Travel Stories: Historic Banning Mills

The following is an account from our Travel Coordinator and her experience on Big Adventures' featured Fall Break trip to Historic Banning Mills.

Five south Georgia middle-aged adventure seekers just returned from a great weekend at Historic Banning Mills, which is located between Newnan and Carrollton, Georgia. It sits on a beautiful gorge with Snake Creek river flowing below. The Historic Banning Mills is an ideal place for those who are looking for adventure, or those who are looking to just soak up nature at a more relaxed pace.   

We all decided to try their most famous adventure, the world’s longest zip line course.  After stopping in downtown Newnan for a quick lunch at Rednexican Restaurant for our choice of great Mexican dishes or BBQ, we checked in for Level 1 & 2 of the zip line course. I had previously done these same 2 levels with my Big Adventure Travel co-workers, so I was able to assure my other baby boomer friends that, “YOU CAN DO IT!”

After a very thorough training, we headed to the start of the course by walking across a slightly intimidating obstacle, a suspension bridge over the parking lot! I think they intentionally built this at the beginning to make sure people don’t get into the middle of the course and panic. This way, if walking on the suspension bridge is too much for you, then you shouldn’t start the course anyway! Everybody made it across, some with more reservation than others. Then one by one, we launched off the 1st platform, zooming above the green, yellow, & red fall canopy of leaves to the other end. Everyone’s confidence increased by the end of the 9 runs in Section 1, we were thinking, “We've got this!”

After a short break back on the ground, we climbed up the steps of the platform for the start of Section 2. This section only has 3 zip line runs, but they are longer, faster, & just more of a thrill than section 1. Our favorite was one with 2 cables so that partners could race. I was ahead of my husband the whole way, but he claimed since he touched the ground 1st he was the winner. I couldn’t see him touch since I was so far ahead still crouched in the air towards the end of the cable! Plus, there is a section of 10 sky bridges in what I would describe as an obstacle course in the air. Everyone is attached to a cable above, so if you should fall, you wouldn’t fall to the ground. We navigated on wooden slats irregularly spaced on 2 big parallel cables as we held on to other cables on each side. Each layout was a little different within this course so it stayed challenging & fun.

It took about 2 ½ hours to complete Levels 1 & 2, so afterwards we checked into our rooms and just chilled for a couple hours. Some couples stayed in the Romantic Creekside Rooms that have front & back decks and overlook the river below. They have a very nice rustic feel on the inside with a beautiful king size poster bed, mini-fridge & a nice corner Jacuzzi for 2.  Other couples stayed in the more basic lodge rooms just uphill, but still with a pretty view of the gorge below.

Friday night we drove to Newnan to eat at the Meet ‘n Greet Restaurant on the square. We were so glad we made reservations as the entire square was packed for their Oktoberfest. We loved the downtown vibe of the packed square that night so we walked to the other side of the courthouse for coffee & dessert before heading back to Banning Mills for a much needed night of sleep.

Saturday morning we all had a hearty country breakfast in the lodge, which is included with our lodging. The men, who are avid golfers, had reservations at Oak Mountain Championship Golf Course, only 10 minutes away. They said it was a good course, with lots of hazards. The rest of us went to the Birds of Prey Show with Master Falconer Dave Arrowhead. It was very entertaining and very informative too!

Then we headed out for the hiking trail that borders the river running through Banning Mills. We all had a blast on this hike, especially walking out onto the many large rock ledges & boulders in the river. One of us even accidently took an unintentional dip in-between the rocks! There are also several remains of the various mills that operated along the river in the old days that make great backdrops for pictures. Several of us decided to try to make our way across the river, so that we could walk back on the other side. It made for a great, but very tiring adventure since we saw no trail at first and had to walk uphill through the brush before we came to a horse path that led us back. After having a picnic lunch on the deck, we headed back across the river, but this time we went over on the 500 ft. high suspension bridge. It was a thrill, but we didn’t see the sign until afterwards that there were surveillance cameras and no bouncing or rocking side to side was allowed. OOPS! On the other side, we peeked into one of the vacant tree house cabins which had their own little suspension bridge entry. Perfect for a romantic getaway! Then we went to the lake where the kayaks were waiting for us to take them out.

