All Posts By

Monte R.

Milwaukee/Wisconsin Dells (July 2018)

I took the kids on summer vacation to the Wisconsin Dells for their summer vacation.  It was a bit random.  I didn’t want to go south as we wanted to escape the 100F+ heat in Texas. So going north was the only option.  The Dells seemed like a good idea as they market it as the ‘Waterpark Capital of the USA.’

Wisconsin reminded me a bit of Ohio – rolling hills, green forests and corn fields. Lots of wide open spaces. The Dells were nice – large lakes and canyons. The town of the Dells is built as a tourist town with lots to do with the kids – lots of side show attractions, kids activities, mini-golf and stuff.

We stayed at the Kalahari Resort for the first couple nights, which was nice, but way too big, if you ask me.

Luckily, we got bumped up to the Chula Vista the next couple nights from another hotel. I liked Chula Vista much better and their indoor Mayan themed waterparks. It was the exact sort of experience I was looking for in the Dells.

Unfortunately, the dining scene was sort of a let down everywhere we ate for one reason or another – most of the staff and service workers were from Eastern Europe, Jamaica or China (strange). I guess that’s typical in resort towns, but it makes for uneven and low quality experiences as the staff has no vested interest in quality nor service.

However, putting food aside, I personally liked The Dells better as a resort family destination than Orlando. We played mini-golf, shot paint ball guns, saw an old time waterski show (Tommy Bartlett) and played lots of video games.

Milwaukee was ok – an old blue collar town on the upswing. The food, however, like the Dells, was a bummer. The only place I liked was Zaffiros Pizza, which is an old school thin parlor pizza joint.  Their pizza was exceptional.

We attended a MLB game at Miller Park – the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Nationals 6-1. The park was nice but the food (again) sucked. It was such a bummer to pay $12 for a crap microwave quality hamburger.

Weather was nice 70-80F most days, which was super nice.

Some highlights in Milwaukee: Harley Davidson Museum and the Garcade Video Arcade.

Overall, it was a good trip. Would I go back? Probably not. Too many other destinations to explore.

Colorado Summer Adventure

I took my two sons on a week long trip to Colorado, along with my brother. We needed a summer getaway somewhere and Colorado came to mind. I had previously only been there in the winter.  It had been at least ten years since I last visited for skiing. I’m a terrible skier, unfortunately.

In travel planning, Colorado seemed like a better alternative weather wise to somewhere else like Florida, which I’ll never visit again in the summer. Too hot. We had no firm plans except to spend the first four days in the Colorado Springs area. It seemed like a good starting point. Everything always seems to work out when I “make it up as a go” and I enjoy the freedom of an open itinerary.

The weather was a bit hotter than I expected – around 85F – but without any humidity, it was still enjoyable. Compared to 100F in Texas, it was still a noticeable difference.

Continue Reading

Favorite Austin Area Cheap Eats – Top Ten

Instead of writing about fine dining and other exotic eats that others can write about so much better, this post is going to be about where I like to eat every day for cheap eats.

It’s what I eat when I take my kids to pick up diapers and toilet paper at Costco – I eat what is nearby.  None of these places are ever too busy and I can always grab a quick bite for cheap.

When I’m on the go by myself or with kids, I usually sort of end up eating “what’s around” instead of going out of the way.

It’s a bit of a challenge because I live in the suburbs of Austin, which is a food desert, although it has improved in recent years.

In no particular order, here are some of the places I usually go:

  1. Costco: for $1.99 a slice, best pizza for the value.  Kids love it.
  2. Big Cat BBQ: excellent Cedar Park BBQ joint in a strip mall, brisket is superb.
  3. P King Chinese: quick, fast good Chinese, better than most.
  4. In-N-Out Burger: we finally got one, and it’s as good as always.
  5. Velvet Taco: oh, yeah, this Dallas chain has elevated tacos to gourmet levels.
  6. Torchy’s Taco: my favorite taco place of all time.  Their queso kills.
  7. Salt Traders: gourmet seafood, happy hour is great bargain.
  8. Rudy’s BBQ: the classic Austin standard BBQ by which all others are measured.
  9. Mad Greens: super fresh salads with house made dressings.
  10. Verts Mediterranean Grill: yummy Mediterranean inspired bowls and wraps.

Continue Reading

Los Angeles – Spring Break

This spring, I made a quick trip to Los Angeles, California where I lived for awhile in the late 1990s.  It feels like a lifetime ago, going back to my old haunts to remember times past.

I usually make it back to SoCal about once a year.  It’s always a good experience seeing friends, eating at my old favorite joints.  I truly miss the perfect 75F weather every day – it makes you want to go outside, unlike here in Texas.  But the cost of living is beyond my comprehension, and it certainly has changed.  Nothing stays the same.

The my agenda for this trip was to see some old friends and attend a concert at the Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

On this trip, I shopped on Rodeo Drive, walked around Melrose Avenue, discovered IMAX virtual reality, drove up to Malibu and pull up next to Neil Young, ate at my favorites Bay Cities Italian Deli and El Coyote, and had some amazing sushi at Sugarfish by Nozawa.



