It is -6 degrees today where we live in Crete, Nebraska. Church was cancelled. We’re still in our jammies. And we’re not going outside.

Instead, we’re pouring a second cup of coffee, cranking the heat up, and reminiscing about some of our favorite travel experiences from 2017. So, snuggle up in a blanket, grab a warm drink, and take a trip back through 2017 with us as we unveil our Best of 2017 attractions, shows and concerts, new places, and people.

Best attraction – 

Garfield Park Conservatory (Chicago, Illinois)

We’ve been to Chicago many times, but February of 2017 was the first time we’d ever taken the train over to Garfield Park to see the conservatory there. It had been recommended to us by another travel blogger and we’re so glad we took her advice. Admission was free (although they appreciate donations) and we took our time to stroll the many paths inside, enjoying this hidden botanical treasure in the heart of urban Chicago. Inside its glass walls and curving roof, we found everything from tiny cacti to large palm trees.

We wrote more about the conservatory in our blog post about Our Weekend Getaway to Chicago.

Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago, Illinois

Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago, Illinois

Honorable mentions: The Pyramid at Chichen Itza (Mexico); Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo (Omaha, Nebraska); Magnolia Market (Waco, Texas); Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari (Ashland, Nebraska).

Neither one of us had ever seen one of the Seven Wonders of the World until we visited the pyramid at Chichen Itza in 2017.

Neither one of us had ever seen one of the Seven Wonders of the World until we visited the pyramid at Chichen Itza in 2017.

The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska, is consistently ranked one of the best zoos in the world and we agree. This jelly fish exhibit is one of our favorites.

The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska, is consistently ranked one of the best zoos in the world and we agree. This jelly fish exhibit is one of our favorites.

We loved our shopping trip (with our daughter, Meghan) to Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas, this summer.

We loved our shopping trip (with our daughter, Meghan) to Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas, this summer.

American white pelicans at the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari.

American white pelicans at the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari.

Best show or concert –

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood (Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska)

We had seen Garth Brooks once before in Las Vegas (and we met him after the show and you read more about that HERE), so we knew he gave quite the concert. And he did. We were fortunate to see one of the six shows he did in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the Pinnacle Bank Arena this fall. He played all of our favorites like The River, Papa Loved Mama, The Dance, and Friends in Low Places. Garth Brooks is simply one of the very best entertainers in the world and we were so excited to see him and his wife, Trisha Yearwood, live in concert just a few miles from our hometown.

We'd seen him perform once before in Las Vegas and Garth Brooks put on another incredible show at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska, this year.

We’d seen him perform once before in Las Vegas and Garth Brooks put on another incredible show at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska, this year.

Honorable mentions: Willie Nelson (Pinewood Bowl in Lincoln, Nebraska); Moses (Sight & Sound Theater in Branson, Missouri); Kristen Chenoweth (Lied Center for Performing Arts in  Lincoln, Nebraska); Bruno Mars (Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska).

This outdoor amphitheater called the Pinewood Bowl is a Lincoln, Nebraska, treasure. We saw Willie Nelson perform there this summer and were amazed by his guitar playing.

This outdoor amphitheater called the Pinewood Bowl is a Lincoln, Nebraska, treasure. We saw Willie Nelson perform there this summer and were amazed by his guitar playing.

Moses statue, Sights and Sounds Theater, Branson, Missouri

This statue of Moses could be found in the lobby of the Sight and Sound Theater in Branson, Missouri.

An intimate evening with Kristin Chenoweth

An intimate evening with Kristin Chenoweth was an incredible concert. We love going to concerts at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Bruno Mars, Lincoln, Nebraska

Ann and her sister, Laura, loved the Bruno Mars concert in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he played all of their favorite songs.

Best new place –

The Pacific Northwest

At the end of the summer, we decided to take our first trip ever to the Pacific Northwest to see the coast, sip Pinot Noir, and watch our beloved Nebraska Cornhusker football team take on the Oregon Ducks in Eugene. My mom, Carol, went with us and after finishing up classes, our daughter, Meghan, flew out for the game, as well. Sadly, parts of the state were engulfed in flames from a fire that ravaged the area, but we were able to drive to the coast and experience the incredible beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

Flower in Astoria, Oregon

We found this beautiful flower in Astoria, Oregon

We started in Astoria (where the movie Goonies was filmed) and worked our way down the coast with stops at Cannon Beach, Newport, Tillamook, and Carlton. We also enjoyed time in Portland and had a blast at the football game in Eugene.

