Category Archives: Events

Basic Intro to Aiken, SC


I took a recent day trip to Aiken, just after Christmas. I once lived in Aiken and have maintained friendships there over the years that keep me going back from time to time.

If you like horses, then surely you already know of Aiken’s identity as the “Horse Capital of the South.”  Also considered “America’s Polo Capital” due to its establishment as a winter colony for wealthy elites from up north who came to play polo, it is also the training grounds for stellar Thoroughbred race horses such as Dogwood Stables’ Preakness winner Summer Squall and Belmont Stakes winner, Palace Malice.

During times of the year when the horses and jockeys are training, you can drive into the grounds of one of the tracks on Two Notch Road to watch them train in the early morning. Ease up to the rail, without being loud or obtrusive, and you will be able to feel the pounding of the ground underneath you as the sleek, gorgeous beasts effortlessly gallop past you on the track. You will hear and see the puff of their breath as the riders breeze them down the track.  Afterward, head around the corner to the Track Kitchen for breakfast. This is an authentic Aiken experience that has been enjoyed by locals for quite some time. It’s a little green and white building on Mead Avenue that you might miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for. My grandparents lived in this same neighborhood, and my grandfather took me on this excursion on a few chilly mornings, way back when.

My grandparents’ old home, which was also where I had my wedding:


If you’re up for an actual race event, check out one of Aiken’s Triple Crown events in the spring. Here I am at last year’s Steeplechase.


Now, moving on to lovely, hip downtown Aiken…


There’s so much to downtown Aiken in the way of shopping and dining that I can’t really fit it all in here. But that area has been sort of revitalized (if it really needed revitalization) and has acquired some cool, funky spots like the Mellow Mushroom, where I ate lunch.



I would be remiss if I did not mention the Willcox, a historic hotel where my husband and I spent part of our honeymoon. It is a grand old inn that once hosted Winston Churchill, among others of note. The gorgeous rooms are all very special, but no, I don’t have any pictures of our honeymoon suite. It was before the days of camera phones when taking pictures was a little more of a deliberate notion, so I didn’t think to snap any pics of the room to toss up on Facebook. But think of a four poster bed, luxurious furnishings pointed toward a working fireplace, and a bay window looking out at some of Aiken’s beautiful magnolia trees. There’s also a fabulous restaurant at the Willcox, where I dined many times over the years.  Most notably, I went to the Aiken High School prom with a friend when I was 17, and we had dinner there. It was always an upscale experience, as you would expect by looking at the outside of the hotel.  If you take a look at their website, you’ll see that it’s now part of the Southern Living Hotel Collection, and that Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast are pretty big fans of the place. In fact, a stay at the Willcox, by itself, makes for a nice celebration of a special occasion.


As always, you can call on Azalea Travel to book your stay there. You won’t be sorry.  And you won’t be disappointed in Aiken. It happens to be one of my very favorite towns in the south. I have not done the place justice with my little hack smartphone pictures in this post.

Greenwood, South Carolina – Part 2


The reason for my last trip to Greenwood was to celebrate the grand opening of the Carolina Executive Car at the Railroad Historical Center.


This car was of particular interest to me, because it was the car my great-grandfather, Frank Harrison Cothran, used as his mobile office during the years that he was President of the Piedmont & Northern Railroad. My parents made the trip with me.




That’s my father down the narrow hallway, right outside the bedroom that was his grandfather’s.

But even without the family connection, this train was well worth the trip to see inside. It makes for a fascinating trip back in time. The wood paneling, the service quarters, and kitchen all give rise to imagination to see the car in its heyday, when it was more than just a mode of transportation.


You can almost feel the motion of the car sliding forward and see gentlemen in their suits sitting at the table in the conference room, mulling over contracts and making things happen with inkpens, handshakes, and friendly jokes.


It is part of The Museum & Railroad Historical Center in Greenwood, which has two locations with two different functions. From April through October, the train cars are open Thursday through Saturday, 10am to 5pm. There are other cars being renovated, and a depot will be built, as well.



In the meantime, the museum portion of The Museum and Railroad Historical Center, which is just down the road a few  blocks, is open year-round.  And it is a treat.



It’s the best museum I have seen in a town of Greenwood’s size.  The only better ones I have seen are in larger cities. Their collection is quite impressive on the first floor.




Upper floors reveal additional exciting historical items, plus educational exhibits for children of all ages.



Are The Museum and Railroad Historical Center worth a trip to Greenwood?  If you have a train enthusiast big or small, then I say yes, without a doubt. Absolutely. Even if no one in your family is a train buff, it’s still interesting and is something folks of all ages will enjoy. Note: Those with mobility issues may not be able to board the train cars.

