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Top 10 List of Things To Do in Havana, Cuba!

1. Visit the capital building, El Capitolio, in central Havana !

You can’t miss the capital building during a trip to Havana. Most likely, you will pass the building several times on various cab rides. It is quite easy to work into your plans and is in a very pedestrian friendly area with plenty of shops, hotels, and restaurants nearby. We were immediately struck with its similarity to the US Capitol, but it is not exactly the same and has more color and character. It is, however, very similar. As you can see above, the capital is under construction and has been since 2013. The building’s restoration is a slow process to be used for Cuba’s National Assembly.

You might find it hard to get tickets at the last minute during a peak travel season, so you can plan ahead and get tickets for the tour a day or so in advance. We were lucky and found a guided tour with two spots. Tickets were about $4 per person with the guided tour. We highly recommend using the guide, which was both in Spanish and English. We learned that women make up nearly half the National Assembly! There were lots of questions being asked and the guide was able to answer each one. We were very pleased with the quality of the experience and the break from the heat!

2. Almacenas San Jose Artisans’ Market is a essentially a flea market on the water, a great stop!

If you are looking for souvenirs, this is the perfect one-stop shop. We aren’t really into buying the typical tourist items when we travel, but this place was more than just a tourist trap. It was very pedestrian friendly, filled with local artists, had great food, and a perfect location for a stop. You can find anything from cheap souvenirs and beautiful, original art.

There is something for everyone at Almacenes San Jose Artisans’ Market. We were out of cash by the time that we made it over there, so we weren’t really looking to bring home a large piece. Instead, we opted for some photographs which we will frame back home as a memento of our trip! This way, we travel lighter, save money, but still supported the local art scene.

3. Be sure to see Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana, the national art museum!

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana, Museum site photo

The museum is easily located and very near the Plaza de la Revolucion. You can easily see both in the same day. Consisting of two buildings, one dedicated to Cuban artists and one to universal art, you will see a huge diverse selection of pieces. The substantial scope of local art was incredible considering the size of Cuba. This museum was easily our favorite in Havana.

The interactive exhibit above was one of several experiences that really made the museum come to life. There were no instructions, and you simply encountered the experience on your own. The headphones shared various pieces of music which correlated to performing artists on video. Below are a few of our favorite pieces from the afternoon!

The entry fee is low, even the tourist rate is lower than we expected at around $5 per person. You can also get a guide in either Spanish or various other languages for an additional $2-$3 at certain times. We suggest at least two hours as it is a substantial museum with several interactive experiences.

4. Venture to Vinales!

We had an amazing experience with a day trip booked through Air BNB. A taxi picked us up at our casa particular early in the morning and we headed on the long but nice drive to Vinales. (Our taxi was a large vehicle, but at six feet tall Brian absolutely did not fit in the back seat. It would have been fine for a short trip to city center, but to drive a longer distance it was very uncomfortable and he eventually moved up front. If you are tall, be sure to get a larger taxi or sit in the front!) Vinales is a tiny village, but you can chose to spend the night out there as well. It is very quaint. We saw a tabacco plantation, took a horse ride in the mountains, saw a massive painting, and went a boat ride through a river cave. The food and drinks every where were very, very tasty and fresh. They crushed the sugar cane right in front of us to make the drinks.

Our entire trip included absolutely everything for about $85 per person. We felt this was a great bargain and enjoyed that we didn’t have to do any planning at all. We also paid before leaving the US, so we didn’t have to spend much cash at all on this day. It was a great way to pay for something ahead of time that didn’t require using our little supply of cash once we were there. Through Air BNB’s site, you can send questions back and forth with information for pick up, etc. However, because cell service is very, very minimal, this could have posed issues. Luckily, we found a cafe with free Internet where we were able to confirm our details the day before. We did hear about other groups who weren’t so lucky.

5. Cannon ceremony at Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabana was a brilliant surprise!

After we arrived in Havana, we made a relaxing plan for our first night. The owner of our house for the week highly suggested dinner in the city and then seeing the ceremonial firing of the cannons. You will need to take a cab to the other side of the bay, which is about $10 for the short ride. Our driver was willing to meet us again afterwards, so we didn’t have to look for another cab. We ended up splitting the ride back with some Europeans to save money, which worked out well! You can pay a small fee to tour the fort, which was, well, a fort and interesting but not too much to see. There were lots of vendors everywhere. Then, we headed to see the ceremony. Everyone was crowding around the cannons quite tightly, and ended up on the side of the fort quite close to the edge, and there was no wall. If we had gotten there earlier, we definitely would have found a different vantage point. However, we did get to see everything easily. A group of men in the military dress in period costume and sing about the tradition. They have various military exercises and march during the singing. Then, promptly at 9pm, they light a cannon and shoot it into the bay every night like clockwork.

