Labor Day weekend is often a time of travel, with many people using it to get away and squeeze one last drop out of summer before fall officially arrives in a couple of weeks. For me, however, it was a weekend of rest and relaxation — and planning for my next getaway.
As some friends recently recounted their adventures while camping at the lake over the holiday, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of jealousy in missing out on those experiences. Truth be told, though, I am not a great outdoorsman by any means. My idea of "roughing it" equates to sleeping on an abnormally firm hotel bed that is not my own.
While I may not be the typical adventurer, that doesn't mean I am against exploring. It just so happens that the exploring I prefer to do is in the many noteworthy urban jungles around the country.
I am also a planner, and giving little thought to the Labor Day weekend before it arrived ruled out any last minute excursions. To give you a sense of my commitment to premeditation regarding trips, for music festivals I will print off the schedule once it is announced and color code the concerts (based on my must-see bands, friends' must-see bands and other interesting acts) to provide some semblance of order among the chaotic atmosphere. Before hitting the road, I also usually like to have an itinerary to maximize the opportunity for new experiences in whatever city I am visiting.
This type of planning is something I'm particularly fond of when it comes to destination dining — a responsibility friends and family have come to entrust to me. Researching the go-to restaurants is, quite possibly, one of my favorite parts of the pre-trip process (in another life, I swear I would've been a chef).
For this reason, I am grateful for the opportunity to hit the highway for many of these travels. While the modern amenity of air travel is nice, driving to that getaway location just allows more opportunities for exploration. It is a practice we've employed in our family for our bi-annual reunions with my dad's side of the family — something I've tended to take advantage of recently.
Driving to one reunion in Branson, Missouri, I made sure our route took us through Pittsburg so we could experience the "chicken wars" first-hand. Chicken Annie's certainly didn't disappoint. On another trip out to Kentucky, I made sure we could stop in St. Louis on the way back to eat at a highly-regarded diner known for its milkshakes.
While not a reunion, a family vacation to Jekyll Island, Georgia, warranted a stop in Atlanta on the way back to experience Flip Burgers and the culinary wizardry of former "Top Chef" contestant Richard Blais. Let me just say, that detour exposed me to seven of the best words in the English language — sweet potato tots with burnt marshmallow foam.
Blais is not the only "Top Chef" alum whose establishment I have made it a point to visit, as my last trip to Chicago warranted meals establishments of "Top Chef Masters" Rick Bayliss and Art Smith — the latter serving up the best chicken and waffles I've ever had.
Food is not the focal points of these trips, I swear — though I will admit that a recent list of the best state fair foods in the U.S. did warrant such a discussion in the newsroom — and I realize that many of these cities have much more to offer. That's why I try to plot out my course ahead of time.
Though I still haven't made it to Navy Pier in three trips to Chicago, my last visit afforded me the chance to take a tour of the Half-Acre Brewery as well as see a variety show at a staple of the comedy landscape, The Second City. Even though that last bit of exploring nearly ended in a long trek back to my hotel (due to unfamiliarity with the Chicago transit schedules), it was well worth it.
Currently, I am setting a course for Denver in mid-October with my sister and brother-in-law. There, some exploration of the natural world may be in store, but I'm already deep into my research on what else the city has to offer, from food to entertainment — with the primary objective of attending a concert — and more. If you have any suggestions, I'm all ears, and ready for the new experiences in store.
-Kelly Breckunitch is a general assignment/county reporter for The Kansan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.