Where in the World is Malta?

When I told some people I was going to Malta, the first thing they asked is “Where is Malta?” The truth is many Americans haven’t even heard of Malta let alone know where it is, but I realize for some Europeans Malta is a popular destination for relaxation and sun. When I first heard about Malta, I was fascinated by the independent nation’s rich history. Over the centuries, Malta has been ruled by the Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, and Arabs, just to name a few and these have all influenced Malta in one way or another. The wikipedia page has way more info than I’m going to go over here, but I truly found it fascinating.

So where is Malta? Malta is an archipelago of three islands off the coast of Sicily; the main island is simply called Malta, and two smaller ones are Gozo and Comino. For this vacation, we were going to spend a couple of days in Gozo then a week in Malta. Upon arrival at the Malta airport, we picked up a rental car and drove to the ferry terminal to take a ferry to Gozo. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the greatest for sightseeing on our first day. It was chilly, very breezy, and kept spitting rain off and on. We braved the cold and took our positions on the top deck of the ferry, snapping dozens of photos and thoroughly enjoying the ride despite the less than ideal weather.

The ferry from Malta to Gozo was extremely easy logistically. We just parked our rental car in a queue, went inside the terminal to get some sandwiches, and by then it was time to pull the car up onto the ferry. You are only charged upon return from Gozo so we didn’t even have to buy tickets. After the 30 minute incredibly scenic ferry ride, we pulled the car off the ferry and were on our way!

IMG_0540
First views of Gozo from the ferry

After getting settled into the apartment we rented through hotels.com (they don’t just have ordinary hotel rooms; you can also find apartments, condos, farm houses, and other less conventional accommodations sometimes) we went out to get our bearings, pick up some groceries for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning, and get a snack from a local bakery. The buildings in Malta are mostly beige or tan in color and the landscape is very different from anywhere I’ve ever been. It reminded me in some ways of Crete but it seemed much greener in Gozo.

IMG_0552
Approaching the ferry terminal in Gozo

Since there wasn’t time to go to any historical sites (they all close at 5 pm) that would have to wait until the next day. We took a walk and popped in a couple of cute shops while we were out then went back to the apartment to cook dinner, take some much-needed showers, and just relax for the rest of the evening.

IMG_20171116_161723803_HDR
Would you go down this ladder into the water?
IMG_20171117_152454302
View from our balcony in Gozo

We mapped out our plans for the following day and watched the beautiful deep blue water from the living room. The best part about where we were staying was the view. You could see water from both of the bedrooms and the living room. There was also a balcony that wrapped around from the living room and both bedrooms. We discovered there was access to the rooftop but it was disappointing in that it was designed as purely utilitarian for drying clothes rather than for enjoying the view since it was blocked by parts of the roof.

My first impression of Malta was a positive one. I liked the landscape and scenery a lot, the people seemed friendly and helpful, and the food options were good. I was excited to spend the next week here exploring the islands.

IMG_20171116_161550835_HDR

Next up- historical sites and one of my bucket list places! Have any of you been to Malta? Did you love it as much as I did? Or do you want to go now after reading about it?

Happy travels!

Donna

Spending Major Holidays on Holiday

Although I’m American, I thought the title sounded a bit more clever written that way. Are Americans the only group of people who use the term “vacation?” Anyway, last year I spent Thanksgiving in beautiful San Diego, which you can read about herehere, and here. Even though I wasn’t visiting family in San Diego, my husband and daughter were with me, so I wasn’t spending the American holiday by myself. We found a restaurant that was serving a traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Honestly, spending our holiday in San Diego was even better than I thought it would be, but then again I absolutely love San Diego.

dsc03959
Not a bad way to spend Thanksgiving with views like this!

We’ve spent a few Thanksgivings away from home and extended family, so this wasn’t the first year for that, not to travel to see family but to travel for half marathons. This year, I spent my Thanksgiving in Malta. That was the first time I was in another country during an American holiday. We had Chinese food for dinner on Thanksgiving although we could have had just about anything we wanted other than a traditional turkey dinner.

My husband, daughter, and I have also traveled during Easter. I was running a half marathon in Eugene, Oregon the weekend of Easter recently, so my daughter joined an Easter egg hunt in Eugene. The Easter bunny also brought along her treats and placed them in the container for the ice machine from the hotel. We had loads of fun hiking around Bend, Oregon after we left Eugene.

