Trip Planning

Should I take a double-decker bus sightseeing tour?

Red busses in London

I often think a big, red, sightseeing double-decker bus (like City Sightseeing)  you see in nearly every big city (save for London where their double decker red buses are actually just public trans) get a bad rap for

Red Double-decker bus
A queue of red busses in London

being a way to check out a city. This could absolutely be because I am biased to more organic forms of touring and small companies that I think employ more informed guides with better public speaking skills. But, with that said, there is certainly nothing wrong with touring a city via a huge double-decker bus and there are actually some positive takeaways from choosing this way to sightsee.

  • They go everywhere. Usually with your ticket purchase on the double-decker bus you can take any one of the routes the bus company offers. These routes are typically color coded and as long as you’re at a stop that services multiple colors, you can easily switch routes and see much more of a city—or even another state. For example, in Washington, DC some sightseeing buses service Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia
  • You can hop on and hop off. This means that you don’t have to really stress about a schedule. If you’re with a group tour, you are often only allotted a certain amount of time at each location. With the flexibility of hopping on and off you can take more time at sights that really interest you and even skip sights that don’t do anything for you. Usually companies will have buses making their rounds every 20 minutes or so, so as long as you know their schedule you can plan accordingly
  • They will provide commentary. While you’re driving around you should be getting commentary on the major sights you’re looking at. Sometime this commentary comes from a pre-recorded audio tape and other times it come from a live tour guide. Level of knowledge and ability to answer questions can naturally differ between guides so if you’ve noticed you’ve got a good one, it might be in your best interest to ride along a bit longer before hopping off—it’s never guaranteed that you’ll be on the same bus twice as companies have multiple buses servicing their routes all day long
  • They make traversing a city easy. Let it be known that I am always a fan of public transportation to get around a city but I am also an experienced traveler who is comfortable with this sort of thing. Absolutely no judgement if you are not. Therefore, the double-deckers buses are nice because they provide you with a map of the city that conveniently has all of their (usually color coded) routes on it and you just have to show the driver your ticket stub or sticker upon returning to the bus. You don’t have to figure out subway maps, ticket kiosks or any other routing when you’re riding a double-decker around. This type of sightseeing is good for families who are juggling young children and have enough to worry about
Group boards Trolley Bus
A tour group boards a trolley in Savannah, GA

When available, I personally always direct guests to Old Town Trolley. They currently only run in seven cities—Boston, Washington, DC, Key West, St. Augustine, San Diego, Savannah and Nashville—but I find that the guides on them are usually really knowledgeable and easy to listen to. I’ve personally taken rides with them in Boston and Savannah and know a load of guides who have worked for them in DC. The trollies are open air and some of the newer models have stadium seating. But more importantly, the guides that drive them around give live commentary and really do know what they are talking about—often times, they are a complete wealth of knowledge. I don’t always feel like this is the case with the larger, double-decker companies.


And if you are in London definitely take advantage of the iconic red double-decker bus. You won’t get commentary but at a low fare it’s a great way to cruise around the city and take it all in.


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5 Awesome and Edible State Fairs


The dog days of summer are here kids. Which typically means that we are all sweating and hating it but this summer has been more like getting rained on and hating it. At least that’s what happening here in D.C. for the most part. In the midst of the August heat come those nostalgic, 2/3 really fun, 1/3 exceptionally questionable state and county fairs. I think that when you are from the Midwest like me, reminiscing the days of cotton candy and gravitrons go hand in hand with blue ribbon contests for pigs, pie judging, a showcase of canning skills. And let us not forget that since we witnessed the delicious Ryan Gosling hang from a ferris wheel in The Notebook we haven’t looked at one the same since.

I grew up going to the Hillsdale County Fair and Jackson County Fair  (where I saw a Destiny’s Child concert in 1997 for $15) in Pure Michigan. Both reeked of the unadulterated Midwestern bliss that comes with farming and simplicity. That and hormonal teenagers. And cow manure. Living in the city, I probably won’t have the opportunity to make it to a fair this year but if I did, I’d try to hit one of the big ones. The kind that have been around for over a century and have morphed into an “only in America” campaign where a highly coveted prize is winning the creativity trophy for a new conception of food on a stick. Or deep fried food on a stick. Here are 5 iconic American State fairs:

Iowa State Fair: Held since 1854 and spread of 445 acres, the Iowa state fair is one of the largest in the country. It’s almost hard to choose the best thing available at this fair. Perhaps its the monster arm wrestling or cow chip throwing contests. Or the 600 exhibitors to see. Or the cow that is entirely sculpted out of butter. Or the nearly 65 food items available on a stick like a bacon-wrapped corn dog, deep fried Snickers bar, Twinkie Log (frozen Twinkie (WHERE did they find said Twinkies?!) dipped in white chocolate and rolled in cashews), or the bacon-wrapped riblet. All available sans plate.

Minnesota State Fair: Trailing only behind Texas in terms of attendance, the Minnesota State Fair, or the “The Great Minnesota Get-Together,” has been kicking since 1859. Check out Machinery Hill where, yep you guessed it, can see one of the largest displays of farm machinery in the world in addition to motorcycles and lawn mowers. Before heading over there, see livestock exhibits or an art or cooking show. A food item of this fair that’s really intriguing in a whaaaat the—- sort of way is the corn dog pizza. However, I am not doubting at all that it’s culinary genius.

State Fair of Texas: We all know that everything is bigger in Texas. Sort of. But really the state fair, held annually since 1886 is the highest attended fair in the country and no joke. This year, Dallas will gratefully welcome back its fair mascot, Big Tex, who caught on fire last year. Other highlights include livestock, a garden show, and the historic Red River Rivalry football game between Texas and Oklahoma. Fried options include deep fried jambalaya and a deep fried bacon cinnamon roll.