The ceremony is historic and is a recreation of a tradition where a cannon was fired to let the city know the gates would be closing, and the city would be safe from pirates for the night. It is a colonial ceremony and one of the oldest traditions in Cuba. We were surrounded both by tourists and Cubanos eager to watch. The energy was exciting and made a great first night in Havana! You simply cannot miss El Canonazo de las Nueve!

6. Plaza de la Revolucion and El Museo de la Revolucion was a unique experience as an American!

We weren’t really sure what to expect, but it is hardly a trip to Cuba without visiting this museum. Housed in the palace of the former president, the museum wasted no time in proudly sharing the history of the Cuban revolution, interference of foreign powers, and reverence for its leaders from the past and present. There is a large indoor portion of the museum which is dedicated to the history of Cuba including pre-Columbian culture, through the fight against Batista, to society today. Then, another portion of the museum, pictured below, is an outdoor area with planes, tanks, boats, etc used in the revolution.

In the center is the small boat which brought 80 revolutionaries, including Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, from Mexico to Cuba. The planes and tanks were used in various important moments in military history of Cuba and each had explanations and information about the history of the piece.

The museum costs about $4, and we recommend at least one hour but we took two! There was so much to see and read, and it was quite an education to hear another narrative about your own country, which we, of course, expected. Brian has experienced living in communist countries, but this was a first for Candace. You simply can’t go to Cuba, without an experience like this one! The museum is part of the Plaza de la Revolucion. The square is commanded by the massive memorial tower to Jose Marti, standing over 350 feet tall, which is in front of the government buildings.

The square stretches out to the sea and the Malecon, making it a great part of your day on this side of Havana. You can easily walk to the sea and to the National Fine Art Museum, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.

7. Callejon de Hamel offers the most colorful moment in Havana!

Everywhere you look around this little street is packed with vibrant art and the joyful people of Cuba! It is really just a narrow alley but simply packed with the beautiful taste of local culture. It is an Afro-Cuban style from artist Salvador Escalona.

The alley is a small and beautiful little moment in Havana that you don’t want to miss. Our guide also said that this is a hub for practicing Santeria, a widely practiced religion in Cuba. Plan for about thirty minutes to see the alley, and there is no cost associated with it. It is located between Calles Espada and Aramburu.

8. Explore the local neighborhoods on a walking or bike tour!

Whenever you find yourself in a new city, it can be very helpful to get an overview on a bus tour or with a local guide. Unlike many other major world cities, there was no clear system for easy public access to a typical tour of this type. We booked the tour through Air BNB before our departure from the US, which was also great because we could pay in advance and save the all important cash while in the country. We arrived in a neighborhood early and selected among quality bikes. Brian was a bit bored with the 4-5 hour tour and was happy to escape with the guide toward the end and race down hills with technical turns. Candace was more interested in a leisurely tour and stayed with the group. We were able to see the University of Havana, a small art district Callejon de Hamel (described previously), Plaza de la Revolucion, some local parks, and get a general idea of the layout of the city and some places where we wanted to return later. While it was a great exposure to the city on our first full day in Havana, we would have chosen a slightly shorter tour if we returned for this particular excursion.

9. Walk and dine down Calle Obispo or O’Reilly!

The colors, the people, the vitality of Havana is intense down Obispo or O’Reilly streets. There are several ways to get there, but it is anchored by El Floridita, the famous bar (which is overrun by tourists like no other place we saw), and the second location of the National Art Museum. So, you can take a taxi to these spots and just start walking. The tourists shops are tucked in among local stores and markets which makes the experience unique to other shopping districts in major cities as locals are completely around you everywhere you go. This a great place for people watching, a good meal, some live music, and Internet!

While we love to unplug during travel, it is helpful to check on the family after a few days and confirm your bookings for various excursions. We found a cafe with free Internet, a terrace, and a great lunch offering. It was the perfect reprieve from the heat, and we were glad for the opportunity to have a mojito and message the family back home. There were several of these cafes but they aren’t necessarily widely advertised, so just ask around and read the signage. Another key thing to look for is shade! Just on the other side of the street, people looked miserable on the balcony with the sun glaring down on them, but we were quite comfortable in the shade.

10. Meet the locals!

When in Havana, the people will absolutely be a highlight of your trip. Everywhere we went, the locals were incredibly kind and welcoming. Our tour guides were all studying or teaching at the university as biologists or engineers. In fact, just about everyone we met in the tourism industry was a doctor, lawyer, or chemist and had multiple advanced degrees. They told us that it was a quite hard to make money in Havana, and this was their way to get ahead. Most worked 7 days per week. One of our guides described his goal of getting hot water in his house. This made it very important to tip. Cash is a great way to give these hard-working people your gratitude for sharing their beautiful city. While you won’t meet very many people in the streets who speak English, any guide will have excellent skills. Candace’s Spanish speaking skills were very helpful in navigating the city, negotiating cab fare, and understanding prices and directions, but we had no issues communicating with everyone in the tourism industry. Some were eager to question American politics and better understand the American mentality toward Cuban, but most were just happy to share their country and their hearts with us. Everyone went above and beyond to make sure we felt comfortable, knew where to go, and left wanting to come back. We are so eager to return with our boys one day soon!

