinner was a pretty good deal and worth a try.

We bought our tickets a few weeks ago because some of these IKEA events get sold out well ahead of time. As it turns out IKEA may not be as popular for a Valentine’s date night because there were still some tickets left for people to purchase at the entrance. However, the long line to get in and the length of the buffet line proved that this was definitely a pretty popular option. And the broad appeal wasn’t just with the over-60 set (used to going for those early bird specials). There were tables with young couples, parents with children, girls only groups of all ages, and every other demographic group you could imagine.

So what do you get for $9.99? Well, if you’re willing to wait in line for a few minutes for a few rounds over the course of two hours, quite a bit. However, I’m not that patient so if I can’t fit it on enough plates to carry in one pass that’s it. As it turns out, that was enough.

There were plenty of both hot and cold Swedish specialities. The advertised menu included roast beef, Swedish meatballs, glazed pork loin, Prinskorv (like a Vienna sausage), assorted herrings, green salad, shrimp cocktail, deviled eggs with shrimp, an assortment of cheeses, red beet salad and cucumber salad. But there was more including several kinds of potatoes (I picked the dill potatoes and they were delicious), and crab spread canapés and assorted breads. Desserts included a fairly dense chocolate truffle cake, Princess cake with strawberries, strawberries and whipped cream and an almond torte – all delicious.

The atmospherics are pretty bares bones – a red napkin at each seating area. You pick up your utensils with everything else on the buffet line. But, this is IKEA. Minimalism is an expectation. They did have someone busing tables so that was a slight upgrade from the typical dining experience at IKEA.

But added bonus was upon leaving we were given a large bar of chocolate and three different frequent purchaser cards that each had been stamped or punched to reflect purchases made. In one case that amounted to $50 of prepunched value. Not too bad a bonus for a person who loves to shop at IKEA.




Amtrak’s AutoTrain Economics – An Update

Several years ago I wrote an article comparing the costs of a typical road trip up the east coast from Central Florida to NYC versus taking the Amtrak AutoTrain back from Virginia to Florida.  The link to that article is here.  Overall the economics are pretty much the same from the drive versus AutoTrain standpoint but there have been some changes since the article was written.  The cost of taking the AutoTrain has gone up a little bit and the cost of gas has gone down a little bit (about 20 cents a gallon depending on where you live).  I plan on taking the AutoTrain up to the Washington DC area in a few weeks and thought I’d compare the costs.  The reason for taking the train isn’t all focused on economics –  my sinuses could use a break from the up and down of flying.

So here is an update comparing the cost of taking a flight to DC and renting a car versus taking the AutoTrain up and back and not having to rent a car. 

The total cost to take the AutoTrain roundtrip is $635.  Broken down this is the roundtrip cost of a coach seat (about $268 using a AAA 10% discount rate) and the  cost of transporting the car ($367).  The coach seat is just that.  It is not a compartment.  But it is equivalent to a business class seat on a plane with outlets to plug in cell phones, laptops, etc.  Dinner and a continental breakfast are included.  What you sacrifice here is time.  Even so, I find I can get quite a bit of writing done on the train that I can’t get done sitting in the cramped quarters of an airplane seat.  I also have to take into account that the mileage to the Amtrak AutoTrain Station in Sanford, Florida from my house is less than that going to the Orlando International Airport.

So what’s the cost to fly and drive to DC from Orlando.  I could take into account that I don’t have to leave the day before the flight would leave and arrive on a different day but there are no extra hotel days involved so hotel costs are the same.  Here we are just comparing overall flight, meal, car rental and airport parking costs.

  • Flight roundtrip to Reagan National Airport – $247 on USAir.  That is the cheapest flight that will accommodate my business schedule and closest to where I’m staying in Virginia (at least according to Kayak).
  • Checked Bag Fee: $25.  The AutoTrain doesn’t charge for checked bags since your bags are in the trunk of your car.  You can bring a carryon for the overnight.
  • Rental Car Costs:  $382 including tax using Avis.  This is for an equivalent size car to mine and doesn’t include the additional gas charges but I’m also assuming I will have to fill up my car while in the DC area. 
  • Airport Parking:  $49.
  • Food at Airport: $15.  Since flights don’t offer any food this cost has to be factored in.