IMG_20160326_101327576
Easter egg hunt in Eugene

We’ve also been on vacation during more minor holidays like the 4th of July. We were in Montana during Independence Day one year and just completely missed all fireworks and everything. It wasn’t a big deal, though. One year we spent Valentine’s Day in Atlanta, Georgia when I ran the utterly miserable Run the Reagan Half Marathon. It wasn’t exactly a romantic way to spend the day but my husband and I made the most of it. We were in Virginia Beach, Virginia during St. Patrick’s Day when I ran the half marathon portion of the Shamrock Marathon, which was pretty fun. We didn’t drink green beer or party since the race was the following morning after St. Patrick’s Day, but it was still a fun atmosphere to be in.

There are of course some downsides to traveling during major holidays. Hotels in the Caribbean and airfare to/from there will be more expensive during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s. In fact, travel to many destinations costs more during Christmas and New Year’s. I’ve found for many other destinations, however, prices even in the United States aren’t any higher during Thanksgiving or Easter. There may be less places open or less availability, though (i.e. restaurants may be closed, hotels may be fully booked).

Many people also look at being away from extended family during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter as a down-side. My extended family is so far away and in colder climates, my husband, daughter, and I usually only see them during the warmer months anyway. For us, it’s not worth risking our lives getting in a car accident on slippery snowy or icy roads to see them on Christmas day. We hope they understand.

Overall, I have enjoyed traveling during holidays and think it’s been a good thing. It’s fun to experience how people from different parts of the country celebrate the holidays. For instance, I really enjoyed the Christmas decorations all over San Diego and Malta. Seeing Christmas decorations in beach areas is very different from seeing the same ones every year where I live.

dsc03889

If I were a solo traveler, I’m not sure if I would feel the same way about traveling during holidays and being away from my family. That’s hard to say, though without going through it first-hand.

How do you all feel about traveling and being away from extended family members during major holidays? Do you always spend the holidays with family and couldn’t imagine not being with them for the holidays? I’d love to hear what you all think about this!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

What I’m Thankful for in 2017

Normally I don’t do this kind of post, but this year, I was feeling especially thankful, and with it being Thanksgiving in the US, it seemed appropriate. I feel like so much happened in 2017 that helped me grow as a person. I’ve always felt like we Americans often take our privileged lives for granted and I have tried to not fall into that trap. My mother was a single mother who raised my brother and me by herself once my parents divorced when I was 8 years old and my brother was 12. We were poor by most people’s standards in the US, but once I was older and visited countries outside the US, I saw how lucky we really had it. At least we had a roof over our heads and running water, which is more than many people especially in less developed countries can say.

Now my husband, daughter, and myself are able to travel considerably, especially by American standards and I appreciate this deeply. This year we began our travels for the year in Utah, where I ran the Dogtown Half Marathon, my 39th state for a half marathon. I feel extremely fortunate I’m not only healthy and strong enough to run half marathons, but also that I’ve been able to continue this journey of running a half marathon in all 50 states as long as I have. I ran the Superhero Half Marathon in New Jersey for my 40th state in May and honestly I was thankful just to finish that one because it was so tough!

IMG_20170225_101501176
After the Dogtown Half Marathon in Utah

In June of this year, my family and I was fortunate enough to visit the beautiful country of Chile. This was our first visit to South America, and we thought we would be fine with our limited knowledge of Spanish. Although we struggled to communicate with the people many times, we did figure things out and we found out we were resilient. In the end, we were thankful we were able to visit Chile and see all of the amazing things we saw including the Andes Mountains, which are even more beautiful in person than I thought they would be.

IMG_20170529_151229556_HDR
This little fox in Chile was so friendly!

I’m also thankful that I’ve been able to change my running gait, and get back to the stride I used to have years ago. You can read about my journey for that here. It was difficult and took many months to do the exercises necessary to strengthen my glutes and hips, along with just the focused effort of not hyperextending my right leg when I was running, but I was able to do it.

I think my change in running gait is part of the reason I had such a fun race at the Marshall University Half Marathon in Huntington, West Virginia in November. After difficult races in Utah and New Jersey, I needed the mental boost I got from the race in West Virginia. I realize not every race will be a PR, especially when you’re in your 40’s like I am, so you take all the “wins” you can get when you’re my age!