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10 tips for visiting Havana, Cuba, from toilets to taxis!

1. The city is a maze, and there are no standard addresses!

Throughout Havana, there are five majors neighborhoods Centra Habana, Habana del Este, La Habana Vieja, Miramar, and Vedado. Although the city is easy to walk around and not very big, you can easily get lost if you are expecting to see clear addresses. Here is a picture of the general area of our casa particular where we stayed (more on that later!).

There are essentially no house numbers, so every address is a combination of streets and side streets. You can see in the image above that the address is made up of two streets and no clear numbers. Also, cell service is not reliable at all, so your driver will likely roll down a window and ask people on the street for advice if he or she doesn’t know the area.

2. Toilets (well, maybe)

Occasionally, you will get a western toilet at a restaurant or museum in the city, but be prepared for anything! Sometimes, it is a more of a hole in the ground than a toilet, and you will often need to bring your own toilet paper.

There may also be someone standing outside the bathroom. This means you need to pay to use the toilet. Some change is usually enough, but this is considered a tip for the person and often it means they will give you some toilet paper. The very most important thing – do NOT flush the toilet paper EVER. This is common in many countries, and a vital rule in Cuba. At first, Candace was worried it would be a huge odor issue, but in the nicer areas and certainly in hotels, this is not the case. However, yes, it can be very smelly, and some parts of town have a poo smell in the air. Sorry, no other way to describe it.

3. Casa particular over a hotel any day!

We read a lot about what to expect and where to stay before we headed to Havana, and we opted for an Air BNB spot, La Llave del Golfo for less than $50 per night! Hotels are certainly much more expensive, and you get a very sanitized experience. Whereas, in a casa particular, you are staying among the people of Havana in a local house. It is basically a bed and breakfast. We wouldn’t have it any other way. We also LOVED having a private pool to cool off in the evening. It is very, very hot in Cuba in the spring, summer, and fall, with a small reprieve for winter. It was amazing to come back and dip in the pool. At this house, we were also able to order dinner and eat a homemade Cuban meal for a great price every night. The owner of the home took care of everything for us and gave us great advice all the time. We simply adored the home. It was historic, clean, massive, safe, and located just outside the city. While cab fare each day was a lot more expensive than we expected (easily $30 per day), we still would chose this spot again. When looking to save money, you should consider cab fare as part of your expenses if you want to stay outside the city. While the nightly rate will be less, you will spend the money every day getting into Havana anyway. We loved having a cheap beer and a mojito cold and waiting for us as soon as we walked in the door each night. The stay also included a fresh, hot breakfast every morning whenever we wanted it. One morning, we had to leave very early, so a neighbor came over to put on the coffee for us. They have a great system, and we felt very lucky to have found this casa particular La Llave del Golfo.

4. Taxis can be tricky.

Yes, you can pay for a taxi in one of these vintage cars that is in pristine condition. They will drive you anywhere you want to go, but you will pay a lot! However, basically every taxi is a vintage car, so you will ride in one that is in good condition for a much more reasonable fare. A 15-20 minute drive was around $10. You can also get a Coco Taxi, which looks like a coconut (pictured below).

These are a little cheaper and get around quite easily, but it is also just fun to have a ride in a coconut shaped taxi. Unfortunately, we did have one taxi driver try to take advantage of us and charge $50 for a trip where he intentionally took us to the wrong museum. We simply refused to pay. We paid him a fair rate, and then we walked into the museum. We weren’t sure if there would be any issues with this, but he simply drove away. That is absolutely the only situation we observed or experienced where we felt unsafe or cheated. You can ask your hotel or casa particular for advice about how much to pay. They will also book your taxi for you if that makes you more comfortable.

5. There is a tourist rate at most places.

In order to support the locals, there is a tourist rate at most museums and important buildings. It is drastically more than the local rate; however, we were happy to pay. Most locals have very, very little income on a monthly basis, so these important parts of their culture would not be available to them without this cheaper rate. In general, the rates were what you might expect for a quality art museum in any major city. We paid around $7-$10 entry for most of the places we saw. Stay tuned to hear more about each stop!