After a full day of activity many of our group relaxed the rest of the afternoon, but 2 of us headed to the tennis court. It was covered with leaves, but they called maintenance, who came within 5 minutes to blow it off. There is also a swimming pool in season, putt-putt course, beach volleyball, & the Aerial Adventure Challenge Course close by.

We finished off our great Saturday with a gourmet dinner that we each had pre-reserved at the lodge. It was a nice, intimate setting with excellent service. I was even able to talk to the chef about my dietary restrictions the night before, and he was very willing to accommodate me.

Everyone in our group had a wonderful time at Banning Mills and I believe would like to return. I personally want to come back and do all 4 levels of the zip line as they progressively get longer and more exhilarating.  One especially, called Flight of the Falcon, is up high and travels the length of the gorge. It’s exciting to just watch and listen from the river below as people that look like giant birds screech overhead!

 

If you'd like more information about Banning Mills, please email us at bookings@bigadventures.us/

 

 

Travel Stories: No-Plan New York

**Big Adventures loves to feature real life travel stories from our friends. Following is an account from one of our BA Explorer's Club members and their experience and highlights of a recent trip to New York.


New York City. Those three words elicit thoughts of skyscrapers, bustling cabs, art, culture and fashion. It makes complete sense that NYC makes most people’s travel wish list. I had my first experience in New York City during winter while in high school, and was fascinated by the bright lights and fast pace of the Big Apple. Flash forward several years - and there I was posed with the opportunity to spend five days in July exploring the city again with some of my best friends. There was one catch though.

No plans.

We did very little planning before departing, other than lodging, because we wanted the chance to just wander, explore and appreciate the charming qualities of New York City. Our group had visited most of the tourist-y sites on previous trips.

I wanted to share several highlights from our No-Plan New York Trip that may inspire you for your next adventure in the city.

The High Line

This is by far one of the most interesting linear parks I have ever set foot in. The High Line, located on the West side of Manhattan through the Meatpacking District, was repurposed from train tracks that ceased operation in 1980. The park began development in the 2000’s, with sections opening starting in 2009. The High Line is characterized with an industrial garden feel – sections are still lined with the original railroad tracks, wooden plank walkways and a large variety of greenery and flowers. You can also enjoy a variety of art installations that are spread along the path. Located in the depot are fun stops for coffee, popsicles and other goodies. If you’re interested in great city and water views, and don’t mind a leisurely walk, the High Line is a must see. 

Governor’s Island

It’s amazing to me how undiscovered Governor’s Island still is. Located in New York Bay, Governor’s Island was used as a military base dating back to 1663. For a period of time, the British exclusively used it for New York's royal governors. It homed residences, forts, chapels, a public school and a YMCA, many of which are still standing on the island. The island now serves as a park and has been open to the public since 2003. They have space for bike riding, art installations and exhibits, parks, children’s play areas and festivals. Governor’s Island is accessible during the summer months (May-September in 2016) via Brooklyn or Lower Manhattan by ferry. We caught the ferry below Battery Park for a couple of bucks, and spent the afternoon walking the trails of Governor’s Island. I’m fascinated by history, so visiting the old homes and the fort present on the island was a neat experience. There’s also a hammock park (yes, you read that correctly), which is a great place to lounge if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Plus, get some killer Lower Manhattan, Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge views while you’re at it. 

New York by Boat

If you want to see some of the best view that New York has to offer, I recommend you check into a dinner or dessert cruise around the Hudson River, New York Harbor, and East River. You’ll see landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges and the highlights of various boroughs by sea. Choose evening time sailings for beautiful sunset and city light photos. 

Chelsea Market

New York City is world renown for its food. We happened upon the Chelsea Market on our last day in the city. The building, reclaimed from the National Biscuit Company factory, stands a staggering block long and block wide – full of various restaurants, food vendors and shops. The ultimate foodie paradise. You can find just about anything your heart desires – from coffee, wine and cheese bars, to Indian cuisine, sushi and vegan options, with everything in between. Our choice of the day was Takumi Taco, an incredible, unique fusion of Japanese and Mexican food. We were definitely not disappointed. In fact, I highly recommend their rice bowls and peach iced tea. For dessert, check out the Doughnuttery for delicious, bite-sized doughnuts in a variety of flavors.