20171105_090833
After the Marshall University Half Marathon in West Virginia

I’m also thankful for all of the friends I’ve made from the blogging community. I’ve learned so much from reading other blogs and from the comments I’ve gotten from others. If I would have known blogging can be so much fun, I would have started a blog years ago!

Most of all, I’m thankful for my husband and daughter. They’re my travel companions, my hill-running companion (my daughter), my friends, and most of all my family. They love and support me unconditionally even when they’re not too happy with me. I know I can always depend on them no matter what and honestly I can’t say that about anyone else in the world.

IMG_0149

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the US (I know no one else cares)! Even if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving you can still be thankful. What are you all most thankful for?

Donna

 

Weekend in Huntington, West Virginia

I spent the first 22 years of my life in West Virginia. I grew up in the southern part of the state and got my undergrad degree in the northern part at West Virginia University. It’s fair to say I’ve seen quite a bit of the state and spent my fair share doing mostly outdoors activities.

I’ve gone skiing and/or tubing at Winterplace Ski Resort and Snowshoe Mountain (I hate skiing so I am not a skier now but love tubing). I’ve gone whitewater rafting many times down the New River. I’ve gone hiking in most of the state parks throughout the state. I’ve been to the capital, Charleston, for many different occasions. I’ve gone camping throughout the northern and southern parts of the state. However, I had never spent any time in the second-largest city in West Virginia, Huntington, until recently.

Even though Huntington is the second-largest city by population in West Virginia, it’s still pretty small by most standards, coming in just under 50,000 people. The entire population of WV isn’t even 2 million but it does have more people than 12 states and the District of Columbia. I’ve mentioned all of the outdoor activities I’ve done throughout WV, and it’s no surprise since outdoor activities are what drive most tourists to the state.

20171104_130941
Heritage Farm Museum and Village

I was going to Huntington to run a half marathon, though, as part of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. West Virginia would be my 43rd half marathon in my 41st state. I didn’t think it would be a great idea to go hiking all over the place the day before a race. What on earth is there to do in Huntington besides go to Ritter Park, the number one thing to do on TripAdvisor? There’s also the Huntington Museum of Art, but again, I didn’t really want to spend a lot of time on my feet before the race. We were heading back home after the race on Sunday, so it’s not like we could go after the race.

Enter Heritage Farm Museum and Village. My family and I went to a similar place before the previous half marathon I ran in Morristown, New Jersey and we had a great time. Fosterfields Living Historical Farm in New Jersey seemed to be considerably bigger than this one in Huntington and I did OK after walking around there, so that’s what I decided we would do. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but honestly, I wasn’t seeing many options that would work given our situation.

20171104_131816
There was a wedding the day we visited Heritage Farm

Heritage Farm is a good way to spend a couple of hours especially if you have kids and/or are a history buff. In early November it was beautiful with all of the trees in full display of yellows, reds, and greens. There are eight museums, a blacksmith shop where you can see a blacksmith in action, an artisan center full of skilled tradespeople such as a quilter and a potter, Maker Space is full of hands-on activities and pop culture trivia displays through the years, a homestead site, a hands-on outdoor play space where kids can learn about simple machines, a cafe, church, gift shop, and petting zoo. Being a huge animal lover, the animals were my daughter’s favorite part of the farm. She especially loved the bunny who had a rooster friend with her. Apparently this rabbit and rooster were best friends and the rooster watched out for the rabbit. We also took a wagon ride around the farm and saw lots of unique animals. Although we didn’t stay overnight at the farm, you can stay overnight in one of a few log cabins or even a train caboose.

20171104_141259
Llamas
20171104_141905
Vittles anyone?

Besides finding things to do that didn’t involve tons of time on my feet, finding a hotel was a bit difficult as well simply because of the limited options. I wanted to find a pet-friendly place but the only one I could find was Towne Place Suites with a $100 non-refundable pet fee. For just a weekend, I could board my dog with a sitter near my home for less than that and she already knew the people who would be watching her. My new puppy was going to be watched by her foster mom who rescued her. Still, this seemed like pretty much the only “decent” hotel in the area, so I made reservations at Towne Place  Suites. When I looked on Airbnb, there weren’t great options near Marshall University, where the race was, but if you’re not limited by that, there are definitely more options. Towne Place Suites turned out to be quiet and in a good location, not more than about 10 minutes from most things in the area, so it was a good choice for us.