We loved exploring the Pacific Northwest and despite a Husker loss, had a great time at the at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon.

We loved exploring the Pacific Northwest and despite a Husker loss, had a great time at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon.

Honorable mentions: Our first Carnival Cruise; Waco, Texas; New Ulm, Minnesota; Pawhuska, Oklahoma; Mexico; and Vala’s Pumpkin Patch in Gretna, Nebraska.

Towel Animal on the Lido Deck of the Carnival Valor

This towel animal could be found at the towel station on the Lido (pool) Deck of the Carnival Valor.

Harp Design Co. candlesticks, Waco, Texas

There are many handcrafted wood items at the Harp Design Company in Waco, Texas. Some candlesticks like these came home to Crete with us.

New Ulm, Minnesota

New Ulm, Minnesota is full of German heritage, food, beer and very friendly people.

Pioneer Woman Mercantile, Pawhuska, Oklahoma

The Pioneer Woman Mercantile on the corner of Kihekah and Main in Pawhuska.

It was pretty overcast when we were in Mexico but colorful murals like this one brightened our day.

It was pretty overcast when we were in Mexico but colorful murals like this one brightened our day.

This was the first year we'd gone to Vala's Pumpkin Patch just of Interstate 80 near Gretna, Nebraska. If we'd only known what we'd been missing! This place was amazing and we can't wait to go back next fall.

This was the first year we’d gone to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch just off Interstate 80 near Gretna, Nebraska. If we’d only known what we’d been missing! This place was amazing and we can’t wait to go back next fall.

Best People –

Everyone in Pawhuska, Oklahoma

One of the things we love most about traveling is meeting new people. And, what can we say, we were overwhelmed with the genuine hospitality we received from everyone we met in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, on each of our four visits there this year. From the welcoming staff at the Chamber of Commerce and the young lady who keeps people in line at The Pioneer Woman Mercantile to the cooks and volunteers at the National Indian Taco Championship and ladies who own Handy’s convenience store there, everyone was just so sweet.

We've traveled all around the country and the world and can't think of a place we've ever been that made us feel more welcomed. The people of Pawhuska, Oklahoma are some of the most caring, genuine, loving people we've come across in all our travels.

We’ve traveled all around the country and the world and can’t think of a place we’ve ever been that made us feel more welcomed. The people of Pawhuska, Oklahoma are some of the most caring, genuine, loving people we’ve come across in all our travels.

Honorable mentions: Lois and Cornell at the Doubletree Hotel in Rochester, Minnesota; Tim and Dana Colvin at the Raine Motel in Valentine, Nebraska; employees of The Village Pie Maker in Eustis, Nebraska; Lucas Fowler and everyone at Waco Tours; Sara Broers and Lisa Trudell (and husband Tim) from Midwest Travel Bloggers.

Lois at the Doubletree in Rochester, Minnesota

For about 20 years, Lois has made guests of the Doubletree Hotel in Rochester, Minnesota feel both special and welcomed. Always ready with a smile and warm greeting, she makes breakfast a special time of day.

Cornell at the Doubletree Hotel, Rochester, Minnesota

Cornell at the Doubletree Hotel in Rochester, Minnesota, goes above and beyond to make guests feel extra special. Always ready with a warm greeting, he also leaves us extra chocolates on our bedside tables at night.

Fruit filling in a pie, Village Pie Maker, Eustis, Nebraska

The folks at the Village Pie Maker in Eustis, Nebraska, include a little love in each pie they make.

Lucas Fowler, Waco Tours, Waco, Texas

Lucas Fowler is a great guide for Waco Tours, giving guests insight and understanding of his city. Plus, he has a great singing voice!

Lisa Trudell (and her husband, Tim of The Walking Tourists) and Sara Broers of Travel with Sara have become good friends. We were thrilled that they traveled to our home in Crete, Nebraska, to watch the total solar eclipse with us.

