My Travel Year in Review-What Travel Taught Me in 2022

Every year in December I like to summarize my year in travel and what I learned from each vacation. This year was a huge one for me in many ways but mainly because I made some major travel-related mistakes that were costly. I guess the more expensive the mistake, the more it’s reinforced in your head and hopefully won’t happen again. Even though I only took a handful of vacations, I learned many things so this is going to be a long one, so hang on.

My first vacation of the year was the first weekend in April when I went to Washington, D.C. for the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run. Although I have been to D.C. many times over the years, this was the first time I went by myself and it wasn’t work-related. I had airline miles that I cashed in and flew there even though it’s close enough I could have driven there. I just didn’t want to deal with the hassle and chaos that is Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C. traffic. If you’ve ever been there, you know.

Not only is traffic awful in the entire Northern Virginia/Maryland/Washington, D.C. area, parking is outrageous and hard to come by, even if you just drive to the city and leave your car in the hotel garage then take the Metro. You can expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $50 per day for parking at a downtown hotel.

I already knew about the traffic and parking, so what did I learn? Well, I learned no matter how many times I visit this city, I discover new places. I had never been to the International Spy Museum or ARTECHOUSE DC and I loved both places. I wrote a post on the spy museum, which you can read here: The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.- Is It Worth Going To? but I didn’t write a post on ARTECHOUSE DC. It’s an immersive art place, similar to the Van Gogh immersive display that was touring a couple of years ago. The art surrounds you and is displayed on the walls, floor, and ceiling. Since opening in 2017 in D.C., another ARTECHOUSE opened in Miami and another location in New York City recently opened. I did experience motion sickness once or twice while I was there but when that happened, I just closed my eyes for a moment or looked somewhere else until it passed.

April was a busy travel month for me because just a few days after I got home from Washington, D.C., my daughter and I flew to Portugal. This trip was a huge learning experience for me. I learned so many travel-related things, some the hard way, meaning I had to pay (literally) for my mistakes. Where do I start here? I suppose I’ll start with some positive things I learned.

I learned that for the most part, driving in Portugal from an American point of view isn’t that difficult of a transition. The highways are in good condition and I had no problems getting from one city to another. I should say I was only in the southern part of Portugal, known as the Algarve. Only when I ventured to some of the city squares in the Algarve did I have any issues with driving, mostly with parking and the lack thereof. I didn’t think the drivers were overly aggressive but again, parking was another story. I got yelled at not once but twice by locals over parking spots (I know, not a positive but overall driving in Portugal was a positive experience).

Another positive thing I learned in Portugal is the food is every bit as amazing as everyone says. An array of fish is commonly seen on menus, along with a plethora of fresh vegetables. I also learned the grilled fresh sardines in Portugal (and I’ve heard in Spain as well) are NOTHING like the tiny, stinky sardines sold in tins here in the US, but they’re enormous compared to ones here and are about a million times tastier. The desserts are also some of the best I’ve had in any country, including their famous pastel de nata (little custard tarts).

One negative thing I learned in Portugal is the people weren’t as friendly as I’d heard they are. I don’t know if it’s a difference between northern Portugal and southern Portugal or it was just me but the vast majority of people I encountered were not friendly beyond being cordial. I’ve traveled to many places in Europe and never have the people come across as so unfriendly as the Portuguese I came across. Even the Germans, who are not known to be especially friendly were more friendly than the Portuguese I met. First Impressions of Every Day Life in the Algarve (Southern Portugal) from an American Point of View

Now the biggest and most costly thing I learned in Portugal is that if you miss your flight and it’s not the airline’s fault, don’t count on TAP Portugal to help you out. When I spoke to someone from the airline and explained that my daughter and I had missed our flight from Faro to Lisbon (and consequently to the United States), I was flat-out told I would have to purchase return tickets on my own to the US. Not only had I lost the money for the return tickets from TAP Portugal, I would have to purchase same-day flights from Faro to the United States, and I would not be reimbursed or even given vouchers from TAP Portugal.

