Faro, Sagres and Lagos, Portugal

First a little geography lesson for anyone who has never been to the southern part of Portugal known as the Algarve. Lagos and Sagres are both on the western end of the Algarve, with Sagres on the very tip of southwestern Portugal. I had read that the further west you go in the Algarve, the less populated it is and I found that to be true. There also wasn’t as much to do as far as shopping and restaurants on the far western part. Faro is about an hour and a half drive east of Lagos and is where the Faro Airport is. All three cities are unique in their own right, each offering something worth checking out. I’ll break down the three cities one-by-one here.

Sagres

One of the major attractions in Sagres is the Sagres Fortress. This is part of the Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina Natural Park and includes a lighthouse (Farol de Sagres, where “farol” means lighthouse in Portuguese) and A Voz do Mar, which I’ll explain in a minute. There is a very large parking area where you’ll park and walk to the entrance of the fort and pay 3.50 Euro. Although you enter in an enclosed area, the vast majority of the fort is outside.

One of the amazing views from the Sagres Fortress

The views from the fort are amazing and there are markers along the walkway describing the fort and the flora and fauna in Portuguese, Spanish, and English. A Voz do Mar (“Voice of the Sea”) is a circular labyrinth that was originally going to be a temporary exhibit but was later made permanent. It was designed by the famous architect Pancho Guedes and is one of those places you just have to visit to understand but suffice to say when I was there, I exclaimed, “Whoa! That is so cool!” In short, it has just the right acoustics with its design to capture some of the sounds of the surrounding ocean. There’s also a tiny little church you can walk through on the grounds. Apparently one fortress and lighthouse wasn’t enough to the people in Sagres because there’s also the Lighthouse of Cabo de São Vicente and Fort of Santo António de Belixe, both about a 10-minute drive from Farol de Sagres and Sagres Fortress.

I had a hard time finding much to do in Sagres other than visiting the forts. There were plenty of surfing shops and several bars but not a whole lot else. The restaurants seemed to be clustered together in the same area; one we liked was Three Little Birds, a large restaurant with an outdoor seating area in a garden-like setting. The service was slow but they were also pretty much at max capacity and the food was excellent.

Can you tell it was windy at the fort?

Lagos

Driving toward the east from Sagres, Lagos is only about a half hour drive from Sagres and has much more to do, including one of my favorite walks, the Fisherman’s Trail (Trilho dos Pescadores) with Ponta da Piedade, which I wrote about on my previous post on Portugal (A Week in the Algarve- Southern Portugal- Outdoor Adventures). There are also streets that you can wander around on and get lost and discover some cute little shops, stopping to eat when you get hungry. Plus there are also some historical sites, including a Roman bridge, a fort complex, Forte da Ponta da Bandeira, and a castle.

I did have a hard time finding a parking spot in the center of town in Lagos but part of the problem may have been because it was Easter weekend. There was a street festival going on so there were probably more people than usual out that day. I got yelled at in Portuguese by an elderly gentleman who thought I was taking his parking spot in front of a church. I was on a tiny one-way road that suddenly ended and I was trying to turn around when he came over to my car and started pecking on the driver’s window. It was obvious what he was saying even though I didn’t understand a word he was saying. I tried to use my hands and arms to gesture and let him know I wasn’t parked but was turning around (which I would have been able to do sooner had he not approached my car) and finally I was able to get out of his obviously important (to him) parking spot. After much driving around, I lucked upon a tiny park with just one parking spot left and I happily took it.

The water along the Fisherman’s Trail was so pretty!

Faro

Compared to Lagos and Sagres, Faro is a bustling city, with a population of around 41,000. The Faro Airport serves the Algarve and is well-situated geographically, although it is a bit closer to Spain than the far tip of Sagres. On the day we went to the nature park, Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, we also stopped at Faro since they’re a short drive from one another.

While in Faro, we went to the Municipal Museum of Faro, a former convent, where we walked around for maybe an hour. Admission was 2 Euro per person but is free on Sundays until 2:30 pm (check their website to be sure that’s still the case before you go, (https://www.cm-faro.pt/pt/menu/215/museu-municipal-de-faro.aspx). I also wanted to go to Faro Municipal Market. I’ve always enjoyed checking out local shopping areas when I go to other countries and this one did not disappoint. There were plenty of local vendors selling fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and fish, chocolates and pastries, and flowers plus some restaurants and cafes and a large grocery store on the bottom level.