Unless you’re driving into the area, it’s not very easy to fly into Huntington. There aren’t many direct flights into/out of Huntington Tri-State Airport. Unless you’re coming from Charlotte, North Carolina, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Orlando, Florida, or St. Petersburg, Florida, you’ll have to make multiple stops to get to Huntington. In some ways it’s easier to just fly into Yeager Airport in Charleston, which has considerably more flights than those into Huntington, get a rental car, and drive one hour to Huntington. I would venture flights into Yeager are cheaper than flights into Huntington as well but I haven’t priced them. This is of course no different from transportation to/from any small town in the US. Any time you can fly into a bigger city and drive to your destination, it’s cheaper and Huntington is no different.

Dining options are about what you might expect in a small town in West Virginia. There are tons of fast-food and chain restaurants, but it is possible to find local places to eat. We had lunch at River and Rail Bakery, where we planned on having lunch and getting something from the bakery to take with us for later. While our lunches weren’t bad but nothing great, the options for dessert were flat-out disappointing. My daughter and I didn’t get anything for dessert and we were given our money back for the cheesecake my husband bought because it was so bad. We later had dinner at La Famiglia, which was by far the best meal of our weekend in Huntington. My daughter and I had handmade pasta and meatballs and it was delicious and the perfect pre-race dinner. After the half marathon, we had lunch at Surin of Thailand, which I later found out is a small chain in the south with six other locations. It was standard Thai fare so it was good but not the best Thai food I’ve ever had.

20171105_135712

After our lunch, it was time to head back home. For others looking to extend their stay a bit in West Virginia, there are several places within a relatively short drive from Huntington. If you want a bigger city with more options, Lexington, Kentucky is only two hours away and is filled with fun things to do. This would also be an option for flights into the area, but you would have a bit longer of a drive than from Charleston. There are also many state parks around the Huntington and Charleston area great for hiking and camping.

When is the best time to visit West Virginia? Really anytime, depending on what you’d like to do. You can go skiing in the winter, hiking and camping in the spring, fall, and summer (of course you could go in the winter as well; that’s just not my thing personally), and whitewater rafting and zip lining in the summer. Another interesting place to visit is The Greenbrier, a resort in White Sulphur Springs, about three hours from Huntington. You can just go here for the day but really there’s so much to do here it would be better to spend the night if it’s in your budget. There’s everything from a golf course, spa, casino, tree-top canopy tours, fishing, afternoon tea and other fine dining options, bowling, off-road tours, and even a declassified bunker tour, just to name a few. If you’re interested in planning your next vacation to West Virginia, this website is a good tool to help you get started. I’d also be happy to answer any questions any of you might have.

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

My Revised Bucket List- More In-Depth this Time

The first bucket list I posted really just skimmed the surface. Basically I wrote about my burning desire to go to Malta, the Canary Islands, and the Republic of Georgia with several other honorable mentions. For the full post, you can go here. Since then, I’ve come up with a more extensive bucket list with specific experiences listed instead of just listing places. I did want to keep it reasonable, though, since I fully plan on actually doing these things eventually!

These are in no particular order, either (that would be nearly-impossible for me to rank them).

Hike in the Caucasus Mountains in the Republic of Georgia

georgia
Republic of Georgia. Image credit YourAmazingPlaces.com

Enjoy the parades and music at the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria carnival

Visit the Xwejni Salt Pans in Gozo (Malta)

Climb Mount Fuji

Explore Croatia’s national parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 2.50.15 PM
Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, image credit TripAdvisor

Tour the Postojna Cave system and Škocjan Caves in Slovenia

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 2.56.28 PM
Škocjan Cave in Slovenia; Image credit: samo_wi/Flickr

Visit the South Island in New Zealand and see if I like it better than the North Island

Road trip around the Isle of Skye

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 2.54.10 PM
Isle of Skye, photo credit unusual places.org

Hike up the trail to Machu Picchu peak

Trek through levadas and look for the Madeiran long-toed pigeon

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 3.21.59 PM
Madeira levada

Admire the Magellanic penguins in Chilean Patagonia

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 3.00.36 PM
Magellanic penguins, image credit aquariumofpacific.org

Watch a sunset at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur, California

Sample Uruguayan wine at a bodega

Visit all of the Provencal markets I possibly can in France

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 3.25.01 PM

Take Harry Potter tours in England

Climb up Lovcen National Park and Njegos Mausoleum in Montenegro

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 3.07.08 PM
Montenegro, image credit getbybus.com

Enjoy a Guinness in the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland

Play with rescue puppies at Potcake Place in Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 2.45.46 PM
Rescue puppies in Providenciales, image credit Top13.net

I think that about covers it for me- lots of hiking, mountains with stunning views, good food and drink, beautiful water, and puppies! If you know me, you know this list sums up what I love most in the world (besides running of course, which I can do almost anywhere).