Electric Las Vegas

We made a quick weekend trip to Las Vegas, Nevada to check out an auto show with my brother.

As luck would have it, my brother fell into an opportunity to rent a Tesla Model S 90D for one day for less money than you think. The MSRP on the Tesla Model S 90D is about $105,000 dollars.  It was a fluke rental price we caught online, and the desk person was “shocked” we got it for so cheap.

We soon found out, driving a Tesla is unlike any other car – it’s a high end luxury machine. It’s solid and tight like Lexus and Mercedes Benz. Not a rattle or any loose parts on this electric sports sedan.

The Tesla key fob is a little plastic toy car with RF that opens and locks the car upon approach or leaving.  Cool.

Being electric with few moving parts, the initial acceleration is beyond belief – it makes driving fun, knowing you can dart in front of other cars.
It’s just like the YouTube videos –  pure excitement.

We decided to make a day drive to Hoover Dam to test it out.

As one of the most iconic hydroelectric power dams in the United States, it felt like the most suitable destination to take the Tesla.

Continue Reading

Kansas City: King of burnt ends BBQ

Kansas City, Missouri is a great town.  It’s not widely written about but it should be because it has much to offer.

It’s one of those off the beaten path midwestern cities that most people rarely visit, but I found it had many things to do and a rich history of American culture.  It’s a mid-size city, easy to get around and navigate for first-time visitors.

All around, the museums, eats and welcoming Midwestern type locals were a nice surprise.  I’m also a Ernest Hemingway buff.  KC is where he got his first job out of high school writing for the Kansas City Star newspaper, which was an influential newspaper at the turn of the century.

I came to KC primarily to see a band I follow (Sigur Ros) play at the historic Midland Theater in downtown.

Originally part of the Loews’ theater chain, it’s one of the grand old movie palaces built in the late 1920s.  It’s full of ghosts and remembrances of things past – it was like a museum itself.

In the style of French and Italian Baroque, it’s pretty much in original condition and it was a great venue to see live music.

It felt like going back in time a hundred years.

Continue Reading

Explore Columbus, Ohio

For summer vacation, I took the kids back to my hometown, Columbus, Ohio.  Technically, my hometown is in the suburbs in Powell, Ohio, but I just say Columbus to keep it simple.

Having grown up here and moving away in 1995, so much has changed …

Continue Reading

Tampa Bay & Sarasota, Florida

I made a quick weekend trip to the Tampa Bay, Florida area for business. I didn’t have much time, but I got to explore around a little bit in between obligations.

I quickly learned that Tampa International Bay airport is like far away from Sarasota, where I needed to be – solid hour drive south.  If you’re headed to Sarasota, try to get a flight into Sarasota not Tampa.  Travel mistake.  Having said that, Tampa International Airport is modern and well designed – it felt like being inside a brand new shopping mall.

I also learned Sarasota is like the southern capital of Midwestern snowbirds from Michigan and Ohio – there were so many fellow Ohioans that I met on my trip.  I had no idea.

Highlights of the trip were the stone crab claws, St. Pete Bagel Co. (NYC quality) and Erbelli’s Pizza.  Hyatt Clearwater was a nice four-star hotel with kitchenettes directly on the beach.


Solo Trek to Jamaica

Montego Bay, Jamaica, November 2015.

I’m back from a five night, six (6) day solo trip to the northern coast of Jamaica, around Montego Bay. It was my first time visiting the country. Like any other first timer, I found it was filled with preconceptions.

Jamaica has a sketchy reputation amongst travelers, yet its still one of the most visited tourist spots in the region. It sits right below Cuba, which you get to see from the airplane window on the way there.

All my plans were put together at the last minute in about a month. I had no prior plans to go. I lucked into getting a free flight on Southwest Airlines using frequent flier miles.  Total cost: $0.

It was a trip to celebrate my 44th birthday on November 11th.

A few weeks before I left, a Jamaican food festival/charity event called Nyam Jam was announced at Goldeneye, the resort owned by Chris Blackwell. It was hosted by Mario Batali and Chris Blackwell, whom I wanted to meet. He’s such an iconic figure in the music having started Island Records (U2, Bob Marley).  The odds of this event happening on the same week I was going to be Jamaica was one in a million.

I quickly bought a ticket to that event as it was occurring on my last evening there, such an amazing coincidence.

Being on a solo trek, I had no one else to worry about. I’m an avid reader, usually read up on tour books and other online websites. As usual, nothing can prepare you for actually being there, the pace of the place sets the agenda more than anything else.

Before arriving, I read accounts how “crazy” driving in Jamaica is – people say it’s dangerous to drive, roads are awful, etc. Blah, blah.

More nonsense people who are terrified of travel itself, I later discovered.

I did not want to hire a taxi and be shuttled everywhere – it’s costly, time consuming and limits spontaneity.

Continue Reading