We got some pastries and sat outside to enjoy the nice weather while we ate. When we got to the rental car, I noticed a parking ticket on the windshield. It had a link to a website so later that evening I went online and saw I had inadvertently parked in a time-limited spot and had to pay something like 4 Euro, which I did right then before I forgot. Honestly, for the amount of time we had been parked there, 4 Euro seemed like a fair deal and it was quick and easy to take care of.

Photos from the Faro Municipal Museum and nearby

Despite getting yelled at by the elderly Portuguese man in Lagos and getting a parking ticket in Faro, I enjoyed these cities plus Sagres. Driving around Lagos wasn’t my favorite, with so many little one-way narrow roads and many parking signs saying parking was for residents only (which I fully understand and am not saying they shouldn’t offer this for their residents), but finding shops with parking spaces was difficult. Ultimately, when I did find a parking spot I found it was easier to just walk around and find shops and restaurants on my own rather than try to drive directly to them like I would in the US.

I know the Algarve is mainly known for its beaches (and for good reason) but I wanted to bring attention to these three cities as well. After all, not everyone just lounges at the beach all day. It’s good to have other options too.

Have you been to any of these cities or anywhere else in the Algarve? Do you want to go to Southern Portugal but haven’t made it there yet?

Happy travels!

Donna

A Week in the Algarve- Southern Portugal- Outdoor Adventures

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: In 2020, I was supposed to take a big vacation and then all of a sudden this thing called Covid-19 hit, causing worldwide shutdowns. I know I’m not the only person who had to cancel plans when the pandemic started. I’m also not the only person who thought, “Surely this will be over in a couple of months and I can just postpone my trip until then.”

I was supposed to go to southern Spain and southern Portugal for a week each in June of 2020. When borders were closed I pushed back those plans a couple of months to August, only to finally cancel indefinitely. Once vaccinations and treatments were available and borders were starting to open again in 2021, I made plans to go to just Portugal (so no Spain this time) for a week during my daughter’s spring break in 2022.

I’m not going to go into detail here about all of the COVID testing requirements and regulations since I already wrote about that here: International Travel as an American During COVID Isn’t Easy but needless to say it was stressful. It turns out the stress didn’t stop there. When we arrived in Lisbon we were told there was too much fog that morning to fly safely into Faro. The airline, TAP Portugal was going to bus us all to Faro, or we could rent cars ourselves if we chose to do so (on our own dime). The ironic part is the fog lifted fairly quickly and we could have easily flown to Faro and we would have gotten there sooner, even with waiting a few hours. We were told it would be about a three hour bus ride.

After much standing around in the Lisbon airport for hours and being told time after time, “We’re still working on getting the buses here,” we finally boarded the buses (we all fit in two buses after many people left and rented vehicles on their own) and began the drive to Faro airport. Of course there was a lot of complaining by passengers in the meantime but I was just happy to get to Faro that same day. They could have easily told us we would have to wait until the next day to fly out.

I should mention never once did anyone from the airline (TAP Portugal) tell us we were entitled to any form of compensation or even a free lunch for our troubles, despite many people angrily demanding something in return. I know when it’s a weather-related delay airlines can pretty much do what they want. Since our flight from New York was an overnight one, I was exhausted by now and slept on the bus most of the way. The few times I did look out the window there didn’t seem to be much to see anyway other than normal highway sights.

Our temporary home in Portugal was perfect!

FINALLY in Faro (that should have been the title of my post), I picked up the rental car and about an hour later we arrived in Ferragudo at the Airbnb, a beautiful townhouse with several balconies including a rooftop balcony with bouganvillea spilling over the front of the property. Ferragudo turned out to be the perfect area to stay because it was a fairly central location in the Algarve, only an hour from the southwestern tip of Portugal and an hour from the southern border with Spain.

Things to Do- Hiking

Since the water was still chilly (I saw surfers wearing wet suits and children in the water but that was it) the plan was to spend most of our time hiking and generally checking out all that we could in a week without spending a ton of time in the car. We were very close to two incredible trails, The Seven Hanging Valleys Trail (Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos) and Trail of the Headlands (Caminho dos Promontórios).