Other Food Highlights:

The Butcher’s Daughter. Delicious vegan food and cold pressed juices. Very refreshing food and atmosphere. Locations in Nolita and West Village.

Black Tap. Burgers and shakes. We tried 3 times to visit Black Tap before we managed to get a table, but it was well worth the wait. Locations in Soho and the Meat Packing District.

Birch Coffee. Did someone say cold brew? Stop by for entertaining door signs and a chance to make new friends + sip amazing coffee. Located in the Flat Iron District.

Tappo. New York Pizza. Need I say more? Formaggio Bianco and Big Pineapple were our top two slices. Located in Chelsea West.

 

If you would like more information about adventures in New York, contact us at info@bigadventures.us.

Travel Stories: The Flamenco Hostel

**Big Adventures loves to feature real life travel stories from our friends. Following is an account from one of our BA Explorer's Club members and their experience in Northern Spain. 

 

I am currently living and working overseas, and after weeks of below freezing temperatures and full days of teaching, I decided that it was time for a break. So a few friends and I sat down to plan out a 10 day vacation from life here. We honestly chose our destination by the price of the plane tickets. We knew that would be our biggest expense. So we booked our $200 flight to Spain, packed our clothes in carry-ons, and were ready. There wasn't much planning involved in our trip. We knew we were landing in Madrid, staying the night there, and then thinking about traveling to Northern Spain, to a place called Asturias. 

We landed in Madrid around 10 o’clock and caught a taxi to the hostel that we were staying at. We were ready to start our adventure. Unfortunately, our cab driver did not speak English and we rode in circles for a good 30 minutes before we stopped mixing up our Arabic with the little bit of high school Spanish that we remembered. We downloaded a translating app, and decided that NOW we were ready for our adventure. The cab driver dropped us off at the Way Hostel (highly recommend this place if you are looking for a cheap place to stay in the city http://www.wayhostel.com), a couple of “Gracias’” were exchanged, and we were standing outside of the sketchiest looking building in Madrid. I say sketchy, because all of the windows were painted over in orange, and I could hear music coming from the inside. We all looked at each other, choosing who would sacrifice themselves to walk in first. I pulled up the handle to my suitcase and rolled in through the doors.

Right when I walked inside, I knew this was going to be the best adventure yet. People were in the common room having Flamenco dance lessons. Flamenco is a dance that originated in the southern parts of Spain sometime around 1774, and is still a very popular dance today. The dance includes several parts; singing, guitar playing, dance, clapping, and finger snapping. It is very similar to the dance I learned here in the Middle East, so you could say I was a natural to learning it. (Or not.) The Way Hostel was the furthest thing from sketchy! The atmosphere was fun and the people were wonderful. The Way Hostel host lots of social events every night, so you get the chance to meet backpackers and travelers from all over. Being in a popular tourist city, we were able to use a little bit of English to get around and get to know the others. 

 

If you would like more information about adventures in Spain, contacts us at info@bigadventures.us.

Travel Stories: Sailing Adventure in Guadeloupe

**Big Adventures loves to feature real life travel stories from our friends. Following is an account from one of our BA Explorer's Club members and their experience in the French territory of Guadeloupe, located in the Caribbean.


Sailing on a catamaran in Guadeloupe was a wonderful and unique adventure! I have been on several similar trips in the Caribbean, but Guadeloupe is unique in that it is French and is actually an archipelago of 5 islands among the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. It is a 3 hour direct flight from Miami. If you are interested in discovering all of Guadeloupe, but not by renting a sailboat, you can travel to the out islands by 20-45 minute ferries.

As we left port, I saw the beautiful rain forest and mountainous Basse-Terre to our right. Even though I was excited to be heading to our destination of Les Saintes Isles, I was longing to be able to explore Basse-Terre with it’s volcano, La Soufriere, and 2 long waterfalls that appeared as faint lines from our boat.  (Maybe on another trip!)