6. Americans can NOT get cash. Bring lots of cash!

Airport Currency Exchange, Havana

Once you land in Havana, you can go to the airport to exchange your currency. We typically take about $100 per day when we travel abroad, but then we can typically supplement with Visa for larger purchases or expensive meals. However, this will NOT be an option for Americans in Cuba. Seriously, it is not possible. We unwisely assumed that it might be difficult but not impossible. Nope, it is impossible to use American credit cards or debit cards literally anywhere. You must bring cash. We don’t buy tourist items, and we don’t eat at fancy restaurants more than once on a trip. We needed more like $150-$200 per day to cover entry into museum, cab fare, lunch or dinner, drinks, small items, and tips. Cab fare will eat up your cash fast, so you should definitely plan for that as well. If you are not American, then you will be able to use a bank kiosk in town to get cash from your bank. Also, some places will take your credit card. The exchange rate for the dollar is quite poor as they basically charge an extra 20% fee for American currency. It is much better to exchange your dollars for euros and then carry euros to the airport where you can get local currency. We know this is an extra step, but it will save you a huge amount of money in the long run, especially if your bank stateside will do the currency exchange for free.

7. Stray cats and dogs are everywhere.

The dogs and cats are certainly all over Havana, but they aren’t a nuisance. They are polite and seem to understand an unwritten rule that they can not beg for food or jump on you. They were happy to get a little bit of sandwich, and they locals also look out for them in the streets. We did donate a bit of cash to a local effort to care for the strays. Consider sharing your leftovers with the local creatures!

8. Food prices vary greatly.

Check out this local menu! You won’t find prices this cheap in the center of Havana, but this was just outside the city center. CUC is the column you will use as it is the tourist currency. One CUC is more or less $1, so the prices are much better than we expected for food. Of course, you can also go to a more upscale rooftop restaurant in downtown Havana (which we highly recommend) and pay a little more for a good dinner and drinks.

We really enjoyed the shade from the other buildings, and the great mix of locals and tourists from all over the world in this little restaurant recommended by the owner of our casa particular. We tried several local drinks, and the had the waiter bring whatever he recommended. It was about $50 for a few courses and drinks.

9. Don’t be afraid to try new foods!

We had tons of fresh seafood, which was always well prepared and often had citrus flavors and herbs. We had Cuba libre (Coke, rum, and lime), mojitos, (rum, sugar, lime, soda water, and mint), and local beers each day, and we never had a bad drink. Ask for recommendations and try daily specials. Most places have a small menu where they rotate the offering based on what is available and fresh in the market that day. You can find familiar foods like a sandwich, but we enjoyed just about everything we tried. Don’t expect food drenched in sauces or constantly fried, because you won’t find much of that in Cuba. The foods are freshly made, simple, and delicious.

10. Don’t miss out on a Cuban cigar!

Brian got a lesson on how to smoke a cigar like a Cuban! They were very impressed with his ability to turn the cigar and keep a long ash, which is apparently the sign of an experienced smoker. We also learned that some Cubans like to dip their cigars in a bit of local honey. We have brought this tradition back home with us! At the time of our travel, you could bring back 50 cigars per person. Check the rules to see what the rules are when you plan to head out to Cuba. We paid $4 per cigar at the plantation, but prices were much higher in the city. And, many sellers are tricking tourists with fake cigars. Be sure to study up a bit if you aren’t sure how to spot the fakes. They told us to feel the texture for a soft exterior and press down to ensure the cigar gives a bit and does not have a crunching sound, a key sign of a fake. Back at our casa particular, the owner said he could get us a cheaper rate directly from a friend, but we were short on cash by the end of our trip and weren’t able to buy the maximum.

Check us out on social media! Send us your questions about Cuba!

4 New Favorite Finds for May 2020 COUNTDOWN!

We are asked a lot about our favorite products to take on our many RV trips. Here is the first installation of our new monthly post about all of our favorite finds! These items have slowly made our RV experience so much easier! We love finding these amazing products and sharing them!

Countdown to our favorite items begins!

#4 Tongue Latch Lock

As soon as we take the truck off, this lock goes on! Crime is usually based on convenient opportunity. A simple lock like this is easy and a great deterrent. It is stored on the side storage compartment with our other setup gear. Brian is a security expert, so this is a cheap and easy way to make a big difference. Encourage a criminal to move on with an easy deterrent like this one!

Link here: https://amzn.to/2LiXiUu

#3 “Stinky Slinky” Bumper End Caps

Game changing!! As we prepare to leave a park, we simply put the sewer hose in the bumper and allow it to continue airing out as we drive. You use these end caps to allow airflow through the hose while you’re driving. Brian added an extra step by drilling a hole through the skirting and one through the top of the endcap in order to secure the item. This is a brilliant way to air out the hose and reduce contact with other items in your storage area. This switch is easy and perfect for our travels!

Link here: https://amzn.to/3ctyx3N

#2 LED Flares

These back up friendly flares will help anyone pull and conveniently to a spot at night (or during the day). Unfortunately, we have a bad habit of finding ourselves trying to squeeze into complicated spots late at night especially on our long-haul trips. These LED flares seriously helped reduce confusion and frustration in the process. So easy to use! There is a reason this product has only 5 star reviews. It is brilliant. We can’t stress enough how much easier your park set up will become.