The Seven Hanging Valleys Trail has been voted the best trail in Europe and I can see why. It’s around 12 kilometers (about 7.5 miles) and stretches from Praia da Marinha to Praia do Vale de Centeanes (Praia means “beach” in Portuguese). The trail is one-way so either you have a car pick you up at the end or you turn around and go back the way you came. Along the way you go past one of the most famous beaches in Portugal, Praia de Benagil. The trail was a little difficult to follow at times so pay attention when you come to businesses, since one part of the trail goes right through a restaurant at one point, and bring water, snacks, and sunscreen. There are some restaurants along the way but if you’re there during the winter they may not be open.

Hiking along the coast was one of my favorite things to do- it was so beautiful!

The Trail of the Headlands is about 6 kilometers and you can park at Praia do Molhe in Ferragudo to begin. There’s a wonderful restaurant by this beach that we ate dinner at on both our first and last days and I highly recommend it (the restaurant is called O Molhe). The trail is another out-and-back trail where you’ll see the rugged limestone cliffs with the azure blue water below but it was notably less busy when we were there than when we hiked the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail. Although many of the beaches along this trail are inaccessible, you can reach Praia do Pintadinho and Praia dos Caneiros.

A bit further west near Lagos is the Fisherman’s Trail (Trilho dos Pescadores). This 11-kilometer trail goes from Luz Beach to the train station in Lagos and like the other trails in the Algarve discussed here, has views of limestone cliffs with the blue water below. You’ll go past a famous area called Ponte da Piedade with its rock formations, caves, and grottos. There was once a Roman temple, a Moorish temple, a Christian hermitage, a fortification to protect Torrinha’s fishing tackle, and even a lighthouse here.

Beaches

As I mentioned earlier, the word beach in Portuguese is “Praia.” Honestly, I could never say here, “These are the best beaches in the Algarve” because 1) I’m certainly no expert on this and 2) That’s a pretty subjective matter. I will say this, two of the more popular beaches, Praia do Carvalho and Praia da Marinha get crowded. We managed to find a tiny beach one day, Praia da Afurada, that was near where we were staying in Ferragudo and not a single other person was there the entire time we were there, reading on the beach. It’s hard to go wrong with the over 100 beaches in the Algarve.

Ria Formosa Nature Park

The Ria Formosa Nature Park is near the town of Olhão. I suggest you stop in town first to get cash if you don’t have any since the nature park has an entry fee and they don’t accept credit cards. There’s also no food or drinks for sale in the park. We were there just before lunch so I found a small restaurant that turned out to be interesting. I asked for a menu and the person working there pointed to a small chalkboard with three things written on it: carne de porco, frango, and peixe (pork, chicken, and fish). Good thing my daughter and I are adventurous eaters! I chose the chicken for both of us and we received steaming plates of tender chicken with a creamy yellow sauce and fried potatoes on the side. It was delicious and tasted a bit like yellow curry but I honestly have no idea what it was and we didn’t get sick later.

Flamingos but not pink. Not sure what the birds in the trees were (upper right).

The Nature Park has a small parking lot where you park and pay for entry then it’s all self-guided trails. I didn’t find the trails especially well-marked and got turned around a few times, despite having a map given to me at the entrance. It’s full of a bunch of loops that go around one another so while it’s virtually impossible to get completely lost and not find your way back, you may end up like we did going in circles the wrong way a few times. We saw some flamingos and many other birds that I have no idea what they were since I’m not familiar with Portuguese birds but no other animals. We went past some salt pans but they were disappointingly not picturesque, unfortunately. It’s a nice place to walk around for a couple of hours, especially if you’re a nature-lover, and this doesn’t seem like a place that gets overly-crowded.

I’m going to end my post on southern Portugal here since it seems like a nice place to end. I’ll pick up with a post on some of the restaurants, shopping, and other things we enjoyed and some other things that happened to us (not all good) on our Portuguese adventure!

Have you been to Southern Portugal? If so, where did you go? Happy travels!

Donna

Alphabet Adventures: Travels Around the World From A to Z

During the beginning of the pandemic there was a challenge on Twitter called #AlphabetAdventures where you list every place you’ve been going through the alphabet from A to Z. A blogger I follow, The Travel Architect, posted her own Alphabet Adventures: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/88998444/posts/3400505571 and it seemed like a fun challenge for me but I never got around to posting until now. Better late than never I guess! Finally without further ado, join me on my Alphabet Adventure!

A is for Austria

Austria’s slogan should be “Land of waterfalls.” The main reason I wanted to go to Austria was because of a photo I saw of the Bad Gastein Waterfall that goes right through the historical spa town of Bad Gastein. Not only did I see that waterfall but I learned if you plan your trip in the spring you can see dozens of waterfalls in Austria.