I’ve missed flights before that weren’t weather-related or airline-related in the United States and every single time the airline put me on another flight for no extra fee. I even missed a connecting flight from Barcelona to the Canary Islands and Iberia Airline put us on the next flight at no extra cost, so I don’t think it’s just a European rule. TAP Portugal just sucks. Lesson learned.

Finally, the last thing I learned in Portugal, and the reason I missed my flight back home is because of the strange fluke that happened to my phone and GPS-enabled watch. Both my phone and watch had reset a couple of days before we were to fly home, to what I thought at the time was the local time in Portugal. For some reason that I still have not figured out, both my phone and watch reset only partially, going ahead not the full five hours like it should have but only four hours. So when I looked at my watch and thought it was 5 am the day we were flying back home, it was really 6 am. We had missed our flight by a full hour because of this mix-up. Only when I looked at a clock in the airport after we missed our flight did I realize that both my phone and watch had reset to the wrong time. Going forward, when I travel to another time zone, I will always Google the local time when my phone and/or watch reset to what seems to be the local time. A Couple of HUGE (and Costly) Travel Learning Experiences For Me

In June, my daughter and I went to Costa Rica, the second time there for me and her first time. I had been wanting to go back to Costa Rica for some time to see if it’s a potential retirement place for me and my daughter wanted to visit some of the volcanoes there (among other things), so it was a perfect choice for us. I decided to have our home base be San Jose, the capital, in central Costa Rica, and take day trips with a guide. Day Trips From San Jose, Costa Rica- Poas Volcano, Waterfalls, Hot Springs, Manuel Antonio National Park, Sloths, and Monkeys!

Although I’ve shunned guided trips for the most part before, other than multi-day hikes to Machu Picchu in Peru and in Yosemite National Park, I was unsure about driving conditions in Costa Rica especially during the rainy season so I thought having a guide would be the way to go. I learned just how valuable a guide can be in Costa Rica. As I mentioned, we were there in the rainy season when it’s not uncommon for roads and bridges to be swept away by strong currents from flooding. Our guide knew all of the safe roads and alternate roads to take so I never had to worry about our safety. Nor did I have to learn any of the many intricate little nuances involved in Costa Rican driving (two quick toots of the horn mean one thing, one long toot another, if you flash your lights that means something else, etc.). Christian, our guide, also explained some important history and other tidbits about Costa Rica and I learned so many things from our conversations with him. Insider Information As Told To Me By a Costa Rican

I also learned how much I loved quirky San Jose. My daughter and I would take Ubers from our resort to the city and just walk around, popping in whatever stores looked interesting, and that was utterly fascinating. I learned San Jose is also full of museums, theaters, and so many other things to do in addition to the Sodas, or local restaurants that serve delicious and affordable meals where you can just point to what you’d like and they’ll put it all on your plate. I learned my Spanish isn’t half-bad (although I’m far from fluent and not bragging at all) and with the help of Duolingo I was able to brush up on my Spanish enough that I could understand people when they spoke to me and they could understand me. Don’t get me wrong, it was simple, short sentences so we weren’t discussing anything complicated, but it was good enough to get by. Why You Should Spend Time in San Jose, Costa Rica.

One final thing I learned is not to let the rainy season scare you away from an area. If you bring weather-appropriate clothes, you’ll find it’s usually not as bad as you build up in your mind. It rained every day we were in Costa Rica but we didn’t let it stop us from getting out and doing the things we wanted to. A good rain jacket and waterproof shoes go a long way.

In September, I went to Asheville, North Carolina, a place I’ve been to many times over the years but like Washington, D.C., I learned there are still new places to discover even in a place you’ve been to multiple times. I also learned I had been stuck in the hiking and/or Biltmore House rut, two things that Asheville is best known for. When I branched out and did other things, I discovered a new botanical garden, an enormous antique place, and some new restaurants. Digging a Little Deeper Into Asheville, NC