Link here: https://amzn.to/2WpEzgb

#1 Liquid Tank Deodorizer

We have told you about this great product before, but we like these small single use bottles better than the packets. The packets worked great for a long time, but recently some waster must’ve gotten into the compartment, and it’s just a huge mess of semi open packets. The single use bottles make it much easier. You just open it up and put the liquid through the sink furthest away from your grey tank. Just let it sit until your next adventure, and it will clean and deodorize your tanks while you’re gone.

Link here: https://amzn.to/3cDess5

These are our May 2020 discoveries! What are your favorite RV products?

A Perfect Mother’s Day at Ray Roberts Lake State Park

We had a great long weekend at Ray Roberts State Park! The drive from the Houston area was pretty long, but we loved the chilly weather in May (love of 44!), and the water in every direction!

There are numerous sections in Ray Roberts Lake State Park, but the main two are Johnson Branch and Isle du Bois. Each has its pros and cons!

Isle du Bois Unit

The facilities as well as the main beach area of this portion of the state park are closed at this time of quarantine. All use was day use only although many people sort of claimed camping areas for their picnic. We liked seeing the camping spots with heavy shade as well as others allowing more sun. The idea of sleeping in a tent on a Texas summer night seems impossible without heavy shade.

These are both in the Hawthorne camping area. Every campsite is a short walk to the lake water. Water visibility was not too bad at about 2 feet or so. The water is more clear than many other Texas area state parks and does have a nicer light color.

This trail map is from the unit on the south side of the lake, but both main park areas have extensive mountain biking available. The courses are very long and have a range of ability levels from beginner to expert. They are DORBA rated trails!

Johnson Branch Unit

We preferred the Johnson Branch unit because it seemed more updated and well taken care of. Also, the beach and all the facilities are open! It is a little further north from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so that may be the reason for fewer people being in the park. There is a massive playground right on the lake near the beach area.

Lone Oak RV Park

Since the state parks are still closed for overnight use, we opted for this small and older RV park at just $30 per night. It has full hook ups and many sites are pull through sites. Unless you have a very small rig, do not get number 26. It absolutely has the best view in the park, but it is simply impossible to get a larger rig into. This park is extremely close to the State Park boat ramp access as well as access to the large Johnson Branch unit of the state park.

We had a great Mother’s Day weekend!

5 Fresh Ideas – Meal Planning for your Weekend Away!

We all love those burgers and hot dogs, but it can get old if you are going to the same meals every time you head out for a trip. These are a few unexpected options that we LOVE on our RV trips. Yes, of course, we still love a good burger on the grill, but these are great options for something different. Candace calls it “semi-homemade.” Each of these can be prepared in just a few minutes with little effort.

1. Chicken Sliders with “Cane’s” Sauce

These are a huge hit! Just prepare the chicken sliders as directed and add them to the Hawaiian rolls with a pickle and some sauce. These are from HEB, but many different types will work just fine. We have always loved the sauce from a local restaurant called Cane’s Chicken Fingers, so Candace has been perfecting her own version for years. She uses mayo and ketchup (2 to 1), then you season with garlic powder, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire to taste. It is amazing! The pickle here is a key ingredient. We like Claussen the best.

2. Chicken Sausage with Pasta

Again, this meal will feel like you worked a long time in the kitchen, but it is easy, healthy, and tastes great. You can also substitute the pasta for zucchini or other veggies if you are watching those carbs. Just slices up the chicken sausage (this one is from Trader Joe’s), and then lightly brown it in a saucepan. Simmer with the tomato sauce and add the prepared pasta. Easy!

3. Gyoza Soup

This is easily our favorite meal. It is healthy, filling, and delicious! It may sound unusual, but this is very similar to a wonton soup at a typical Chinese restaurant. The dumplings are like a potsticker. We fell in love with gyoza during our trip to Japan, and we have brought the tradition home!

These ingredients are from Trader Joe’s, but you can find similar items anywhere. Just prepare the dumplings as directed, and then add the broth and bring to a simmer. It makes an amazing soup! You can easily substitute chicken broth as well, also phenomenal. This edamame is brilliant and easy. We can’t get enough. I was shocked at how low calorie this meal can be!

4. Orange Chicken with Jasmine Rice

Ok, sorry, y’all. No substitutions here. You MUST get this rice and orange chicken from Trader Joe’s. Candace finds all other frozen Asian meals very sub par. This stuff is award winning and quite famous for a reason. You will love it. Either bake or pan fry as directed. Then, you similar microwave the rice. We swear it will come up moist and sticky just like the best rice out there. It is a game changer.

5. Steam in a bag veggies!

Chips may be convenient, but they can get old fast. Steam in bag vegetables are awesome as a side to just about any dish. We eat everything from cauliflower and broccoli to sugar snap peas and butter nut squash. It couldn’t easier, and you feel so much better than when you eat processed foods.