Bad Gastein Waterfall in Austria

B is for Boise, Idaho

I ran a half marathon in Boise and loved exploring the city while I was there. There’s great hiking, mountain biking, museums, parks, a zoo and aquarium, a nice botanical garden, and really good food.

Beautiful Boise

C is for Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston is one of my favorite places in the world and I’ve been here many times over the years. The food is some of the best I’ve had anywhere, the beaches are some of the most beautiful, there’s history and cool architecture galore, and so much more.

Powder-soft white sandy beaches near Charleston

D is for Duck, North Carolina

The letter d was surprisingly difficult for me until I remembered the first place we took our daughter for a beach trip when she was a baby, Duck, North Carolina. Duck is part of the quieter northern part of the Outer Banks. It’s perfect for a long weekend or if you just want to get away from the crowds.

Playing in the sand with my daughter in Duck

E is for Evansville, Indiana

For many years the half marathon I ran in Evansville, Indiana was one of my favorites (until it was replaced by others). I had never heard of Evansville before I planned the trip here but the festival going on the weekend of the race sounded fun, and it was. For those curious, Evansville is about 2 hours from Louisville, KY or Nashville, TN, and about 3 hours from St. Louis, MO or Indianapolis, IN so it’s a reasonable drive to many bigger cities.

Evansville has a nice zoo and botanical garden, children’s museum, Museum of Arts, History, and Science with a planetarium, and prehistoric Native American mounds

F is for Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Fort Lauderdale is a beach town on the southern part of Florida less than an hour’s drive from Miami. I first went here when I was in college and won a day cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to and from the Bahamas, where I spent a few days in a hotel on the island and got my first taste of international travel.

Ft. Lauderdale Beach. Photo by Lance Asper

G is for Greece

I chose to skip the cruise ship when I went to Greece and instead flew into Athens, where I spent a couple of days exploring the ruins and indulging in the food before flying to the island of Crete. Crete is full of mountains perfect for hiking, some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, some cool ruins and historical sites, plus some of the best food anywhere.

One of many beaches in Crete with crystal-clear water

H is for Honolulu, Hawaii

Don’t ask me why but for years I resisted going to Honolulu, Hawaii when I was planning vacations to Hawaii (I’ve been a few times), despite the fact that a co-worker kept raving about it after she and her husband went several times. I think I had in my head that it would be a big city full of high-rises and tourists and not worth going to. Finally, I decided to just go and see for myself. Let me just say, although there are high-rises and tourists there, it is most definitely worth going to and you can pretty quickly and easily escape the crowds and find quieter, more secluded spots on the island.

Diamond Head, one of the best places to go for a view of Oahu

I is for Italy

Italy was one of the first European countries I went to, back when I was young, naive, and knew barely anything about traveling. It was relatively easy to get around even speaking a minimal amount of butchered Italian and the food alone was worth the flight. The ruins were a bonus!

The Arno River in Florence, Italy

J is for Jamaica

Jamaica was only the second island in the Caribbean I ever visited, after the Bahamas so I was still very much young and naive when it came to travel planning. I stayed at my resort in Ocho Rios the entire week except to go to the famous Dunn’s River Falls waterfall for a day trip and a snorkeling trip.

Dunn’s River Falls. Photo from Pixabay

K is for Kentucky

I went to Louisville, Kentucky a couple of times; the first time I went with a friend of mine and her family to see the Kentucky Derby when I was in grade school and the second time I ran a half marathon there for my seventh state. My second visit there was far less interesting than the first time when I went for the horse race.

Kentucky Derby photo by Bence Szemerey from Pexels

L is for Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain

Even though I haven’t been to mainland Spain, I’ve been to the Spanish islands of Tenerife (see the letter “T” below) and Gran Canaria, including the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is the capital city of Gran Canaria and has a huge Carnival parade, many museums, beautiful beaches, and near-perfect weather year-round.

One of my favorite beach photos ever is this one from Gran Canaria

M is for Malta

If you’ve heard me go on and on about Malta, you’ll know it’s simply because I fell in love with the island when I went there. Even though many Europeans vacation in Malta or at least know others that do, most Americans haven’t even heard of the tiny country and have no idea where it is (off the coast of Sicily, very close to the North African coast). Malta is one of those places I tell everyone, just go. You won’t regret it.

