Friday Favorites: Riding the trains in Europe

I am one of those rare folks that enjoys flying, but I like riding the trains in Europe even more. Enjoying a glass of wine while watching Tuscany drift by out the large glass windows is just delightful.

My favorite train journey on my recent trip was the Nightjet from Milan to Munich. It was a 12 hour overnight trip. My compartment reminded me of the Hogwarts Express. I had it all to myself and the seats folded out into beds.

Milano Centrale Train Station

My Nightjet compartment I had to myself

Salzburg Train Station

The famous Brenner Pass out my train window

thanks … rk

Notre Dame pictures before the fire

I just visited Notre Dame less than two weeks ago. Situated on a small island in the river Seine, this marvelous piece of architecture dates back to 1163 AD. The exterior is rightfully impressive, but the stained glass and woodworking on the interior is breathtaking.

I thought I would share the pics I took so you can appreciate the art and architecture that was hopefully not destroyed during the fire today.


Chicago Fireworks

On a recent trip to Chicago, I was fortunate enough to take a cruise out on Lake Michigan. The highlight was seeing the fireworks being shot off from Navy Pier with the Chicago skyline in the background. I videoed a short portion of the firework show. I hope you enjoy. rk

Odds & Ends From Recent Travel

Here are a few places I visited recently that didn’t turn up in other blogs.

From the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville AL

From beautiful Portsmouth NH. A great walking city on the coast of New Hampshire.

View of Cape Cod MA out my plane window. I love the window seat.

Pat’s King of Steaks in Philadelphia. The traditional cheese whiz Cheesesteak at the original. It was good too!

Star Pictures

I have been lucky enough to see the Milky Way on multiple occasions in the last couple years. The first time I saw was in Arches National Park and I could have stared at the sky all night long, watching the stars rise higher as the night got later and getting excited at the occasional shooting star. I feel the same way every time I see it again and recently I’ve been trying to get some pictures of the stars. In September (on my birthday actually) I got some decent pictures in Big Bend National Park. Some of them are a little blurry but you can see the stars pretty well! I hope to improve my night sky photography and will keep posting pictures on here if I get any good ones!

Thanks! – Josh

Mexican Hat

About twenty miles north of famous Monument Valley is the town of Mexican Hat. Named after a rock formation that looks like an upside down stereotypical sombrero (like the one Speedy Gonzales wears). On a recent road trip we got to stop by and take some pics in the Utah heat! 

You are planning your Key West vacation – what do you need to know?

Key West is a beautiful and fun place to visit.   If you haven’t been before, then there is something you should know.  There are feral chickens everywhere.  Like thousands of them.   How they got there I don’t know and why they let them wander everywhere, again I don’t know.  There are also giant iguanas.  Not as many as the chickens but still quite a few.


Typical Key West feral chicken


This iguana liked to hang out by the pool


The beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.   They did have some sand that was probably trucked in.

Another thing you need to know is that Key West doesn’t have beaches.   Technically there are a couple, mostly very small in the southwest corner of the island.   The best of the bunch is at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park and you have to pay to get in.   If you are wanting a “beach trip” though, this really isn’t it.    Well, if there are no beaches, then what do you do?   Here is a good list of things to do on your Key West trip.

  • By far the most popular thing to do in Key West is to drink alcohol and people watch on Duval Street.   Duval Street is the main drag through the island and there is a lot of, let’s say “interesting” people to watch.   Many people do a pub crawl up and down this strip.   If you like drinking and people watching then Key West will be right up your alley.   Just be careful not to over indulge or you may be the one people are watching!


Duval Street during the day


One of the more popular bars on Duval Street

  • Key West is also a great place for a foodie to visit.   Between the fresh seafood and the local Key Lime Pie there is a little of everything for you. Some of the better places I have eaten are DJ’s Clam Shack, Blue Macaw, Half Shell Raw Bar, and Blue Heaven.   Pretty much everywhere was good.   For desserts, I liked Cupcake Sushi, but my wife preferred Better than Sex. The Key Lime Pie seemed to be pretty good everywhere.


My cupcake sushi

  • Another of the most popular things to do in Key West is to leave.   That did not come out right.   What I mean is to take a boat tour away from the island to see the beautiful surroundings.   There is a lot of choices here for whatever you prefer to do.   There are boat trips to snorkel on the coral reefs, go deep sea fishing, and dolphin watching.   Also, you can take glass bottom boats and sunset tours as well.   I chose the boat tour to Dry Tortugas National Park which was a great experience that I recommend heartily.


The Yankee Freedom ferry to Dry Tortugas NP

  • When you get tired of drinking and sitting by the pool, there are a bunch of museums to visit.   I am not talking old, dry, dusty museums that take up all day.   These are quick, not too expensive, and lots of fun.   By far, my favorite was the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum.   I also enjoyed the Key West Lighthouse Museum and the Harry S. Truman Little White House.   Other popular spots include the Key West Shipwreck Museum and the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.