What are your unexpected go-to meals in the RV?

Stay tuned for more ideas for breakfast!

The Perfect Little RV Park!

We have simply loved our weekend away in Bastrop, Texas! There are so many state parks nearby, and the local parks are amazing too. We can swim, hike, fish, and camp all while maintaining social distancing. We really wanted to stay somewhere near the city, so we found the perfect secluded spot – The Pines RV Park!

Here is their website: www.thepinesrv.com

The massive, towering pines give heavy shade to several spots in the small park. It is literally across the street from Bastrop State Park and its Lost Pines. The park is right off the highway, which means it is very accessible but you do get some road noise. We left the door open with just the screen last night and were able to sleep just fine. So, yes, there is some noise, but it isn’t bad.

There is a main building complete with all the basics you need: a large fridge, sitting area, shower, and commercial laundry. Everything was done virtually! We booked, communicated with the owner, paid, and got our access codes without ever interacting with anyone. This makes it completely possible to remain socially distant while experiencing nature and the outdoors!

Each spot had lots of space and the park was completely quiet during our stay. Because it is quite small, you really don’t hear much from the neighbors, which is exactly what we needed! It was very inexpensive at $40 for most sites and $45 for the larger pull through space. The park is very new and clearly well-cared for and maintained. There is a park host on site if you need anything, but we resolved everything through text with the owner. We will certainly be back!

A Hidden Gem! Bastrop, Texas

As we looked for an escape from the bustling city of Houston, Bastrop seemed like a perfect getaway – not too far from home and numerous state parks nearby. However, we had no idea what an amazing “small” town it would be be. With a population of just over 7,000, Bastrop has something for everyone. As you know, we love state parks, and there are two in the city and many within an easy drive.

So often, the quaint downtown area of small towns is half empty with a few good shops and several closed up for years, NOT in Bastrop! Every shop has been updated while maintaining the historic character of the city. There are restaurants, beer gardens, shops, salons, art galleries, and more. We loved driving down Main street and checking out everything.

Just off Main street, you will find Fisherman’s Park. We didn’t really know what to expect and really just ended up here because we headed out to the lake after the main park had closed. We accidentally found this magical spot! The boys could get their feet wet on the sandy beach and Candace could fish for hours. There was not a soul in sight. The park is large with options for picnic, BBQ, volleyball, fishing, kayaking, boating, and more. We watched the sunset and splashed around for hours. As the sun went down, we watched hundreds of fireflies light up the park. It was magical!

We enjoyed the best Mexican food at Casa Chapala. From table side prepared salsa to queso flameado, it was memorable and delicious meal. We were stuffed and took home a massive box of leftovers. Highly recommended. Perhaps even better than the food… the ambience!

We stayed at a small RV park directly across the street from Bastrop State Park since the state parks are all still closed for overnight use. The Pines RV Park was perfect. It is small but has everything you need. At $45 per night for the premium site, the price was right!

Bastrop and Buescher State Parks are both in Bastrop. These two parks are basically connected, but they are two separate parks. Also, McKinney Falls State Park (pictured below) is an easy driving distance. Numerous other state parks are a quick drive away for day use, which is PERFECT during the quarantine where all Texas state parks are open for day use only.

We came for the state parks, but we will be back for so many reasons! Everything is close by and accessible, the charm of the town is undeniable, and nature abounds! Until next weekend…

Looking for an escape that has the city amenities but the seclusion of the country? Look no further!

During this epidemic, we were looking for an opportunity to get outside while remaining socially distant. The state parks are only open for day use, and you definitely need reservations in advance. We decided to stay at a small RV park in Bastrop, Texas as so many state parks are in driving distance. We headed out to McKinney Falls State Park today to experience the water and serenity of nature!

The river and the massive trees of the park were a welcome escape from our daily lives stuck at home for the last six weeks in Houston. When we arrived around 6pm, there were about 20 people there, many with kids and dogs. However, by 7pm, we were ALONE on a Friday night in the Austin city limits. A couple came by to fish briefly and then by 8pm we saw maybe one more family. It was glorious. We really didn’t expect such a great and secluded experience.

The boys were able to coax Candace into water after a little awhile. The water had very good visibility, and you can see about two feet or a little more into the water. There were minnows everywhere, and we heard there is great bass fishing. No time for that this trip, however.

The large open pool turned into a smaller, more secluded river area where we could skip rocks and explore the banks. The dog was not happy that she wasn’t allowed in the water! She just cries from the banks because her family is too far away! We always have to leave one person behind to calm her down, which never works.

Jumping from the rocks into the falls was a welcome afternoon of fun! We came to scope out the place for a future longer stay where we can take the boys into Austin for some museums and capital building tours. For now, the day use will have to work.