Yep, of course I had to put this photo of the Gozo Salt Pans here

N is for New Zealand

If someone told me I could go anywhere in the world and be teleported there instantly and asked where would I choose, I wouldn’t hesitate. I would choose the South Island of New Zealand. I went to the North Island and would love, love, love to go to the South Island. New Zealand is a place that when you show others photos from your trip, they later start planning their own trip there; it’s just that amazing. And, yes, I would fly there again even though it’s one of the longest flights I’ve been on, but it’s without a doubt worth it.

Hobbiton in New Zealand was one of many highlights

O is for Omaha, Nebraska

I had heard so many negative things about Nebraska I was surprised how much I liked Omaha when I went there recently. Maybe it’s an outlier of the rest of Nebraska but I found Omaha full of historical sites and museums, unique shops, and really good food.

Omaha in the Fall is quite beautiful with all of the autumn colors

P is for Peru

My trek to Machu Picchu was one of many once-in-a-lifetime things I did while I was in Peru. In addition to the multi-day trek that ended in Machu Picchu, I climbed up famous Rainbow Mountain, spent a few days exploring Cusco, and saw a quite different side of Peru when I flew to Arequipa and spent a few days there. Peru is truly an incredible country, oh and don’t get me started on the food!

Machu Picchu in Peru

Q is for Queens, New York

I don’t typically choose the most popular half marathons for the ones I run so it’s fitting that I chose to run the Allstate New York 13.1 Half Marathon, a smaller race that was only around for a couple of years. Since we stayed in the Queens borough, we got to explore more of that area than I had previously when I stayed in Manhattan. There’s really quite a few things to see such as Flushing Meadows Corona Park and the Arthur Ashe Tennis Stadium, New York Hall of Science, Queens Museum, Queens Botanical Garden, and a small zoo.

After my half marathon through Queens

R is for Rapid City, South Dakota

After not caring for North Dakota, I wasn’t so sure about South Dakota, but I learned just because two states border each other means absolutely nothing. These two states couldn’t be much more different IMO. Rapid City is a good landing spot for day trips in the area, like Badlands National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and more outdoor places like this.

Badlands Naional Park near Rapid City, South Dakota (OK, I know, it’s technically not a photo of Rapid City but this place was so cool!)

S is for St. Kitts and Nevis

I’m a huge fan of the Caribbean islands and would like to eventually visit all or most of them. St. Kitts and Nevis are volcanic islands in the West Indies that are safe, beautiful, and depending on what you’re going for either laid-back and relaxing or full of activities. I highly recommend both islands, although Nevis is tiny with less activities than St. Kitts.

No, it’s not Hawaii but definitely resembles it with the ocean color and black volcanic rocks

T is for Tenerife, Spain

The island of Tenerife is part of Spain’s Canary Islands, off the coast of northwestern Africa, the second of the Canary Islands I visited (see Gran Canaria above). I found Tenerife to be a bit more touristy than Gran Canaria but also cleaner and the roads and infrastructure in general in better condition. Given the choice, I’d choose Tenerife but happily would visit either island again!

Hiking Mount Teide, the highest point on Spanish soil

U is for Utah

Being a national parks lover, I knew I’d love Utah before I ever stepped foot in the state. I wanted to cram in more national parks on my vacation but managed to fit in Bryce Canyon and Zion Canyon National Parks, along with the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon in Arizona on a fairly recent visit to Utah. I would love to go back and visit some more national parks in Utah.

Bryce Canyon in the winter was simply magical

V is for Vermont

Vermont was my first experience with the New England states and it set the bar high. I loved Vermont, from the vibrant green trees everywhere to the small farms with fresh maple syrup and homemade cheese to the friendly easy-going people. Vermont left me longing to see if the other New England states were nearly as phenomenal as Vermont (I’ll just leave that one hanging).

One of many covered bridges in Vermont that I saw

W is for Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. was my first “real” big city experience growing up. I grew up in a small town in West Virginia, about a 5 hour drive from Washington, D.C. and first visited here as a child with my mom. I remember being astounded by so many things like the huge monuments seemingly everywhere, the plethora of restaurants and shops, and all. the. traffic. The traffic has unfortunately continued to get worse over the years but I still like visiting. Thank goodness for public transportation!

My daughter’s first trip to Washington, D.C. She loved all of the museums (as do I!).

X is for Xcaret Park, Mexico

Thanks to the fact that the Mayans liked to name many places starting with the letter x, this place immediately sprung to mind. Xcaret Park is in Playa del Carmen near Cancun. I took a day trip here many years ago.