After a 3 hour sail, we in Les Saintes, we anchored off of Pain de Sucre beach in Les Saintes Isles, which is formed by 9 small islands, with only 2 inhabited. We spent the afternoon snorkeling and paddleboarding. I actually went the first time on the board with it being backwards, and was wondering why the board kept trying to turn. The fin being in the front was the culprit! That evening, one of our 2 person crew took us by dingy over to another island to hike up to the remnant of a fort where Napoleon’s mistress lived when he would visit Les Saintes. The window is still standing where she stood for him to see her through a telescope from his fort on the adjacent island of Terre-de-Haut.

The window Napoleon used to see his mistress. 

A definite must see in Les Saintes is Les Saintes Bay, listed as one of the most beautiful bays in the world by UNESCO. Three forts were built around the bay by the French, and it was the site of many battles between the French and English. We walked up to Napoleon’s fort and learned a little history in the museum there. Also, it was cool to see the window in the distance where his mistress stood on the adjacent island which I mentioned earlier. We also explored the quaint town of Terre-de-Haut with its French restaurants, cute shops, & narrow streets. I felt like I received a taste of France eating at a great restaurant that night. It also helped that the owner spoke English!

Another highlight was a 3 hour sail back up to the west coast of Basse-Terre to the Cousteau underwater reserve surrounding Pigeon Island for scuba diving and snorkeling. The reefs were in great shape with vibrant red, orange, & yellow coral compared to many places I’ve dove before where the coral is dead. Along with the usual colorful reef fish we saw sea eels and lots of sea turtles!

Our final 2 nights were spent anchored off the most beautiful beach on the island of Marie-Galante which is south of the main island of Guadeloupe. We had a blast tubing behind the dingy. Also, we found 2 old cannons in the water when we snorkeled around the point of the island. We are guessing that they were originally stationed on top of the bluff above the point. Of course, we decided we were the first to discover these cannons only to be told later by our crew that some other sailboat crew had also come upon them.

There are many other activities on Guadeloupe such as zip lining, rappelling, and going on a jeep safari on Basse-Terre, surfing and kite sailing on neighboring Basse-Grande, and touring a rum factory on Marie-Galante. 

 

If you would like more information on planning a trip to Guadeloupe, send us an email at info@bigadventures.us.

 

Apps We Love

Most will agree that technology, the Internet and social media have completely revolutionized daily life. It only makes sense that those things have translated over into the travel industry. Airplanes are beginning to offer WiFi. Tickets are being issued directly to your smartphone. Instagram photos or tweets allow us a glimpse into countries around the world. But even more so, companies and industries are creating apps that assist travellers before, during and after their expeditions. Here at Big Adventure Travel, we’ve chosen 4 of our favorite apps that help you travel smarter.

 

1.     Wunderlist   

The perfect app to help with your pre-trip planning! Most people have shifted from traditional pen-and-paper list making. Wunderlist is a digital list maker perfect for creating packing lists and shopping lists to help you get organized before your next trip. You can share lists with friends, assign tasks and set reminders. Leave necessities at home never again! Best of all, this app is FREE!

 

2.    Whatsapp

This app allows communication with your friends and family via a WiFi connection. Great for international travel, Whatsapp allows you to connect and share messages, photos and videos instantly for FREE. Stay connected wherever you are in the world!

 

3.    Smart Traveler

Smart Traveler is an app sponsored by the US Department of State that makes available information about countries, travel warnings, embassy locations and maps. Through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, travelers can check in with the US embassy of the countries they are traveling to all within the app. Enrolling enables the Department of State to assist you in the event of emergencies, such as natural disasters. Be well prepared in any circumstance with the FREE Smart Traveler App.

 

4.    TripCase

Is it hard to keep your travel plans organized? TripCase is a one-stop app for organizing your trip details into a single itinerary. Users are able to manage flight itineraries, rental car and hotel reservations, allowing for a stress-free travel experience. This app will alert you to changes on flights, give gate information and allow you to share your trip itinerary with your friends and family, all for FREE.

 

Are there any apps that have enhanced your travel experience? We’d love to hear about it at info@bigadventures.us.