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. 

  • What a privilege to be in @visitbentonville this weekend to celebrate the opening of @themomentary and our friend, @addie_roanhorse. Addie’s Osage ribbon work- inspired design is featured on this tower at the Momentary and it is just fabulous! 
This new space opens to the public Feb. 22 and general admission is free, thanks to the generosity of the @waltonfamilyfdn.
  • In @visitmasoncityiowa, you'll find the boyhood home of famous composer Meredith Willson. Perhaps best known for his musical, "The Music Man," Willson based the show in large part on his experiences growing up in his hometown.⁣
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Mason City has kept Willson's memory alive through an extensive museum and convention space, which we got to see on our hosted tour of the town, called The Music Man Square. A part of the experience at Music Man Square is a tour through Willson's childhood home.⁣
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Now is the perfect time to head to Mason City for a visit. Hugh Jackman is set to play Professor Harold Hill in a Broadway revival of, "The Music Man." With that show opening in 2020, all eyes will be back on Mason City.⁣
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@thehughjackman @musicmanbway
  • When the @museumofamericanspeed invited us to come for a complimentary visit, we weren't sure what to expect. ⁣
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Yes, the museum is chock-full of race cars, engines, history, and car-related memorabilia. But it also houses other collections like one of old lunch boxes.⁣
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We had so much fun standing and taking in the lunch boxes, looking and trying to find the ones we had when we were kids. Ann had "Charlie's Angels" and Steve had "Super Friends." ⁣
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If you're ever near Lincoln, Nebraska, check out the Museum of American Speed. It's a true hidden treasure in the midwest. ⁣
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What kind of lunch box did you carry to school? Any kids of the 70s and 80s who had the ones we had?
  • Sometimes you find things in your own backyard.⁣
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Just up the road from our home in Crete, Nebraska, we found the National Museum of Roller Skating. Our curiosity piqued, we stopped in and took a look around. There we found the world's largest collection of historical roller skates, costumes, and memorabilia. ⁣
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It took us back to our childhood and spending time at the roller skating rink (do kids even skate anymore?). We remembered crossing over on the turns for the first time and bending at the knees for "Downtown" by Petula Clark. So many great memories. ⁣
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Sometimes, we focus so much on getting away that we forget that we have some really interesting places close to home, as well. The next time you feel a hankering to go somewhere, maybe try going down the street. You never know what treasure you might find and what memories it evoke.
  • This was our Valentine’s Day dessert last year. Chef Kurtess Mortensen at The Pioneer Woman Mercantile created this memorable dish he called “Fat Elvis.” It was a chocolate bread pudding, served alongside banana brûlée and caramelized peanuts then topped with marshmallow cream, homemade peanut butter ice cream, and a candied bacon garnish. We are giddy with anticipation to see what he comes up with tonight! We are budgeting our calories accordingly. 😉
  • “Actually, the best gift you could have given her was a lifetime of adventures.”
– Lewis Carroll
  • It's been a long winter. I need to see flowers again! Are you with me?Let's talk about these flowers. ⁣
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We are often asked about our favorite place we've ever visited. While that question is hard to answer, we almost always mention Tallinn, Estonia, as a contender.⁣
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Estonia has an interesting history. Conquered in 1227 by Denmark, it never again enjoyed independence until  1920. That freedom was short lived, however, as the Soviet Union occupied the country in 1940. Finally, in 1991, Estonia regained its independence and has remained free ever since. The country joined NATO in 2004. ⁣
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Visiting Estonia, we could see the remnants of Soviet control. Large block buildings dominate the landscape. They are of Soviet Communist design: utilitarian in nature with no thought given to design. They look just like the buildings you've seen in movies about the Soviet Union. ⁣
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Now free, Estonians have done what they can to erase the gray days of Soviet control. The Soviet-style buildings are painted bright colors, and flowers abound in the streets. The people are warm, cheerful, friendly, and welcoming. ⁣
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Yes, Estonia is a wonderful country, and we can't wait to return.
  • Each year from late February to early April, hundreds of thousands of Sandhills Cranes migrate through Nebraska on their way north to their breeding grounds. It's considered one of the greatest spectacles in nature, so thousands of people come to experience this incredible time.⁣
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We traveled to Kearney, Nebraska, one of the best cities for crane viewing, last year. Because the best times to view the cranes is sunrise and sunset, we found ourselves with some free time during the day. It turns out that Kearney has a lot to offer in terms of things to do.⁣
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Scroll across our highlights on Instagram, and you'll find the stories highlights we made during our time there. On our blog (link in bio) you'll also find a post we wrote with ideas for 20 things to do in Kearney while you wait on the cranes. ⁣
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Put crane viewing on your bucket list. It really is one of the most amazing experiences we've ever had in nature. And don't worry about being bored between sunrise and sunset--Kearney has too much to offer.

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