The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.   No chickens on the grounds, but probably 50 or 60 cats.


The view from the bottom of the Key West Lighthouse


The view from the top of the Key West Lighthouse


The Harry S. Truman Little White House

  • There are also several iconic Key West places to go take a picture and enjoy.   Number one in my book is watching the sunset from Mallory Square.   Grab a drink on the pier and enjoy watching the sunset.   Other popular spots are the Southernmost Point in the United States, Bahama Village, and the Historic Seaport Boardwalk.


This is by far the most popular place on the island to take a selfie picture.


Watching the sunset with a rum drink in hand from Mallory Square

Now that you are prepared for your trip, all you need to do is book your flight and hotel and go.   Have fun!    rk

Under Water at Noccalula Falls


I discovered Noccalula Falls several years ago.   It is an impressive waterfall right off the road, one mile from exit 188 on I-59 in northeast Alabama.  When you have heavy rains, Noccalula can be a poor man’s Niagara Falls.   I was in the area this week and it had been raining so I thought I would stop by to check it out and then hike the nearby Black Creek Trail.


The falls were pretty much deserted, I walked around the top of the waterfall and then crossed the bridge to get to the trail which starts by the campground.   The Black Creek Trail is wide, well marked, and easy to follow.   The trail starts at Noccalula Falls and ends 2.8 miles later in Gadsden.   Everything was going great and I even checked out some of the adjacent bicycle trails.   At the 1.6 mile mark though, the bottom dropped out.   It was raining cats and dogs, it felt like I was under water there was so much rain.  I had trouble even following the trail the rain was coming down so hard.   Even more disturbingly, there was a lot of lightning and it was close.


I finally made it back to the waterfall area and I took an additional picture of the falls in the rain.   The water hadn’t crested yet and I’m sure if I had been able to come back the following day, the roaring falls would have been even more impressive.   My shoes were ruined and my clothes completely soaked, but since I didn’t get hit by lightning I would have to say it was fun and very much worth it.


If you are in the area, I encourage you to check out Noccalula Falls.   Just check the weather forecast first!   rk

My Favorite Coffee Roasters

A while ago I wrote a blog about my favorite coffee shops that I’ve been to while traveling but some of my favorite coffees come from roasters that don’t have their own shops or that I haven’t been lucky enough to go to yet. So here is my list of my five favorite coffee roasters I’ve had so far. 

     1. Counter Culture Coffee

     Calling home Raleigh, North Carolina, Counter Culture is very popular in the southeast. A good bit of the coffee shops in Atlanta carry Counter Culture and so it is my go to roaster and I get to try most of their available coffees. Counter Culture consistently roasts delicious single origin coffees and I never have to worry about getting a coffee I may not like from them because they are dedicated to sourcing and producing quality coffee that supports the farmers and helps them to farm the best coffee possible. If I had to choose only one coffee roaster to drink the rest of my life it would be Counter Culture Coffee. 

The two bags of Counter Culture I have right now (the one on the left is getting kind of old)

     2. Dapper & Wise 

     Located in the hipster Mecca of Portland, Oregon, Dapper & Wise is not only dedicated to making the tastiest coffee possible they’re also hilarious (just watch some of their Instagram videos and you’ll see). I first had Dapper & Wise a couple years ago when I received a sample pack for my birthday. Ever since then I have been in love with their roasts and even have a couple bags in the mail coming to me right now. 

One of Dapper&Wise’s shop locations

     3. Crema Coffee Roasters

     If you are ever in Nashville and can’t decide on a coffee shop then i’ll go ahead and decide for you. Go to Crema. I have been to most every shop in the city and Crema is easily my favorite. Not only do they have a dope shop but they roast their own coffee and they do it well. They care about the quality of their coffee and it reflects in the delicious roasts they produce. 

Crema’s delicious Ethiopia Sidamo that I bought last week (it’s almost gone)

     4. Intelligentsia Coffee

     Starting in San Francisco and then moving to Chicago and now with 10 shops in LA, Chicago, and New York City. Intelligentsia has been around for 21 years and with two decades of roasting experience you’d hope their coffee is good by now. And it really is. There is a reason they are one of the biggest names in specialty coffee and have so many locations across the country and it’s because they cook some tasty beans. 

Enjoying some Intelligentsia at the beach

     5. Cartel Coffee Lab 

     The last entry to this list and the second that was also on my favorite coffee shops list, Cartel populates the Grand Canyon State with 6 shops and they roast probably the best coffee in the state. Like the other entries Cartel cares about quality and sourcing and it shows through their coffees. My favorite coffee I’ve had from them was a honey processed El Salvador! 

My Cartel mug that is now broken 😦

– Josh