Xcaret Photo from Pixabay

Y is for Yellowstone National Park

As a huge national parks lover, I was over the top excited to visit Yellowstone National Park, the oldest national park in the United States. Even though I only saw a small portion of the park because it’s so enormous, I still was able to see Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Upper Geyser Basin, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, bison, and so much more. I would love to go back and see parts of the park I didn’t have time for.

Yellowstone National Park is one of the most naturally colorful parks I’ve been to!

Z is for Zion National Park

Zion National Park in Utah is known for the Narrows, where you walk through water in a slot canyon, and Angel’s Landing, which is known to be so narrow at times you have a steep drop-off on either side of you and mere inches across from side to side to walk on. I did neither of these while I was there. Well, I went through part of the Narrows but did not have proper wading pants so I didn’t continue through and to be honest, I didn’t feel comfortable taking my daughter on Angel’s Landing even though I know she would have insisted she was able and competent enough to handle it, but my mom’s heart just couldn’t handle the stress so I skipped it. Still, even without those two famous trails, Zion is a beautiful park with red rocks, waterfalls, Emerald Pools, and a hanging garden and is one of the best national parks I’ve been to.

Zion National Park in Utah

Were you surprised by any place I chose? I have to admit, I had a hard time deciding between some places but others were easy. I challenge you to do your own A to Z alphabet adventure. It’s a ton of fun but does take some time to put it all together!

Happy travels!

Donna

What to do When Things Go Badly When Hiking

I’m an avid hiker and have hiked all over the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, South America, Canada, New Zealand, and well, just about everywhere I’ve ever visited. Many things have also gone badly when I’ve been hiking. Too many times to remember I’ve missed a turn and gotten lost, had a bear suddenly approach me (only once, thank goodness), been without water or snacks when I needed them, been without cell phone coverage or a map, had the weather turn suddenly, and these are all things off the top of my head that have happened.

I’ve lived and learned by my own mistakes and I’m writing this post in the hopes that you may also learn from my mistakes. Yes, sometimes things go wrong even when you’ve done everything you could to prepare but as they say, a little preparation goes a long way. Of course you should always try to be prepared well in advance before you even leave for your hike, not when you’re standing at the trail head or arrive at the parking lot. Here are some things you can do to prepare.

This trail in Chile was like an enchanted forest

You should first check the weather forecast to make sure a storm isn’t supposed to blow in or something like that and make sure you’re appropriately dressed for the temperature. If you’ll be hiking up a steep mountain for example, the type where there’s snow at the top even though it’s sunny and warm at the bottom, bring a jacket and even gloves and a hat depending on the circumstances. And please, women, make sure you have appropriate shoes, meaning no sandals (unless they’re Chaco or others meant for hiking), no high heels, and absolutely no flip flops. I hate to single out the ladies but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen women wearing shoes clearly not meant to be worn when hiking.

Bring water and snacks if there’s even a slight chance you’ll be out for more than an hour. I’ve found it’s always better to have it and not eat or drink it than not have it and be dying of thirst or hunger. Other good things to bring include a small first aid kit, sunscreen, bug spray, emergency blanket, and bear spray if there are bears in the area.

The Canary Islands aren’t just known for their beaches- the hiking is incredible there!

Download a map of the area in Google maps so in the likely event you don’t have cell coverage you’ll still have a map of the area. If you can’t do that pick up a paper map of the trails or print one out before you leave. It’s also a good idea to choose which trail(s) you’ll be hiking before you go out. If you’re going to a national park, check out https://www.nps.gov/index.htm or if you’re going to a state park, look that up online to read about the trail lengths and difficulty. Another good source is https://www.alltrails.com/.

What if you’ve done everything you possibly could to prepare in advance and something still goes badly on your hike? Now what? It depends on the circumstance but I’ll give you some examples of what can go wrong and what you can do.

One of the most common things to go wrong on a trail is people get lost. You miss a turn or aren’t paying attention and wander off the trail. This happened to me when I was pregnant and hiking in Arizona (I was in my first trimester and not even showing then). My husband and I missed a turn and the next thing I knew I was looking down a sheer drop. We slowly back-tracked the way we had come and after a while saw where we had gotten off the marked trail. Of course this works best if you’re not wandering off-trail for very long but still, do your best to remember your surroundings and try to back-track the way you came.

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park was exhilarating!

