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Hint: This national park is known for its dramatic rocky coastline and brilliant fall colors.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

When I pulled into Shelby with a group of other travel writers and tour operators, I had no idea that our arrival was big news — until we wound up on the front page of the local paper. “Focus on Cleveland County: Travel pros visit for a taste of our area,” ran the headline in the Shelby Star the next morning, complete with full-color photos.

We may have been the news of the day, but this little town in western North Carolina will soon be making its own headlines. It’s the future home of the Earl Scruggs Center, which will feature “music and stories of the Carolina Foothills” — including, of course, plenty of information on Scruggs himself, an internationally recognized banjo player and bluegrass musician who hailed from the Shelby area. (Among the exhibits will be banjos and other instruments played by Scruggs and his contemporaries.) The museum is scheduled to open in early 2012.

Not into bluegrass? Scruggs is only one of Shelby’s claims to fame. Come to town in the fall and you could catch the annual Liver Mush Expo, celebrating one of the region’s culinary delicacies. Pig liver and other parts (including the snout) are combined with cornmeal to create a liver mush loaf, which is sliced, fried and served in a variety of ways. I tried it on bread with jelly, and then with cheese and eggs — and can affirm that it tastes better than it looks! (The flavor is a bit of a cross between sausage and scrapple.) You can sample this “poor man’s pate” all year round at the friendly Shelby Cafe.

liver mush shelby cafe mustard livermush


Save some time for strolling around downtown, or rather Uptown (a moniker deliberately chosen because it was more cheerful). Shelby boasts three main historic districts as well as a bevy of cute little boutiques and specialty shops. I stopped in the Cleveland Country Arts Council building, where a pottery show and sale was running, and boggled at the low prices for beautiful, locally made art. Also worth a visit is the Don Gibson Theatre, a restored Art Deco venue that hosts musicians, films and comedy acts.

North Carolina may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of wine, but the number of wineries in the state has more than quadrupled in the last 10 years — and the Shelby area is getting in on the action. It’s easy to drive a loop around the region’s three wineries: Baker Buffalo Creek Vineyard & Winery, Owl’s Eye Vineyard and WoodMill Winery. Be sure to sample a few muscadine wines, which are local to the Southeast and offer high levels of healthy antioxidants (about 20 times as much as a Merlot).

If you’ve got kids in tow, make time for a stop at the Shelby City Park, with its historic 1920′s “carrousel” and miniature train. It’s just 50 cents each for a ride.

owls eye vineyard winery shelby north carolina

bankers house shelby north carolina historic

cleveland county courthouse shelby north carolina



– written by Sarah Schlichter

airport A worried mom recently e-mailed me about her son navigating an airport for the first time. Her 25-year-old had never flown, and the mom hit me with a flurry of questions: Does my son need to put his inhaler in a quart-size bag? Will his eyebrow piercings or steel-toed boots set off the metal detector? Is any special assistance available for first-time fliers at airports?

First, let’s get the answers to these questions out of the way. Because they are a medical necessity, inhalers are not required to be inside quart-size bags and may be larger than three ounces. Security will ask passengers to remove all jewelry and metal objects, including piercings, before stepping through the metal detector. Steel-toed boots are fine, as they’ll have to be taken off and put through the X-ray scanner anyway. And there is no special assistance available in airports for first-time fliers over the age of 18.

Get More Information About Airport Security Rules

I solved this worried mom’s simple queries. Nevertheless, I could detect an even bigger, hairier issue lurking beneath her questions that needed to be addressed. The mother closed her e-mail by saying, “I’m a little insecure and concerned since I’ve heard so many horror stories about good people having problems [in the airport].”

Aha! Here’s the real issue. Considering all the crazy stories that have been in the news this past year regarding airport security, from disturbingly up-close-and-personal pat-downs to pilots protesting new TSA changes, it’s no surprise that a doting mother is concerned about her son braving an airport for the first time. I added a final note of advice to the anxious parent:

“The horror stories you hear in the news about airport security are unusual — that’s partly why those stories make the news. If your son needs help or is confused in the security line, he should explain to a security officer that this is his first time flying and ask for help. Most airport security agents are nice, friendly people. There’s no reason to be alarmed.”

Every traveler has had to face his or her first flight at some point, navigating complex airport terminals, and bumbling through confusing and ever-changing TSA procedures while intimidating security guards keep watch. So help Mom out. Share your knowledge and tell us: What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you before you ventured into an airport for the first time?

– written by Caroline Costello

Mark your calendars. The National Cherry Blossom Festival has unveiled the most hotly discussed seasonal bellwether since that groundhog popped his head out of his home in early February.