Now to see about actually making some of these places a reality for me!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

 

Photos of My Running Route

Other than a couple of random shots here and there, I’ve never really posted many photos of where I run. I feel fortunate to live in an area full of running/walking/biking trails that are along areas with trees for some shade but are close enough that I don’t have to drive to get to the trails. Honestly, there’s something for everyone with the diversity of trails in my “neck of the woods,” and I thought I’d share some of them with you all. I know Paula from Neveradullbling and Slowrunnergirl often have photos of their running routes, so the inspiration for this post comes from those ladies. Check out their blogs sometime if you don’t already!

Without further ado, I’ll show some of the places where I get to run and some of what I see along the way. I hope you enjoy!

20170506_120128_HDR
This part is nice going down, not so much going back up!
20170826_091305
Another hill, but at least this part is usually shady
20170716_091556
#spottedthebunny
20170902_100100-EFFECTS
One of my water views
20170902_101912
One of several bridges I run over
20170902_101943
One of the creeks I run over on a bridge. The water is really low right now!
20170923_091355-EFFECTS
I love this strip of trail with all of the yellow flowers
IMG_20170916_072224414_HDR-EFFECTS
An early morning water shot

There’s more of course but you get the gist of it. I have some lovely greenways to run along and feel fortunate to live in an area with miles and miles of greenways to run, bike, and walk on. I could literally choose a different route for every one of my long runs for months, only I would have to drive a short distance to some of them.

I think the thing I like best about my running routes is the trees. We have a nice variety of different trees around here so the scenery changes along with the seasons. In the next few weeks or so the trees will be lovely shades of yellow, orange, and red, mixed in with the evergreens. Hmmm, maybe I should have waited to have taken these photos. Well, I still think the green leaves are still beautiful!

What’s your favorite thing about your running routes?

Happy running,

Donna

How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina, Part 2

In ““How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina-Part 1” I went over how to decide when’s the best time of year to visit, based on your interests. I also went over some of the best places to stay, also based on your interests. Now I’m going to dive into some of the best places to eat and things to do.

IMG_0493

To say there are no shortage of top-notch restaurants in Charleston would be an understatement. Charleston must have some kind of record for most “foodie-friendly” restaurants per capita or something. If you want southern classics like fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits, Hominy Grill is a popular choice. I personally had some of the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had at High Cotton. There’s also the ever-popular Fig, Husk, Poogan’s, Magnolia’s, and I could go on and on. For something a little different on our last vacation to Charleston, we went to Leyla and had some truly delicious Lebanese food.

Many of the restaurants in Charleston are upscale but there are also some great casual restaurants. The Grocery is great for brunch and lunch, with a wide array of meals to choose from. Brown Dog Deli  has great chili, hot dogs and sandwiches, and you can try She Crab soup here if you’ve never had it before. If you want to try chicken and waffles go to The Early Bird Diner.  This is just a sampling of some casual fare in Charleston. On our last visit to Charleston, we had milkshakes at Kaminsky’s and they were some of the richest, creamiest milkshakes we had in a long time.

dsc03746

I’m a big fan of staying in Mt. Pleasant when I go to the Charleston area, so I would be remiss to not mention some of my favorite restaurants in Mt. Pleasant. It seems like every year there are more and more great restaurants in Mt. Pleasant. One of my favorites on my last visit there was The Obstinate Daughter. We also had some great BBQ at Home Team BBQ, which has locations in Sullivan’s Island, downtown Charleston, and West Ashley but we ate at the one in Sullivan’s Island.

Just like there is a long list of great restaurants to choose from, there is a long list of activities in Charleston. If you enjoy history, Patriot’s Point is home to the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier, USS Laffey Destroyer, USS Clamagore Submarine, Vietnam Experience Exhibit, aircraft, and a museum. You can even sleep on the USS Yorktown, like my daughter’s Girl Scout troop did one year.