This brings me to another thing you can do to help prevent yourself from getting lost in the first place: pay attention. When you’re hiking, it’s easy to just get lost in your surroundings and before you know it, all the trees look the same. This can be very dangerous, however, if you do get lost and have absolutely no idea how to find your way back. If you know you’re not very observant (or even if you are) you can leave markings along the way so you could potentially follow them if you needed to. Some great ones that don’t harm the environment are chalk marks on trees, rock piles, pinecones, or sticks piled in specific ways set by you that you will remember. You also need to pay attention to the trail markings set by who ever made and maintains the trail. If you start off on a trail marked with blue diamonds, you need to stay on that trail.

If you find yourself taking much longer than you expected and you’re getting dehydrated, if you brought along a LifeStraw or other type of water filter, you can use that to safely drink lake or river water from. Never drink water straight from the source without first filtering it because it could have microorganisms that can make you sick. No one wants to have diarrhea or stomach cramps when they’re hiking. Unless you’re an expert at foraging, I don’t recommend randomly picking wild mushrooms or berries because again, they can make you sick if you don’t know which ones are the edible ones and which ones are poisonous.

Hiking in Grand Teton National Park was almost as much fun as doing standup paddleboarding on the lake there!

Another good thing to bring along is a space blanket. These fold neatly into a little square so they don’t take up much space in a backpack but they can literally save a life. For example, say the person you’re hiking with falls into a river accidentally and the water is freezing. You can whip out the space blanket and wrap it around them to quickly warm them up. It’s also good to have if you find yourself so lost you can’t get back to your car before it gets dark and you have to spend the night on the trail.

My final word of advice is never go hiking alone unless you’re a thoroughly seasoned hiker, know first aid and personal safety, and have a way of contacting others in the event of an emergency. If you fall into that category, I suspect you won’t be reading this blog post, however.

What about you? Have you been on a hike and things went badly? Do you avoid hiking because you’re worried about the dangers?

Happy hiking!

Donna

Book Review: “Take More Vacations. How to Search Better, Book Cheaper, and Travel the World” by Scott Keyes, Founder of Cheap Flights

I’ve been an email subscriber to Scott’s Cheap Flights for a while and when I saw he had a book out, I checked right away if my local library had a copy, and I was happy to see they did. If you aren’t familiar with the website, you just sign up for their newsletter and choose which plan you prefer. https://scottscheapflights.com/

The plans are limited, domestic, and elite. Limited plans are free, domestic plans cost $49/year, and elite plans are $199/year. Limited members get all of the international economy class deals each month from up to 5 airports. Premium members get best economy deals from up to 10 airports, including domestic deals, Weekend Getaways, and Mistake Fares from your home airport.
‍Elite members get all the benefits of Premium in first, business, or premium economy class. Elite members can also receive Mistake Fares from any US airport and get deals from unlimited airports in the US.

Scott Keyes book is a fairly quick and easy read with great tips and information for new travelers or people who aren’t aware of all of the tricks available online for saving money on airfare. I’m not new to finding airfare deals but still found the book useful for me with some things I had forgotten and some new information as well. The book is 275 pages including the Conclusion, Acknowledgements, Notes, and Index.

For those not familiar with Scott’s background story, he found a nonstop business class ticket from New York City to Milan, Italy, which would normally cost $850 for $130 in 2013. He began finding other phenomenal deals like this over the years and family, friends, and co-workers began asking him to help them find deals on airfare. One thing lead to another and Scott Keyes eventually started the website which today has over 2 million subscribers.

The book is divided into chapters including reasons why everyone should take vacation time, how cheap flights can lead to happier trips, smarter ways to search for flights including being flexible when searching, some history on airline pricing, flight-booking myths, overtourism, and ways to maximize your vacation. I felt like the chapters flowed smoothly and the layout made sense. It was interesting to read how airfare is determined now compared to how it used to be determined.

Since the book was published in 2021, it also includes information about COVID-19. For example, in the myth-busting chapter, he addresses the myth that flights are only cheap because of Coronavirus. He counters this with the fact that many factors that drive airfare down such as jet fuel being cheaper now predated the pandemic and many things like more efficient airplanes will just continue to get better and in turn airfare will continue to drop. He gives the example that in 1948 a TWA flight from New York City to Rome cost $848 roundtrip, which is the equivalent of more than $9000 in today’s dollars; that same flight today can be found as low as $248 roundtrip.