Lisa Trudell (and her husband, Tim of The Walking Tourists) and Sara Broers of Travel with Sara have become good friends. We were thrilled that they traveled to our home in Crete, Nebraska, to watch the total solar eclipse with us.


Coming soon: Part 2 and our best restaurants, museums, views, and experiences of 2017. What were some of your “bests” from 2017? Let us know. We’d love to hear from you. 

  • Perched high on a hill in Tuscany is the medieval village of Montepulciano. In the center of town is the piazza grande paved with bricks laid in a herringbone pattern in the 14th century. ⁣
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Standing in the piazza, looking at the bricks, we were filled with a sense of awe at the history these bricks have seen. They've been there for 700 years so have seen times of war and peace, celebration and sorrow. Generation after generation of townsfolk were born, lived and died, and all have walked on these bricks. ⁣
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This is one of the things we love most about traveling. It gives us an authentic feel for history, one we wouldn't have if we just stayed at home.
  • We were so tickled when @thechefandthedish reached out and asked us if we'd like to take a complimentary cooking class with them. They offer private cooking classes with chefs from all over the world that you can take right in your own kitchen. ⁣
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For this class, we Skyped with chef Paola who taught us to make strawberry risotto, traditional bruschetta, and a delicious poached pear dessert that blew our minds. ⁣
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Risotto always seemed like a difficult dish to make, but Chef Paola explained it so well that it wound up being pretty easy. We spent a great afternoon with friends, learned something new, and enjoyed a great meal after. A class with The Chef & The Dish is a great gift idea, as well. Follow the link in our bio, and you can read more about our class on our blog.
  • The world is a big place, and there's so much to discover. Go places, and see things. It doesn't matter if you don't have a detailed itinerary, either. Sometimes, it's more about the journey and what you see and experience along the way, than it is about the destination.
  • During our trip in Tuscany with @italyunfiltered, we stopped at a small family winery. After learning about the organic methods they use to produce high quality Chianti Clasico wines, we had a tasting. ⁣
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Wine tastings in Italy are nothing like those in the US. They are glorious affairs complete with delicious foods paired with the incredible wines. This particular winery brought us samples of homemade, organic jams made from fruits grown in the family's garden. We dabbed these on locally produced pecorino cheese. Yum!⁣
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We're so glad that we had a local driver and guide. Stopping here was a highlight of our Italian adventure, and we never would have found it on our own.
  • The village of Marsaxlokk, Malta, is famous for these brightly painted fishing boats. The design is rather ancient, possibly dating back to Phoenician times, though it's still used today because it is very strong and holds up well in rough weather. One feature of each boat's decorations, are eyes painted on the bow of the boat. These eyes are said to protect the people fishing while they are at sea.
  • The blue cobblestones of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, are actually part of a recycling project which started 500 years ago. Iron foundries in Spain produced huge piles of waste, called slag. Rather than throw these piles away, the slag was made into blocks which was placed into ships as ballast. The ballast was offloaded in Puerto Rico when they loaded products bound for Spain. The blocks were then used to pave the streets. ⁣
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Pretty good idea, and 500 years later, they are holding up well!
  • The Overseas Highway connects Key West and the Florida Keys to the mainland U.S. While the entire road is a marvel of engineering, the centerpiece is the Seven Mile Bridge, which runs over water for, well, seven miles.⁣
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The next time you're driving, reset your trip odometer and wait until it gets to seven miles. You'll see that's a pretty long distance. And then think about the fact that people built a bridge over water with no land to support them for that distance. Pretty incredible-especially since the first one was built in 1912.
  • We'd never heard of cannonball rocks before we drove past them at North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and asked each other, "did you see that?" We'd never seen anything quite like these natural "concretions" created when water leaked into pockets of minerals in the ground. Now, as a hill erodes, these formations are exposed.⁣
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Seeing these rocks was such a cool experience because it reminded us of why we travel. We never know when we'll find something new, something that we never knew existed. We got along fine not knowing about cannonball rocks, yet now that we've seen them, our lives are a little richer. ⁣
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The world is a pretty cool place. Check it out.⁣
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@ndlegendary

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