Both boys loved leaping from the rocks. We were so surprised that the water from the falls was warm. It is small enough that most kids are happy to jump, but large enough that it is definitely a fun experience. The rocks were about 9-10 feet from the pool. While they are both good swimmers, they like wearing the life jackets. It is really a good idea anytime you are in a new water environment, especially one with slippery rocks and flowing waters.

We stayed at Upper Falls for our afternoon, but there is another section called Lower Falls. We decided to save this experience until next time. If you are looking for a great escape for the afternoon, we definitely recommend McKinney Falls State Park! If you are looking for the weekend, you need to book your day passes a couple of weeks in advance as it does book up. Enjoy!

It’s Bluebonnet Time, Y’all!

Why do we take pictures in bluebonnets one Texas? Cuz we’re Texan, y’all!

It’s true! We really do this with our families during the spring!

There are certainly regions of Texas that don’t have these flowers in the spring, but it’s the state flower. So, it’s iconic everywhere. The Hill Country is probably the most well known for them.

Are there snakes?

Well, maybe, but we don’t care. Make a lot of noise. Snakes will get away from you. We are used to snakes, and we only a few people who’ve ever been bit. Be smart, and you’ll be fine!

Aren’t there red ones too?

Indian Paint Brushes look very similar and often grow in the same areas. We love too. They are incredibly soft but strong. They are both very common in the spring.

Where do you find them?

You can literally pull over off the highway around March-April and just take pictures! This was literally next to a tractor dealership. Doesn’t get more Texan than that!

Buying an RV?: Navigating the Dealership Traps

Hello everyone! We bought our second RV last year, and we wanted to share some tips with you. There will certainly be a variety of opinions on this, but here is our experience.

1. Find a great sales person who is also an RV enthusiast!

Honestly, we worked with two sales people and the difference was clear. One loved camping and RVs and one was a lackluster sales person. You will just get a very different experience from the two. You want someone who will honestly answer your questions and really help you through it all. Then, stick with that person! Please don’t buy on their day off. This means they will likely split the commission with someone else who didn’t help you through the process. The dealership will tell you it is fine because they want to close the deal, but it is not fine. If you loved your sales person, buy with that person!

2. Your truck/vehicle might be too small!

We don’t recommend only hearing from the dealership on this one. They want to sell you an RV. Ask your truck dealer and read more about this before making a decision. Can our F150 technically pull our 32 ft Coleman. Yes, it can. Will it be fine to drive around flat areas in the general region? Yes, it is fine. Should we have driven through the mountains of California, the deserts of Arizona, and the long haul from Texas to NYC. No, we should not have done that. We needed an F250. We recommend that you consider a vehicle that can EASILY pull your unit. Do NOT go with something that can barely make the weight on paper. You will regret it in the long run, especially if you have big trips planned.

3. Prepare for a major sales pitch after you have already picked your RV!

Yep, we were pushed very, very hard to buy an additional warranty, special insurance, and a coating for the RV. Candace is the researcher (she literally has a doctorate, not in RVs, but you get the idea). So, she was not going to be hard sold in the dealership. She collected the materials, went home, researched everything, and then came back the next day to close. Look, there are lots of opinions out there, but we didn’t buy anything they were offering. We decided that we could do the clear coat ourselves, and we didn’t read good reviews about the special insurance or warranty. In the end, we didn’t do the clear coat at all because our RV, Millie Falcon, is parked under a metal structure when we aren’t there.

4. Interest rates are terrible for “luxury” items like an RV.

Just mentally prepare that you aren’t going to get a good rate, and they are probably going to convince you to take a longer term than you should. Please research this yourself. How long have you planned for this? How long will you really keep it? Where are you storing it? If this is a bit of a whim, please don’t do a 15 year note. You will be upside down forever. We got a bargain deal on a brand new 32 foot Coleman for under 20k. You can find others much cheaper. Get into a unit that gets you on the road! Don’t fret over getting the golden unit of your dreams if it is out of your price range. We have our dream unit in mind too, but it is really large and we want to wait until we have a massive truck to pull that thing! Just get out there!

5. You will have to spend extra money to even take the RV home. Plan between $600-$1,000 or so!

Basically, you can’t leave the lot without insurance and a way to tow your unit. Add the insurance and get whatever you need for towing. We strongly recommend a sway system. This will make a dramatic difference in your truck’s towing performance and overall safety. You can buy it at the dealership, but you can “YouTube certify” yourself and buy on Amazon to save money. These are a couple of items that you absolutely must purchase, but stay tuned for another post with more details! Here are two quick items that you basically must have to use your RV!

Here is the sway system we have for our 32 foot Coleman:

Here is the RV septic hose we have:

Long Term Stay… Take 2!

After the cancellation of the beloved the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, we had to change our plans. we are very glad to report that the amazing management team at Lakeview RV resort in Houston willingly prorated our stay at the park. I imagine quite a few other rodeo guests also received refunds at great cost to the company. We deeply appreciate this gesture of goodwill and will be back again next year.