Discovering new places in a city where you’ve been many times should be my theme for 2022. In November, I went to Charleston, South Carolina, another place I’ve visited many times over the years and I learned there’s an enormous tea garden just outside the city. I love tea so this was a place I was looking forward to visiting and thoroughly enjoyed tasting all of the samples in the gift shop, admiring all of the unique tea pots, and of course touring the garden. Charleston Tea Garden, America’s Only Large-Scale Commercial Tea Garden

I also learned it’s a terrible idea to try to strap an inflatable paddle board to the roof of your vehicle without straps made specifically for this or a roof rack . My daughter and I both have inflatable standup paddle boards, which we took with us to Charleston. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to pump up one of the boards in the hotel room so we’d only have to pump up the other when we arrived at the drop-off point at Shem Creek, where I had paddle boarded before on previous vacations. I used bungee cords to secure the board to the roof and less than 10 minutes later, I saw it fly off the car and land squarely in the middle of the road behind me.

Fortunately it was a quiet Sunday morning so no one was right behind me and I was able to pull over, jump out, grab the board, deflate it in a parking lot, and throw it in the back. Of course I had to pump the board up again when we got to Shem Creek, only to discover I had left the fin back at home. Not at the hotel, but back at home where I live. I knew this because it wasn’t in my board bag and I knew I hadn’t left anything back in the hotel room. We took turns on my daughter’s board and it all turned out in the end but it was a big lesson for me that could have turned out much worse (my board was fine).

If you actually made it to this point, thank you for sticking with me and I hope you enjoyed reading about the crazy travel journeys I went on in 2022! This has to be one of my longest posts so far. It was a huge year for travel for me and one where I learned so many important things in life.

Care to share something you learned from travel in 2022? Were there any mishaps that happened when you were traveling this year?

Happy travels and happy holidays!


Running Highs and Lows of 2022

Towards the end of every year, I always like to go over how my year in running went and take a look at not only the good things but also some bad things that happened. I was coming off a high from 2021, that being the year I finally ran a half marathon in state number 50, New Mexico, in November of last year. How do you top that? Well, in my case, you don’t.

I originally had two races scheduled for 2022, the Krispy Kreme Challenge in February and the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run in April. The Krispy Kreme Challenge was canceled and we had to option to run it virtually or defer to 2023. If you missed my post on the Krispy Kreme Challenge, you run 2.5 miles, eat a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts, and run back 2.5 miles, preferably without throwing up. I’m sure it sounds like the last thing many of you would like to do but the uniqueness of it caught my attention and the fact that the proceeds go to the UNC Children’s Hospital, a place that holds a special meaning to me was the real reason I wanted to run it. Of course I deferred to 2023, because really, the attraction is in participating in this challenge surrounded by others, not doing it virtually. Having that race canceled was a low because I was looking forward to it but there will always be next year!

The Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run in Washington, D.C. is by lottery only and when I saw I had gotten in, I was excited. This race coincides with the blooming of the cherry blossom trees in early April, as you may infer from the race title, and they were most definitely a sight to behold. The prettiest spot along the race course was the Tidal Basin area, with the water and some of the monuments all lined by cherry blossoms. I loved running this race and found it well-organized and one of the most scenic races I’ve run. Getting to run this race was a high for sure. Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run

In May I ran my first night race, the Catching Fireflies 5k and loved it. It was local’ish, which isn’t common for me. Of all of the approximately 60 races I’ve run, only four have been near where I live. It was about 45 minutes away and was only the third timed 5k I have run (the other one I ran with my young daughter, so really this was my second real timed run). I was anxious to see what I could do and was pleased when I came in first in my age group. I also had friends that were at the race, plus my daughter, so it was fun to talk to everyone before and after the race. This was a high for me. Catching Fireflies 5k- My First Night Race!

After the Catching Fireflies 5k, my racing schedule kind of went downhill quickly. At the beginning of the year I had hoped to start running some half marathons in Canada, with my first one in June. Multiple reasons stopped me from doing that race (for one, Canada still required a covid test) but I still hoped to run a half marathon in Quebec in August, only to see that for whatever reason it was not meant for me to go to Canada this year. My goal of running a half marathon in all of the Canadian provinces got pushed back to 2023, so we’ll see how that goes next year. That was a low not being able to start on my Canadian running quest, but I know it’s for the best and eventually I’ll get there.