20160828_075829
USS Yorktown

The Old Exchange is another great historical site to visit. My daughter enjoyed being able to handle replicas of historical money thanks to a volunteer who gave us a bit of information about each piece.  She also got to sign a replica of The Declaration of Independence. We all thoroughly enjoyed our guided tour of the dungeon and learned quite a bit about the area. If you have younger kids (around 4-6), the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry might be a better fit for your family. America’s first museum (from 1773) is also in Charleston, The Charleston Museum, with a focus on the Lowcountry’s cultural and natural history.

Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie are great options for families as well.  Although Fort Sumter does not charge a fee for entrance to the national monument, it is only accessible by boat and there is a fee for that.  Fort Moultrie is accessible by car at 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan’s Island and you can buy a family pass that covers up to 4 adults for $5, with free admission for children 15 and younger.  See more information here National Parks Service.

DSC03744

If you’re interested in seeing a historical plantation, Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens is a fun way to spend an afternoon. Included in one fee ($24 for adults, $12 for children), you get a presentation about the Gullah culture, a house tour, plantation coach tour, black history exhibit, slave history presentation, butterfly pavilion, and garden tour. There are also special events throughout the year such as for Christmas, a strawberry festival, and oyster festival to name a few. There are several historical homes you can tour, such as Nathaniel Russell House and Edmondston-Alston House.

IMG_0515

There are also many different tours to choose, from carriage rides, walking food and/or drink tours, ghost tours, and general walking tours. One of my personal favorites is a nature boat tour offered by the company Sandlapper. We took their guided nature tour and cruise of Charleston harbor recently and it was a highlight of our vacation other than the total eclipse. You can read more about our nature boat tour here if you’re interested in more details.

If it’s shopping that interests you, you can shop for everything from jewelry at Crogham’s Jewel Box, shop for unique gifts and sign up for a candle-making class at Candlefish, or browse fine books and gifts relating to Charleston’s history at the Preservation Society Shop.  To meet with locals and shop their wares, stop by Charleston City Market, which is busy day and night.

Finally, the Charleston area has some beautiful beaches. Two of my family’s favorite beaches are Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island. They are completely free and open to the public.  Another option for a beach near Charleston is Folly Beach. Lifeguards are on duty mostly during the peak summer months of May through part of September. Check out more info at Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission.  A word of warning about the waves, as they can be quite rough.  We found the water to be considerably calmer at an inlet we were able to walk to at Sullivan’s Island going through neighborhoods to the far end of the beach.

DSC03740

There are also some options for side trips if you have several days in Charleston. If you’re a runner like I am, the Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon is a great race that I’ve personally ran (read more about that here if you’d like) and I have friends that have ran it multiple times. It’s only about a 45 minute drive to Kiawah Island from Charleston. Another fun city full of fantastic restaurants and southern charm is Savannah, Georgia and it is about a 2 hour drive from Charleston.

Well, I think that about covers the highlights anyway!  I once heard a podcaster talking about Charleston and she said to allow two days to spend in Charleston, and I couldn’t believe it.  There’s so much to see and do in Charleston, there’s no way you could even scratch the surface in two days. I would recommend spending 4 or 5 nights in Charleston, adding another day if you do a day trip. You wouldn’t have to have a rental car especially if you’re staying in the historical area, but if you want to be able to get out of downtown Charleston and explore on your own, a car is highly recommended.

Hopefully I’ve piqued some of your interests about Charleston and you’ll see for yourself why so many people voted it number one city in the United States by Travel and Leisure.

How many of you readers have been to Charleston?  Do you love it as much as I do? How many people have never been but would like to go now?

How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina-Part 1

Once again Charleston, South Carolina was chosen best city to visit in the United States by Travel and Leisure for 2017. In fact, Charleston often makes the top ten list for many travel companies, whether chosen by the editors or readers. However, to make the most of your visit to Charleston, some planning is involved. Hopefully that’s where I come in.

While I don’t claim to be an expert on all things Charleston, I have been there many times through the years, both before kids and with my daughter so I do have the perspective of what young couples and families might be interested in. When it comes to planning a vacation anywhere you first have to ask yourself what are you interested in doing or seeing there. For Charleston, what you do may be dictated by what time of year you go.

DSC03753
The walk along Battery Park is lovely no matter what time of year it is!