Great New York State Fair: The oldest state fair in America, this celebration has been pleasing fairgoers since 1841. Here, you can view contests for antique tractors to farm products, Midway rides, extreme log makeovers, and butter & cheese sculptures. There’s also Pan-African and Iroquois Indian villages to tour and if you’re hungry you can try the deep fried macaroni or the long john donut hot dog dipped in maple syrup.

Wisconsin State Fair: America’s dairyland has held a state fair since 1851. Play bingo with the Potowatomi Bingo Casino Road Show or educate yourself in the Wisconsin State Fair History Museum. There is also a white tiger discovery exhibition where keepers feature the last remaining five species of tigers in the world. Naturally, there’s food on a stick you can try like the cajun frog legs, breaded oysters, or deep fried cheesesteak. The most popular food item at this fair, however, is the cream puff, a delicious cream filled pastry served since 1924.

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10 Things to See (and Eat!) in Memphis


Memphis, Tennessee. Definitely a “10” in our book. This southern gem is just radiating with culture, history, incredible music and great eats. Wrap that all into a long weekend and you’ve got yourself a fabulous reason to don some blue suede shoes and take a walk through Memphis. Here are 10 things to do and eat while you’re there:

Dip into History:

  • Take a tour through the home of “The King,” Elvis Presley. Graceland offers a self-guided audio tour that will take you through the mansion and ground of the home where the King of Rock and Roll once resided. You’ll also have a chance to see Elvis’s grave (if, in fact, he’s not still alive), tour his private jet the Lisa Marie, and ponder over some of his most sacred possessions like those bejeweled jump suits and classic cars. Two new exhibits have just opened focusing on Elvis’s fascination with Hawaii and his time spent in Las Vegas. While you’re there, try one of the King’s favorite snacks: a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich.

    Front Exterior of the Graceland Mansion
    Front Exterior of the Graceland Mansion
  • After Graceland, stop by Sun Studio, a store front music label that reputably recorded the first rock and roll single and signed artists to the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lew Lewis, and Carl Perkins. The Broadway hit, Million Dollar Quartet is written about a surreptitious night that the aforementioned spent together at this famous spot.

    The home of Rock and Roll
  • If you’re still in the mood for music (which you obviously should be), check out the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum, one of the only Smithsonians not in Washington, DC. Here you will learn about the birth of rock and soul music and the struggle of innovators to jump racial and socio-economic hurdles to create a genre that forever changed the musical landscape.
  • Martin Luther King Jr., the historical and great Civil Rights icon was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis in 1968. Now, the site is a part of the National Civil Rights Museum that educates visitors on the Civil Rights Movement’s impact and influence. Visitors can walk through the hotel room where King’s assassination happened and go across the street to see where the assassin James Earl Ray lived and plotted the tragic event. And don’t forget to stop by and say hi to Jackie…she’s been protesting for decades in front of the museum. She’ll talk your ear off, but it’ll be interesting.

Get Rowdy:

  • Memphis may be most famous for Beale Street, and rightfully so—it is one of the coolest (or hottest, your pick) spots in the US. As early as the turn of the 20th century, Beale Street was filled with historically African American clubs, restaurants, and shops. W.C Handy is credited for writing the first blues song here in 1909 and the street has since then hosted Louis Armstrong, B.B. King and Muddy Waters, among many others. Much of the Street is closed to traffic and allows open alcohol, which means you can cruise around sampling the different blues clubs, eateries, and eccentric shops with ease.

    Lights on Beale Street
    Lights on Beale Street
  • Check out the march of the Peabody Ducks. Ok so ducks might not be rowdy but the little mallards that have been making their march down to the Peabody Hotel’s lobby fountain twice a day for nearly 80 years are quite the lively bunch. That’s right, ducks. Marching from their penthouse suite to a lobby fountain. In a fancy hotel.
  • Head on over to Mud Island a la Tom Cruise in The Firm and check out the Mississippi River museum…they’ve got a scaled replica of the entire river with a big swimming pool-type-thing standing in for the Gulf of Mexico. They also have an amphitheater and great views of the Mighty Mississip, as well as the Hernando de Soto Bridge, which forms the world’s largest freestanding letter “M”. True. We couldn’t make that up.

Eat your Face Off:

  • On a side alley just off of 2nd Street stands the home to some of the best the best ribs in the country at Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous BBQ. What began in 1948 after Vergos found a coal chute in the basement of his diner is now something that you can smell for blocks. These dry rubbed ribs are spectacular and the homemade BBQ sauce takes them to a whole other level. Try a sausage and cheese plate too; you’ll be happy you did. They’re not open Sunday so plan accordingly. And make sure you use the sauce with the red cap for a little extra spice.

    ohemgee. those ribs.
    ohemgee. those ribs.
  • Fried chicken is also a culinary star of Memphis at Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Chicken. The recipe, used for more than 60 years now, is a family secret but you’ll note that there’s a kick to it, giving this chicken an unbelievable zing. This chicken is fried perfectly on the outside and so juicy and tender on the inside, it will have you ordering buckets to go. Top it off with some baked beans and coleslaw and you’ve got a perfect picnic. If you don’t feel like waiting in long lines, order ahead and then eat in a park.
  • You can’t leave Memphis without having a cocktail or two. Or a bucket of cocktail, really. Silky O’Sullivans Pub on Beale Street, home to live music, multiple bars, and 2 live goats, serves up a secret blend of libations in a gallon sized bucket. And it’s actually really tasty. Grab one of those and you are in for one gallon of Southern good time.

    Sucking down a bucket at Silky O’Sullivans
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