Since it’s so hot and humid during the summer months here, there are pretty much no races from June through August (or at least not any that appealed to me), so I waited until September to find my next race. None of them sounded fun or unique to me until I saw the Pups and Pastries 5k. This was a race that benefited a local rescue group, a cause near and dear to my heart, and the pastries part was just the icing on the cake for me (pun intended).

Since I had barely run any 5k’s but did well at the night race in May, I was curious to see what I could do at that distance, after spending 22 years focusing on the half marathon. Everything was going great and I was getting faster, only to start getting stabbing pain in my right shin. It got so bad that I had the pain when I wasn’t even running. I would just be lying in bed and my shin would suddenly start to ache. In college I had experienced shin splints so I knew what could happen if I didn’t stop running.

So I stopped running completely and even had my leg checked out twice, once to confirm it was indeed shin splints and nothing worse and the other time to make sure my bone density is good. The doctor confirmed it was shin splints and not a stress fracture and my bone scan came back normal. I took a few weeks off running completely and had FOMO while I watched others run races. I decided to make lemonade out of lemons and volunteer for the Pups and Pastries race and that was fun watching all of the cute dogs running with their owners. My Very First DNS (Did Not Start) for a Race EVER

When I tentatively went on a short run to test out my leg and saw everything was fine, I gradually began running again, careful not to over-do it. Unfortunately it meant I had missed my window of opportunity to run any half marathons in Canada this year. I made the most of things and signed up for my first turkey trot, also my first 8k with my daughter. We had fun and declared we should make it a tradition to run a turkey trot together every year. It was a good way to close out my racing for the year. Two Firsts in Running For Me- My First Turkey Trot and My First 8k!

Overall, I would say there were more highs than lows when it came to running in 2022. Although I wasn’t able to run any half marathons in Canada, there will always be next year. I’m just happy I was able to take time off running early enough that my shin splints didn’t turn into something much worse that required me to take months off from running. Even though I only ran three races, they were all unique and memorable ones so it was a good year for me when it came to running.

How did your running go in 2022? Any highs or lows you care to share?

Happy running!


Charleston Tea Garden, America’s Only Large-Scale Commercial Tea Garden

Even though I’ve been to Charleston, South Carolina many times over the years, I only recently discovered there is a tea garden in the area. I’m a huge tea-lover so how I missed this little tidbit is beyond me. I blame it on poor marketing by the tea garden so here I am trying to spread the word about this fabulous hidden gem on Wadmalaw Island, about a 40 minute drive from Charleston.

First a brief history lesson. In 1888, Dr. Charles Shepard founded the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville, South Carolina (about 25 miles from Charleston) after he and others tried for many years unsuccessfully to cultivate the first tea bushes, known as Camellia Sinensis, which were brought to the United States from China in the 1700’s. In 1963, a 127 acre potato farm located on Wadmalaw Island in the Lowcountry of South Carolina was purchased and Shepard’s tea plants were transplanted from Summerville to the current tea garden on Wadmalaw Island. In 1987, William Barclay Hall purchased the land. Hall, a third-generation tea taster who received his formal training during a four-year tea apprenticeship in London, England, converted the research and development farm to a commercial operation and founded the Charleston Tea Garden.

In 2003, seeking additional financing, Hall reached out to his longtime friends, the Bigelow family. A partnership arrangement was worked out and the Bigelow Tea Company bought the garden. On June 9, 2020, the name was changed from the Charleston Tea Plantation to the Charleston Tea Garden. Despite the partnership with Bigelow, Bigelow Teas are not made from any of the tea leaves grown or harvested at the Charleston Tea Garden. They emphasize that Charleston Tea Garden Teas are the only teas made from the tea leaves produced by the Camellia Sinensis plants grown in the fields of the Charleston Tea Garden.

Factory tours are free and self-guided, with signage and videos explaining the process and equipment that you can view through the large glass windows where the teas are processed. The tours are up the stairs in the gift shop, where you can also sample several types of teas at no charge and purchase tea both in bulk and tea bags, along with tea pots, mugs, and other tea-related merchandise.