If you’re not familiar with the weather of Charleston, the summers get quite hot and humid. The average highs in July and August are 91 and 89 F and the lows are 73 and 72 F. For someone coming from a much cooler climate, this might be a bit much, even for relaxing by the beach. You might want to wait until October when the average high is 77 and the low is 57. The water would still be warm enough to swim in the ocean this time of year as well. The average highs in December and January are still quite comfortable, at 62 and 59, respectively, with average lows then 40 and 38 F. This is definitely too cold for most people to swim in the ocean and even relax at the beach in a swimsuit, however.  All that being said, my family and I have taken our annual beach trip to Charleston in August several times and we’ve always had a great time but we are from the south, so we’re used to heat and humidity.

DSC03766
The beaches are very clean with soft sand and dunes scattered about
IMG_0515
Morris Island, an uninhabited island accessible by boat

What if you’re more of a foodie and are primarily interested in partaking in some of the fabulous restaurants that Charleston has to offer and have zero interest in going to the beaches? In that case, November would be lovely, or alternatively you’ll find near identical temperatures in March (70 for the high, 47 for the low). These times of year would also be great if you’re a history buff and are interested in seeing historical sites in the area.

20160828_075829
USS Yorktown at Patriot’s Point

Now that we’ve got time of year down, we can move on to specifics, like where you’ll stay. There are no shortage of hotels and inns, such as the number one rated hotel in 2017 by Travel & Leisure The Vendue. Other highly rated accommodations are Zero GeorgeFrancis Marion Hotelthe Meeting Street Inn, and Governor’s House Inn. There are literally dozens of inns and bed and breakfasts in the area, so if this is where you’d like to stay, there are no shortage of this type of accommodation. Many of the inns are in the heart of the historical district of Charleston, so as you may guess, they are not exactly for the frugal traveler. The advantage of staying in the historical district is you can walk to many restaurants, shops, and art galleries so you don’t  have to worry about parking which can be difficult to find and/or expensive.

If you’re traveling as a family with young children, be advised, some bed and breakfasts do no allow children to stay at their establishments, so a hotel would be a better option. Basically, the further you get from downtown Charleston, the more affordable your accommodations are. However, I do not recommend staying in North Charleston, which is also where the airport and convention center are. North Charleston is very residential (which that alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing) and the stores and restaurants there are generally not independently-owned so you would be spending much of your time in your car to get to places of interest and the better (in my opinion) independently-owned restaurants. Unless you enjoy eating at chain restaurants and shopping at chain stores, in which case, you’d be very happy here.

IMG_20160826_101658525_HDR
City Market

Personally, I like staying in Mount Pleasant, which is located in-between downtown Charleston and the beaches of the area. I’ve stayed in both hotels and Airbnb lodging and was always happy with my choice. No matter if you’re going to historic Charleston, Sullivan’s Island, or Isle of Palm, you won’t be any further than a 20 minute car ride there, and often it’s only about 15 minutes. However, if you have no interest in going to the beaches in the area, I would stay closer to downtown Charleston. Again, there’s no shortage of hotels or Airbnb properties.

20160828_081939
Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge connects Mt. Pleasant and Charleston

Now that we’ve worked out the when to go and where to stay, we’ll move on to where to eat and what to do in my next post.

How many of you have been to Charleston or would like to go there someday? If you have any questions or comments about Charleston, I’d love to hear them!

 

 

Nature Boat Tour in Charleston, South Carolina

Despite spending several vacations in Charleston, South Carolina over the years, I had never been on a boat tour here, that is until now. My family and I recently chose to go on a 2-hour boat tour with a certified naturalist, which pretty much just means she could talk about all things related to plants and animals in the area. The boat left the Charleston Maritime Center, 10 Wharfside Street and took us to the uninhabited barrier island, Morris Island.

Along the way to Morris Island, we stopped to check a crab trap that the tour company, Sandlapper Water Tours, had previously left. The bad news is the trap didn’t have a single blue crab in it so there was nothing to add to the touch tank. The good news is since there were no crabs, that meant more time for us to explore on Morris Island.

IMG_20170822_150252407_HDR

We also saw some dolphins on the boat tour, both around the harbor shortly after leaving, and out by Morris Island when we were leaving. Apparently there are pods of dolphins that live in the waters here year-round. Our guide also told us there are many (I think she said five but I kind of didn’t want to hear this part) different kinds of sharks in the Charleston area. I prefer to not think about that little tidbit of information, so moving on.

