Best of 2017 [part 1]: Our picks for best attraction, show, new place, and people

Best of 2017 [part 1]: Our picks for best attraction, show, new place, and people

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. 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

On this last day of 2015, it has been nice to reminisce about our year, where we’ve been and where we’d still love to go someday.

Our travels began when we welcomed in 2015 with a New Year’s celebration with our parents in the Florida Keys and took us to Estes Park where we photographed the sun rising over Rocky Mountain National Park on Easter Sunday.

Ann loved the chance to venture out at sunrise on Easter morning for a private photography lesson near Estes Park, Colorado.

We made three more trips back to Rochester, Minnesota, this year where Ann had another surgery and was treated at the Mayo Clinic [read about a touching experience at Mayo here] and we spent time with friends and family in Minneapolis.

This summer, our daughter studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain, and we were fortunate enough to be able to “pick her up from school” at the end of her term after a relaxing Celebrity Cruise that began in Rome, Italy, and ended in Barcelona, Spain.

The view from our ship as we docked in Ajaccio, Corsica, a place neither of us had ever seen and both want to return.

The view from our ship as we docked in Ajaccio, Corsica, a place neither of us had ever seen and both want to return.

When we returned to our home in Crete, Nebraska, we explored some local sites, including Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, Morrill Hall, the National Roller Skating Museum, the International Quilt Study Center and Museum, and the Germans from Russia Museum and stayed close to home most of the fall so we could attend home Husker football games.

Jellyfish in the Aquarium at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo.

We did something new for Thanksgiving this year and drove to Dallas, Texas, where Meghan got to see her beloved Cowboys play in AT&T Stadium on Thanksgiving Day.

Sadly, we didn’t get to display this sign much, as Tony Romo went out early with yet another injury.

We spent Christmas at home this year and will welcome in 2016 with a quiet dinner at home, with family and new friends.

We are so grateful for the opportunities we’ve had travel, relax, explore, and learn and don’t take any of this for granted. We’ve really enjoyed blogging about our adventures and cannot thank all of you enough for your comments, shares, reposts, likes, and especially — your postcards. As we close out 2015, and reflect on all of life’s ups and downs, let us leave you with this anonymous quote … “We travel not to escape life, but life to not escape us.”

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year and well-traveled 2016.

Thanks, Piper Family!

Thanks, Piper Family!

Our friends, the Pipers, sent us a postcard this week from one of the best zoos in the world — Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, which is just up the road from us here in Nebraska. This zoo is absolutely amazing and in our opinion, is a must-see U.S. attraction.

The zoo began as a city zoo in 1894 and it wasn’t until 1963 that Margaret Hitchcock Doorly donated $750,000 to the Zoo with the stipulation that the Zoo be named after her late husband, Henry Doorly, chairman of the World Publishing Company.

Since then, the zoo has grown by leaps and bounds and now includes thousands of animals from around the globe, 130 acres of exhibits and gardens. It also includes 7 acres of indoor exhibits such as the Lied Jungle, Desert Dome, and the Scott Aquarium. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo has won dozens of awards over the years and in 2014, was named the #1 Zoo in the World by Trip Advisor.

Looks like the Piper family had a great time at the zoo and we’re happy to see that their daughter, Brynlee, especially enjoyed the giraffes and fish. Her family is making memories that will be with her for a lifetime. Thanks again for sending us a postcard!

We absolutely love seeing where our readers have been and what you’ve enjoyed most about the places you’ve visited. Next time you travel, don’t forget to send us a postcard at Postcard Jar, P.O. Box 334, Crete, NE 68333. We’d love to hear from you.

And, if you’ve been to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, tell us about it in the comment section at the top of this post. What exhibit did you like best? Any tips for people taking kids to the zoo?