The only charge for anything at the garden unless you buy something from the gift shop is the trolley tour, which is $15 per person but well worth it. Although you don’t go far on the trolley, you get an in-depth explanation about tea bushes, the different types of teas, how they’re grown and processed, and you drive by the tea plants in the garden. When you reach the greenhouse, you go inside and see all of the baby tea plants and learn about the propagation process.

When I took the tour, it was emphasized that the Charleston Tea Garden is the only tea garden in operation in the United States. However, when I did my own research online afterwards, I found several places in the United States where they grow and sell tea, including Table Rock Tea Company on the northwestern corner of South Carolina near the border of North Carolina. There are also tea gardens in Washington, Alabama, New York, New Jersey, California, Georgia, Hawaii, and more but these all appear to be tiny compared to the one in Charleston and in some cases they don’t actually grow their own tea onsite.

Upon closer look at the Charleston Tea Garden website, they do state, “We’re the only tea garden in North America where you can see hundreds of thousands of tea bushes stretching out acre after acre for almost as far as the eye can see.” When I dove deeper, it appears that the Charleston Tea Garden is the only large-scale commercial tea garden (hence my very-specific title here) so perhaps our guide just embellished that a bit and made it seem like they were the only tea garden in the United States and left it at that. However, there is this sign that further confuses the matter:

Maybe the sign was posted before other tea gardens existed in the United States

Misleading propaganda aside, the Charleston Tea Garden was worth the short drive from Charleston to spend an hour or so in this peaceful setting. After trying every single tea that was available for tasting, my daughter and I both agreed we liked the raspberry tea the best, which is a black tea infused with raspberry flavor. I can buy Earl Grey, plain black tea, and some of the others they offered anywhere but there is no place near where I live where I can buy loose leaf raspberry tea (and certainly not from tea leaves grown onsite), so not only was it delicious, it’s something unique so I bought a bag to take home with us. I also bought my daughter a cute mug with a matching spoon.

Also nearby on Wadmalaw Island is Deep Water Vineyard, with self-guided tours for $15 from Tuesday through Saturday. In addition to their South Carolina-grown muscadine wines, they partner with a grower in California to produce many traditional wines like Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, but also some unique ones like Winter Blues, made with local blueberries, or Palmetto Pepper, made with fermented jalapeño peppers.

Finally, you should stop at Angel Oak Park on nearby Johns Island to see the enormous oak tree believed to be the oldest living oak tree east of the Mississippi at an estimated 300-400 years old. Angel Oak Park is open every day except holidays and has free admission. There is also a gift shop nearby. No food, drinks, blankets, or tripods are permitted on or around the tree.

Angel Oak

Have you been to the Charleston Tea Garden or did you know this place existed but you just haven’t been there? Have you toured another tea garden where they grow and sell their own tea like this one?

Happy travels!


Two Firsts in Running For Me- My First Turkey Trot and My First 8k!

You would think since I’ve been running for so many years now that I would have run at least one Turkey Trot by now. I could see not running an 8k before because it’s not a common race distance, however. Like most places, there are many options for turkey trots where I live so why did I choose this one? Since I wasn’t able to run so many other races I had wanted to this year for one reason or another I was interested in this race in particular because they didn’t keep increasing the race fee as race day approached. It was simply about timing and money (like so many other things in life).

In true turkey trot fashion, the race was Thanksgiving morning and I didn’t register until the day before, when I also registered my daughter and picked up our race packets bibs. Only people who had registered by a certain date in November (maybe the 9th?) were guaranteed race shirts but I was told to ask if they had any extras after the race. So race bibs in hand, (and nothing else), we were out of the running store and went back home where I continued prepping foods for Thanksgiving dinner the next day.

With a 9 am race start only ten minutes from my home, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’m so used to being in another city for a race and having to figure out logistics on getting to and from the race that it felt strange. Although I did run a relatively local race in May, it was a night race and about 40 minutes from my house.