We really enjoyed the resort from ping pong to pool time! Candace ran the crushed granite track a few times, and we used the outdoor kitchen several times. The place is amazing!

Since the schools are closed and everyone is being encouraged to work remotely during the outbreak of this vicious virus, we have brought Millie the TT up to our land in the country! Brian is on week three staying here, and Candace and the boys are starting week two. We think one month counts as a long-term stay. No idea if there is an actual measurement out there!

All of our amazing state parks in Texas are still open, so get out there and enjoy nature while we social distance ourselves! We have enjoyed some great family hikes and runs during our semi-quarantine.

We invested in a few additional items for the RV for this long stay. Stay tuned, and we will let you know what worked and what didn’t!

5 things we learned booking our first long term stay!

With the massive Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo coming up, we decided to take the opportunity to book a place near downtown Houston – for a month! Brian works a lot at the rodeo, and Candace and the boys love to head in for the day to experience the excitement and energy of the space. For those who don’t know, millions of people attend the rodeo. It is HUGE in Texas. Also, there is so much to see and do in Houston! We are planning a ton of activities around town, so stay tuned for updates about our travels. We learned some seriously hard lessons in the booking process!

#1 Read the fine print.

We did some quick research on RV parks in the region, and as you can imagine, there are not a ton of choices near the city center. We did some quick comparisons, and we decided to hold a lot at the one nearest to the rodeo. It wasn’t too expensive, but as soon as they sent over the booking information, we knew it wasn’t going to work! With no amenities other than being close in proximity, we were going to be charged drastically more because it was a special event date range. So, we called back and said “never mind,” and then they insisted that we pay $100 cancellation fee even though it clearly states that the fee is $10. Well, apparently, it is $100 during special events. Key word here: during. The even is a month away!? We were NOT happy. We had spent hours writing emails, calling the credit card company, and trying to speak to the owner. We aren’t posting the name of the park because they did eventually make it right. Needless to say, ask a million questions before booking or even holding a spot.

#2 Reputable chains often also come with professionalism and safety.

After the first debacle, we widened our search and found something really nice only four miles away! They are part of a reputable chain, and we have stayed in their parks before and loved it. They were clean, well-maintained, have laundry, pool, etc. Very, very nice place and CHEAPER than the previously mentioned park. We highly recommend Quality RV Resorts, and they have many locations around Houston.

Here is their main website:

http://www.qualityrvresorts.com

They have just about everything you would want during a long stay. We can expect our unit to be safe and the area to be well-maintained in this highly populated major city location. Quite literally, millions of people will be around the area, so going with a reputable location is worth it.

#3 Week vs Month – we want more amenities!

We don’t care about a ton of amenities at our usual stops as we see ourselves more interested in the outdoors and having an adventure in a park; however, this is a month we are talking about, and Brian will be living there. We decided that these extra amenities would be desirable. We are happier in a state park and will even boondock in parking lot on a long trip. We aren’t bothered by it at all. A month stay is different. Also, Brian will be commuting for work, so we are talking typical laundry and high volume cooking for the family on a full-time basis. We aren’t much for eating out regularly anyway while traveling, but this will be especially true for the month!

This building has laundry services, a gym, very nice showers, and other basic supports where you can receive mail, etc. You can also utilize the grill and outdoor spaces. (They called it a BBQ pit. This is NOT a BBQ pit. This is a grill. Ask a Texan.) This will be perfect for our stay.

Of course, the boys are intensely happy that there is a pool. Someone, PLEASE, explain to the children that it is too cold to swim in a pool during rodeo season. Yes, Houston gets cold. Wind chill was 26F this week. We don’t expect it to be that cold, but you can be sure that the adults will not be testing the pool! Good thing they have a hot tub!

The small lake is catch and release, so Candace will certainly be doing some fishing!

#4 Don’t always trust the quick Google maps search.

This stay has a very high value on location. It is really not worth doing unless we can be near the rodeo. Our first quick Google search had the RV park listed with only one star and showed a weird picture, so we looked more closely at a different location. After the booking debacle, we decided to go back and read more about Lake View RV Resort. Turns out, that quick Google search gave us the right location, but the pictures were not correct at all. We are so glad that we took the time to dig deeper and confirm the details! It is a gorgeous spot!

#5 Even if the website says booked for your dates, you should call!

We first tried to get our dates booked through the website, and there were no vacancies. We decided to call anyway, and we are so glad that we did! They were great on the phone, and they shared lots of good information. Apparently, RV resorts have long-term stays and nightly rates at the same locations. The booking systems are made for the nightly stay people, so also call to see if you can get a spot even when the website says it is full. Again, the rodeo is less than a month away, so we were overjoyed to get a spot! It is an extraordinarily busy season!

We will follow-up with more updates as we get closer! Batch cooking will be up next. And, of course, we needed more gadgets…

Do you have any more tips for our first long-term stay?

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