You can make it to Greenwood from Summerville in less than 3 hours. You could potentially make a day trip of it. If you want to be leisurely and enjoy other things Greenwood has to offer, like shopping and dining in its revitalized Uptown Greenwood area or a production at the theater next door, then Azalea Travel can book you a room at the Inn on the Square, which was the subject of my last post.  Make a night of it, and have a fun family getaway!

Thank you, LSU and Louisiana


Thanks to the flood, it’s been over a week since I last posted here. While we have been extremely fortunate, much more so than many of our friends who live only a couple of miles away, the whole state of South Carolina has been thrown a curve ball, to say the least.  Even with my son back in school before most of the others in the area, I have had to play catch-up with other aspects of work.

But I have to take a moment and express gratitude, as a lifelong South Carolina Gamecocks fan, for the love, sportsmanship, and hospitality shown to my state by Louisiana. The Gamecocks were scheduled to have a home game in Columbia this weekend, against LSU. Columbia is one of the parts of the state that have been hit hardest by the flood, and many are now homeless. The state and the city are still struggling to pump out water and keep more dams from breaking, with water still rising on some rivers. We can’t even get to the clean-up yet, because the event is still ongoing in many places. 17 lives have been lost, and folks are still evacuating their homes.

So this weekend’s game was moved to Louisiana State University’s stadium in Baton Rouge. That decision makes sense. But LSU, no stranger to natural disasters, is taking extraordinary measures to make the Gamecocks feel that it’s still a home game.

LSU has sent their jet to pick up the Gamecocks. LSU’s band has held extra practices this week to learn USC’s alma mater and the fight song, which they will play for them during today’s game. They are collecting donations such as bottled water to send back to Columbia. They will play “Sandstorm” before kickoff, as is the custom at home games in Columbia. A visit to LSU’s website today looks like this:

welcome gamecocks

But that’s not all.

All ticket sale profits for tomorrow’s game in Baton Rouge will be donated to flood relief in South Carolina.  LSU is hosting a tailgate for Tiger and Gamecock fans with free food.  LSU Student Government will present USC student representatives with keys to the LSU Tiger stadium. And then there are billboards all over Baton Rouge like this one I saw on Facebook: Geaux Gamecocks

I wish I could add photo credits to this, but I don’t have them…if someone knows whose picture this is, please tell me so I can give proper credit. It makes me cry every time I see it. If you would like to see more like this, you can check out the Gamecock Born & Bred Facebook page.

And here’s what people flying into the Baton Rouge airport are seeing today:

airport welcome sign Judi Gatson

Photo credit: Judi Gatson

The last time I traveled to Louisiana, I was in my twenties. I flew into Baton Rouge, rented a car, and drove to Lake Charles to visit a friend. Other than doing some catching up and giggling, my standout memories of the trip are of trying my first muffaletta and of the long, pretty drive over some marshy areas. But I intend to go back to Louisiana soon. While I’m there, I won’t give everyone I meet a hug, because that would be weird. But I will hug someone. If you live in Louisiana, watch out, because I’m coming, and I might hug you. That’s what Louisiana is doing for South Carolina right now – giving us an enormous state-to-state hug.

In the years to come, I won’t remember who wins the game today. But what I will never forget is the friendship extended to the Gamecocks by the LSU Tigers.  I’ll always be a Gamecocks fan, but I’ve got a new team to root for now, too. Geaux Gamecocks, and Geaux Tigers.

-Perrin Conrad, Azalea Travel





college football

In the south, our priorities go about like this: God, family, country, college football. And since the first few games of the season on Thursday night, that certain electricity has been in the air. It’s an excitement charged with optimism and hope. You can almost smell it and feel the crispness of fall, even if it’s 90 degrees outside.

Today is the first college football Saturday of the season, and everyone is buzzing. Who will rise to the top of the SEC this year? Who’s overrated? Will the Florida Gators finally get that “revenge” they’ve been seeking? Will the Crimson Tide be back on top? The anticipation! The beer and wings!

So, I’ll ask you a question. If you hold season tickets to watch your favorite team, wouldn’t you like to try and see them play a game on the road?

Or have you been watching a television screen for more seasons than you care to admit? Maybe it’s been a long time since you heard the roar of the crowd in person at all.

Well, you need to go. Your team needs you there. One more cheering voice might be the mojo that catapults them to #1. Let your child get a picture taken with the mascot. Tailgate with your old best friends before the game and relive some good times. Witness a piece of your team’s history.

It’s your duty. Be the fan you were meant to be.

Contact me for hotel reservations when you’ve got your tickets lined up!