Total: $718

A difference of about $83 more for the flight and car rental.  That may not sound like a lot to some people but I also know that when I go to this particular trade show I end up having to ship stuff back home because I can’t take it back with me on the plane.  That can add up to significant shipping costs that I won’t have to incur if I just stow the stuff in the trunk of my car on the way back.

Just something to think about if you want to take the AutoTrain on your own and think of it as too expensive.

Priscilla (one have of the Travel2some)



Maitland Art Festival – 35th Annual Maitland Rotary Art Festival Maitland FL

A beautiful sunny day for the Maitland Art Fair. This is an annual fair every October around Lake Lily in Lake Lily Park in Maitland, Florida. The fair started on Friday night and continues through Sunday at 5 p.m.  The art fair includes close to 250 exhibiting artists of  fine crafts, graphics and drawings, jewelry and metalwork, mixed media, paintings,  photography, pottery, and sculpture.  Music is in the air at two stages Friday night, all day and night on Saturday and on Sunday till 5 p.m.  This includes the Maitland Stage Band, Maitland Symphony Orchestra, Maitland String Quartet, Orlando Brass Quintet and about twenty other musical acts of different genres.

Some of the artists have exhibited here before but many are new  to the fair.  Among the artists whose exhibits I enjoyed were Out On a Whim, Ken Jensen Pottery, Matter of Woodwork and Jim Casey Sculptures. Many of the artists are local to Central Florida or to greater Florida but other artists are from all over the country.

If you can’t make it to the fair this weekend put this on your calendar for next October.  The weather is usually sunny and warm, the artwork visually appealing, the music delightful and there is food, wine and beer that can be purchased too.

Art ( one half of Travel2some)

Orange County Regional History Museum – well worth the trip.

Ted Bundy's Name carved into Defendant's Table

The Orange County Regional History Center is a fascinating museum right in the heart of downtown Orlando.  A trip up the elevator to the 4th floor brings one back to the very early days of Florida. Tattooed, pierced and adorned with shells the Timucuan Indians were the first the Europeans  came in contact with.  Today one can find Floridians who are tattooed, pierced and adorned with shells. Sometimes it seems as much as things change they stay the same. 

 The 4th floor has interesting exhibits on the First Peoples, the European First Contact, Florida Seminoles, Pioneers, and Citrus and Cattle industries.  I learned some interesting facts. That no spot in Florida is more than 60 miles from the Gulf of  Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. That many of Florida’s 7,800 lakes are water filled sinkholes such as Lake Eola, Lake Apopka and Lake Conway. And to reduce the mosquito population, hang a dry hallowed gourd to attract mosquito eating Purple Martin birds. Who knew that late 19th century Kissimmee had the Country’s first “Ride-Up” drive through saloon where thirsty cowmen didn’t even have to dismount their horses to buy a drink.

The third floor includes Orange County’s old courtroom (the museum is housed in what was the old court-house).  It was educational to see the old style courthouse and see Ted Bundy’s name scratched into the defense table.  On this floor there is a transportation section with old train and steamboat exhibits, tourism before Disney, Central Florida through the wars, then Aviation and finally Disney: The Day We Changed. 

The second floor had a Road To Modern Orlando Timeline, an extensive African-American Heritage section, and houses the special exhibits gallery and changing exhibits gallery. There were “old school” video games. Pinball machines, Pac -Man and others that were enjoyed by all.  Exhibits on Jack Kerouac the famous writer and poet, Orlando Magic, Military, Disney and Tourism.

The museum is easy to reach, right off the I-4 highway, and parking is available in a public parking garage a block away and across the street from the Orlando Public Library. The museum is open Monday – Saturday, 10am -5 pm. and Sunday, noon to 5pm. Admission is $9.00 , seniors (60+), AAA, military and students $7.00, $6.00 for ages 5-12, and free ages 4 and under.  It is well worth the trip and all ages will enjoy it.

Art (one half of Travel2some)