That would be, of course, when the peak blooming days are for the cherry blossoms along D.C.’s Tidal Basin: March 29 – April 3. Check the National Cherry Blossom Festival Web site for details and the full schedule for the March 26 – April 10 event (think everything from parades and parties to road races and street fairs).

cherry blossom festival


No matter when the peak is (and it can swing wildly from mid-March to mid-April depending on how harsh the winter was), there are a few things you should know if you’re planning on going. I lived just outside of Washington D.C. for nearly 20 years and found that even though it’s Tourist Central (and why not?), those flowering trees were just as much of a local magnet. A few tips:

Avoid the crowds.
Easier said than done. While cherry trees are scattered around the city, the iconic forest of pink is sequestered around the Tidal Basin just off the National Mall — and the body of water itself is ringed by a relatively narrow sidewalk. So you can expect a tightly packed mass of humanity on weekends. I’d suggest going in the early morning (watch the sunrise over the blossoms — it’s magical) or in the late evening. During dusk it’s a beautiful scene, and you won’t have to push your way through a crowd. Even better, go during a workday because most everyone is, uh, working.

Watch your step — and your head.
The trees swoop fairly low in some spots, and you could conk your noggin if you’re not paying attention. There’s also a sea of dogs underfoot for some reason (really, why can’t people just leave Mugsy at home?), so it’s easy to get tangled up in someone’s leash or stumble over a wayward Chihuahua. Sidewalks can be a bit uneven in spots as well, so consider going off the trail and walking among the trees themselves.

Pack a meal.
I can’t think of a better place to eat than on a blanket tucked under the cherry trees, and there’s ample greenswards that allow you to do so. But because the Tidal Basin is fairly far afield from delis and the like, it’s best to arrive onsite with food in hand.

Wear comfortable shoes — and do the entire circuit.
You can’t get a really get a good sense of the breadth of the display without actually walking the entire route, so give yourself a few hours (at least). You can visit the F.D.R. and Jefferson memorials along the way (both are top-notch photo ops as well), and you’ll be surprised at how different the vantage points are as you progress.

Don’t drive.
Ok, you can drive if you arrive early enough and opt to park closer to the Mall, which is 15 to 45 minutes away by foot depending on where you settle. Just about every distance in Washington looks closer than it actually is, so be aware that you may have a schlep before the schlep. It’s best to take mass transit, but even the Metro will involve a bit of a hike. Or grab a cab and get out a few traffic-free blocks from the main event.

Stay off the trees.
That’s Rule No. 1 actually — there are warnings everywhere to that effect. But it doesn’t matter: There’s always someone clambering on a branch. If you witness this affront on nature, feel free to lash out at the culprit, and everyone will think you’re a D.C. native (they’re very protective of this amazing asset).

– written by John Deiner

gym pushup man exercise work outEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

Earlier this week, I found myself at the airport more than four hours before my flight was scheduled to depart (thanks to an unexpected change in plans). Going through security and grabbing a meal killed only about 20 minutes. As I arrived at my empty gate, I found myself wondering, “Now what?”

If I’d been prepared, I could have spent that lengthy layover on something a little more productive than snacking, reading a novel and staring blankly at the CNN monitors. In Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Your Layover, Caroline Costello writes, “Want to get some cardio in during your layover? AirportGyms.com is a useful Web site where you can search for fitness centers in or around airports in the U.S. and Canada. If there’s no gym in your airport, stuff some sweats into your carry-on bag and go for a jog around the terminals. This is best to do at an airport that offers shower facilities — be considerate of the person who will have to sit inches away from your sweaty armpits on the next flight.”

According to AirportGyms.com, there are four different fitness facilities within 25 minutes of my airport (including two only five minutes away). For the cost of a day pass — between $7 and $10, depending on location — I could have spent 30 or 40 minutes lifting weights or running on a treadmill, taken a quick shower and gotten back to the airport with time to spare. And it would have been a heck of a lot better for my body than munching on that Cinnabon roll I just couldn’t resist.

Check out our readers’ favorite airports for layovers.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

london Every Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: British Airways rarely runs airfare sales — in fact, the airline slashes prices on economy-class flights only a few times per year. But luckily for travelers heading to England’s capital city, British Airways recently published a spate of cut-rate spring fares to London, including roundtrip flights for as little as $380 plus taxes and fees. Expect taxes to amount to roughly $200 roundtrip. The cheapest total price we found with this sale was $570.97 roundtrip including taxes and fees for a midweek nonstop flight from New York to London in March — an economical price for a trip across the pond.

It’s not difficult to unearth the cheapest possible flight for your London vacation. British Airways’ convenient rate calendar allows travelers to clearly see on which days the least expensive fares are available.


The Catch:
Travel dates are limited, as the absolute lowest fares are only offered on a few select dates. Plus, the British Airways sale page states that “Prices and availability are updated every 24 hours,” which means that your window of opportunity to book these low fares could be rather limited.

The Competition: Lufthansa is currently offering reduced fares to Europe, which include flights to London for as little as $209 each way plus taxes and fees for travel this spring.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

–written by Caroline Costello