Gilbert K. Chesterton said, “The traveler sees what he sees; the tourist sees what he has come to see.”

I’ve never thought of the distinction between being a tourist and traveler before, but as I look back on 2014, I see that my years as a travel writer really are about the experience, not the popular hype of commonly described top destinations or best attractions.

So, I hope my list of best attractions has some new discoveries you’ll want to explore in 2015!

Best Attraction on the Water

Orleck

USS Orleck Naval Museum

It was nearly 100 degrees the day we visited the USS Orleck Naval Museum in Lake Charles, Louisiana–a fact that made us appreciate even more the heroic efforts of the marines that manned it from 1945 until its retirement in 1982, when it was transferred to the Turkish navy.

While our guide, Sam Nelson (also Vice-President of Operations), didn’t serve on the Orleck, he spent eight years as a radio man on similar ships.

Of all of Sam’s stories, I found the stories of the ship’s Cold War history the most fascinating. The Orleck was one of the ships modified to chase submarines during the Cold War with Russia in the 1960s. Lightened with aluminum, the ship earned its crew the nickname of “tin can sailors.”

Prowling the seas at up to 38 knots per hour, the Orleck was an anti-submarine ship equipped with the latest sonar technology, and that technology is still on board the ship.

Indeed, the Orleck is a living testament to how much “hardware” has changed over the years.

Best Museum

Space Center

U.S. Space and Rocket Center

I love science fiction, especially the stories that fly me away to other planets and worlds with extraordinary experiences. In Huntsville, Alabama, however, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center archived the real story of how we put a man on the moon. And that’s an even more extraordinary story than the fiction I’ve read.

Did you know the computing technology they used in 1960 was only as powerful as a pocket calculator? And much less than your smartphone?

However, that didn’t stop all the scientists who ended up in the once-tiny city of Huntsville from getting a man to the moon. Luckily for us, these far-seeing people also pushed for the creation of a permanent exhibit to showcase each giant step in the technology and hardware.

The Center opened in 1970 and has shown millions of people from around the world how dreams–even far-fetched ones like space travel–can come true.

Best Cultural Event

Plato said that “music gives soul to the universe,” and I have to agree. The Rendez-vous de Cajun Show at the Liberty Theater in Eunice, Louisiana, certainly gave me an inside view into the heart and soul of Cajun culture in Louisiana’s tall grass prairie.

The show is billed locally as a combination of Grand Ole Oprey and Louisiana hayride, and while I’ve never taken the hayride, I can say it really did take me back to the Grand Ole Oprey performance I attended at the Ryman Auditorium a decade or so ago.

Instead of traditional country music, you’ll find Cajun and Zydeco music at the Rendez-vous de Cajun Show. No matter how heavy your feet are, your toes will soon be tapping! You can listen yourself with this YouTube video from the Today Show:

Best Activity

While I’ll always call a sea of prairie grass home, there’s something about the water that sure calls to me when I plan a trip!

Linda Aksomitis

Linda Aksomitis kayaking on the

My kayaking adventure in the Wisconsin North Woods was an easy favorite. Last June I headed off to explore this area during the summer, after years of driving through its snow covered hills, and discovered more than a few things that gave me a totally new perspective on it as a destination.

We put in on the Namekagon River to paddle a few miles for the afternoon. While I’ve been out a number of times, the group had one beginner, so our launch was full of excitement as she got a feel for the water…well, and the trees along the shoreline.

The river moved along quickly, and before I knew it I was paddling through small rapids–my first ever on my own (whitewater rafting is another story!). But that was just the first of several challenges, as I too was swept into sand bars along the shore, got caught on rocks in a shallow spot on the river, and missed the sharp left turn to take out, so another rafter walked out to pull me out of the water.

It was, however, an amazing few hours on the water!

Best Unexpected Hometown Discovery

Every year, the twelve members of my writer’s group get together for a weekend of sharing manuscripts and fun, as well as discovering new places around the province. This fall we gathered in Shaunavon, a quiet, unassuming town in Southwest Saskatchewan.

I discovered a great, full service hotel–the Canalta. More than comfortable, it provided us with a sample of traditional Saskatchewan hospitality as well as great beds and an amazing hot breakfast.

2014 Children's Writers' Round Robins

2014 Children’s Writers’ Round Robins at the Harvest Eatery in Shaunavon, SK.

One of the most important things to our group when we travel is tasty food and we were all impressed with the Harvest Eatery. The food was superb, from the Wild Mushroom Ravioli Carbonara to the Apple Pie Cheesecake.

Upscale all the way, we discovered a real touch of class in what to most passers-by is just another dusty prairie town.

Best Shopping

Everybody likes a deal, right? And there’s no better place to find one than at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama.

Checking out luggage

Shelly checking out luggage at the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

As the name implies, the store is stocked with all of the unclaimed baggage from airlines around the United States. And it’s more than dirty socks (they get tossed), torn jeans, and romance novels!

Part of my experience at the store was taking part in its version of Reality TV, where one customer in the store (my friend Shelly was the lucky one) gets to be a staff member and unpack a piece of unclaimed luggage.

Shelly was given four options for each piece she pulled from the unclaimed backpack: Sell it, clean it, give it away, or trash it. Of course, we couldn’t let her have all the fun so there was soon a crowd shouting “trash it” or “sell it.” Lucky, for Shelly, one of the crowd suggested she check the pockets of the jeans and she was rewarded with three bills totaling $12!

While I only found one must-have item in the store, a classy lightweight jacket for $11, I was amazed at the things that end up left behind or lost on airplanes: skis, cameras, baby strollers, and well, pretty much anything you can imagine, even a Rolex watch that sold for $50,000+ dollars at the Center.

You never know what treasure you’ll find there!

Most Unexpected Attraction

Most people are still pretty quiet when they go out for breakfast–me included. In fact, I expect the loudest thing I’ll hear will be waitresses with a never-ending supply of coffee wanting to know if I need a refill.

Zydeco dance band

Zydeco dance band at Café Des Amis/

That’s not what I found at the Café Des Amis in historic, downtown Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

We lined up–really–at 7:30 a.m. in order to get a seat when the Café opened at 8. And while the food was great, that wasn’t the draw for the forty or more people in line with us.

What was the draw was a Zydeco band playing dance music for our breakfast entertainment! And I soon discovered that a lot of the people really did come to dance, as the dance floor stayed packed for the whole hour-and-a-half we were there.

Even if you’re not a morning person, you’ll soon be tapping your toes to the Café Des Amis Saturday morning entertainment.


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