The weather on race morning was ideal for racing, in the upper 40’s, sunny, with no discernible wind. It warmed up quickly, though, and within an hour had warmed up to the mid-50’s. It was funny because I donned my fleece ear warmer headband, Turtle Glove mittens, Buff around my neck, long-sleeve shirt, and tights, while my hot-blooded daughter wore a tank top and shorts.

There was a one-mile walk mostly for young children but I saw many adults walking it without kids as well before the 8k started so they all finished around 8:50 and were handed yellow finisher ribbons (tiny, only maybe one inch by three inches). While we were standing by the start/finish area my daughter noticed the timing mat and how it was only on one small area. “Does everyone have to go over that mat at the beginning?” she asked. “Yes, that’s the timing mat. You know that,” I replied. “But it’s not very wide across. How is everyone going to fit through that?” she asked. Just then the announcer said, “Everyone from the one-mile walk has finished. We’ll play the national anthem then begin promptly at 9:00. Please let the elite runners go first. I repeat, please let the elite runners go first and everyone else go behind them,” just as a handful of 20’ish males and a couple of young-looking females gathered at the front of the group. There were 650 runners and walkers at this race (not including those doing the one-mile walk) so it wasn’t a small crowd.

The national anthem was played over a loud speaker (no in-person singer), the race announcer said something incoherent, and we were off! My daughter and I were fairly close to the start because you just never knew with her and I didn’t know if age group awards were chip-based or gun-based. She had whittled her 5k time down considerably during the recently ended cross country season but she had also been having stomach issues on and off for a week or so before the race. She had also never raced an 8k before and wasn’t sure about how to pace herself. “Do you treat it like a 5k and just hope you don’t burn out at the end or go slower for the first two miles then gradually speed up?” she had asked me a day or so before the race. I said probably the latter but since I also had never raced an 8k, I couldn’t really say for sure.

I had decided before the race to just go by feel. Given the fact that I had shin splints a few months prior and had to take some time off from running to let them heal, I hadn’t been able to get my mileage back up more than about 5 or 6 miles for my long runs and I hadn’t been doing any speed work other than maybe a couple of times the month before. I also knew the course was hilly.

Mile one was downhill and my fastest mile of the race. The next two miles had small rolling hills but were mostly flat. I slowed down to talk to my daughter briefly (she was struggling with nausea and was taking a brief walking break but said she’d be fine) and mile three was actually my slowest of all five miles. Mile four had a small downhill so I was able to pick up some speed then but for the final mile, we had to run back up the hill where we had started. By then my quads were tired and I just wanted to be done. I finished in 43:18, fifth in my age group. My daughter had been able to start running again and passed me sometime during the fourth mile. She finished in 42:47, ninth in her age group, even after walking for two minutes.

There were no medals for this race, only volunteers handing out water bottles at the finish. We had to walk back maybe a quarter of a mile to the local running store that was the main sponsor for the race for post-race foods and more water. There were cereal bars, bananas, oranges, and boxes upon boxes of Krispy Kreme glazed donuts. I picked up some water and an orange and passed on the donut. My daughter said her stomach still wasn’t “right” and she only wanted water. We went over to inquire about shirts and got the last two in our size. After snapping a few photos, we checked our results online (I love when they post them live) and knew we wouldn’t be getting any age group awards so we were on our way.

My daughter said we should make it a tradition to run this race every year. She’ll be going away to college next fall so it would certainly be a possibility when she’s in town for Thanksgiving break in the coming years. I know many other families run turkey trots together every year. I like the idea of going out and moving your body the morning before what is largely considered the biggest day of the year for eating, not that I think you have to “justify” what you eat, but it’s more along the idea of balance. I know I feel better when I can balance out some of the extra calories of the holidays with some outdoor activity, whether it’s running, walking, or hiking. Even more so, I love running with my daughter and that would be the real reason for starting a turkey trot tradition with her.

How many of you ran a turkey trot on Thanksgiving? Do you have a family tradition of running the same turkey trot every year or do you run one by yourself or with friends?

Happy running!


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