IMG_0515

We landed at Morris Island and were given 45 minutes to explore the island, either on our own, or with the naturalist. My family and I decided to explore on our own. We found a blue crab, the molted shell of a crab, a partial sand dollar, a partial conch shell, and many clam and oyster shells and other shells in general. We were told there are poisonous snakes in the central part of the island so we just stuck to the sandy perimeter.

IMG_0514
We found our own blue crab on Morris Island

There were several areas where there were huge trees that had been uprooted and they looked so cool against the beach back-drop. The views from Morris Island are also pretty impressive. From Morris Island, you can see Ravenel Bridge and Charleston harbor off in the distance, not surprising since it’s only about a 20 minute boat ride away. It feels miles away, though because the island is uninhabited so you can wander off by yourself and it seems like you’re the only person on the beach. There is a lighthouse off the coast of Morris Island that you can see from Folly Beach, a very popular beach in the Charleston area.

IMG_0506
Fort Sumter National Monument
IMG_20170822_141441961_HDR
You feel like you’re the only person on Morris Island with views like this

I really liked this boat tour and other than the total eclipse , it was definitely a highlight of our time in Charleston. The captain was great and the naturalist, who did most of the talking, was informative and explained a ton along the way about the flora and fauna in the area. If you’re ever in Charleston, book a tour with Sandlapper Tours and you’re sure to have a good time (they didn’t sponsor this post, I just really enjoyed the tour)!

 

Viewing the Total Eclipse from Charleston, South Carolina

As luck would have it, my family and I were able to plan our annual beach trip to Charleston, South Carolina so that it would coincide perfectly during the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. We arrived in Charleston on Saturday afternoon, and naively went to Market Street to get milkshakes from Kaminsky’s. Somehow, we managed to not only score a close parking spot but it even had 55 minutes left on the meter. That never happens on a weekend in Charleston by Market Street, and for it to happen on one of, if not THE biggest weekend of the century for the area, is just unheard of.

Back to those milkshakes, briefly. We got a Cookies n’ Cream, Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup, and a Butterfinger milkshake and these were seriously the best milkshakes we had possibly ever had. I can’t speak of the rest of the food at Kaminsky’s but definitely go for the milkshakes. They had a display case of cakes and pies that also looked delicious.

We walked around downtown Charleston for a bit, browsing in some of the shops before making our way back to our car, then we vowed to not go back into downtown Charleston until after the eclipse, Monday evening at the earliest. We stayed in an Airbnb townhouse in Mt. Pleasant. Let me just say how much I enjoy staying in Mt. Pleasant. If you’re planning on going to both downtown Charleston and the beaches, Mt. Pleasant is the perfect place to stay because it’s right in the middle between both, so you never really have a long drive to either place.

IMG_0477
My daughter watching the partial eclipse

Since Charleston was in the southern tip of the path of the eclipse, the partial eclipse didn’t occur until around 1:15’ish. Wearing our stylish eclipse glasses, we were able to see the moon start to cover the sun even though it was extremely cloudy. Like a miracle, you could look at the sun with your glasses, and there was the sun shining bright, getting slowly smaller and smaller as the moon moved in front of it. Eventually the sun was a small orange sliver, then eventually total darkness and totality began- the real fun!

While a partial eclipse was pretty cool to witness, totality was truly amazing! I tried to take some photos during totality but of course pictures could never do it justice. This is something that is an experience, and viewing it on a screen or anything else other than in person just is not the same. It would be like watching a show about the Grand Canyon versus going there and hiking through it and seeing it in person. It’s just not the same.

IMG_0478
Our spot for viewing the eclipse overlooked the water

When totality was happening, there were outcries of joy around us, clapping, and lots of exclamations from others. We were watching from a park by the water in Mt. Pleasant. Dogs and small children were running around, clueless to what was going on around them. There was definitely a vibe of something indescribable, like we all knew what we were experiencing was a once in a lifetime occurrence for most people, and we all appreciated that we were able to be a part of it.

IMG_0488

I’m sure now that it’s over, some people will say things like, “It wasn’t that great,” or it wasn’t what they expected. It was surely hyped-up by the media and for some people it wouldn’t be able to live up to the hype. For me, though, it’s something I know I’ll always remember experiencing and I feel lucky to have been a part of it.

IMG_0486

Did any of you guys get to experience totality? What did you think of the eclipse?