I was surprised to read that according to some studies on travel, people will get more enjoyment from anticipating a vacation than being on the trip itself. When you plan a trip well in advance you actually spread out your happiness and enjoyment longer and gain more than if you take a last-minute trip. You also tend to have better memories of a vacation if you schedule the best for last. I noticed a long time ago when I would ask my young daughter what her favorite part of the vacation was, she would inevitably just name the last thing we did on vacation, even if it was something small like getting ice cream on a trip to an amazing place like Hawaii. Now I completely understand why she would do that.

There are countless little tips and tricks in the book for every kind of traveler. One of my favorites is the Greek Islands Trick where you want to go to a place like Santorini in Greece from New York City but airfare is around $1500. Meanwhile, flights to Athens are much cheaper (historically as low as $300); when you’re that close to Santorini, flights from Athens to Santorini are less than $50 roundtrip. You easily save over $1000 just by flying into a different city than you want to end up and tack on a short flight from there. How much time you spend in Athens is up to you.

I actually did the Greek Islands Trick when I went to Crete, Greece several years ago. Flights were much cheaper to Athens than Crete so I just flew into Athens and spent a couple of nights there before flying to Crete. There were also ferries from Athens to Crete that were cheap options but they weren’t as fast as the flights and the priority for me then was time over money, plus it wasn’t even a huge difference between the flight and ferry. Of course the Greek Islands Trick can work on any destination and not just Greece.

There’s also a discussion on the differences between airline miles and credit card points. Scott explains how miles and points each work, the differences between each, and when you should use cash, points, or miles. There are also instances when you can combine cash and miles with some airlines. If you know the conversions and calculations to make for each, it’s easy to figure out if one is a better deal than another.

No matter what your level of travel may be, I recommend reading this book and getting on the email list, especially if you fly internationally at least some of the time. If you only fly domestically, you can still gain some knowledge but all of the deals on Scott’s Cheap Flights are international economy airfare with the Limited Plan. The Premium plan includes domestic in addition to international economy flights so if you don’t mind paying for this plan, you could potentially save much more than the price of the plan in a year.

Have you read this book? Do you get emails from Scott’s Cheap Flights and if so have you ever gotten a great deal that you booked? Have you used the Greek Island Trick to fly somewhere?

Happy travels!

Donna

My First Solo Vacation

Although I have traveled for work-related trips before without any family or friends several times, I had never truly traveled by myself for a vacation until I went to Des Moines, Iowa for a half marathon recently. I have heard several bloggers and podcasters say how much they enjoy solo travel and how everyone should try it at least once in their lives. After doing it myself this time, I have to say I truly did enjoy it.

Overall, there are many pros to traveling by yourself, which I’ll list some of here. Of course, everyone is different and I’m sure my perspective at this point in my life is unique to me. Still, some of what I’m about to say may inspire some of you to take your first solo trip or at least plant the seed. So here are some of the pros to traveling by yourself:

You can do whatever you want, when you want. As a mother, this one was pretty big for me. My daughter is now sixteen and for the past sixteen years, I’ve always had to consider my daughter’s wants and needs when on vacation. Yes, the easy way out would have been to have just left her at home with a close friend but I always felt like kids benefit from traveling the world so there was never a vacation that she didn’t go on with me.

When she was really young, I had to make sure she got her naps in and went to bed on time and when she was older I made sure I included her in the decision-making on what we did. This was the first time in sixteen years that I only thought about what I want to do and it was huge. I found myself skipping things I would have normally done (like going out for dessert just about every afternoon) and instead choosing things I know she wouldn’t have liked. Besides my daughter, there was also no husband’s wants to consider, which of course was also huge for me to not have to consider for once.

You can go to sleep whenever you want and wake up whenever you want. I realize this kind of goes under the first pro but it seems like to me it should get its own paragraph. Again, as a parent, this one is pretty big. Not having to consider anyone else in the room and being able to stay up as late as you want (and make as much noise as you want) and then wake up without anyone else waking you up is a big deal.

You really get to know yourself a bit better. When you’re by yourself 24/7 and are only in the company of strangers when you go out in public, you pretty quickly get into your own head. If you’re not already comfortable in your own skin, this could be pretty scary. Fortunately for me, during the pandemic, I read more self-help books than I had in my entire life because I went through a rough patch in my life. Because of that, I now see aspects of myself I couldn’t see before and know myself better than I ever have (I guess that’s one good thing to have come of the pandemic for me personally anyway).

You also get to know the place you’re staying better. Now this one surprised me. I’m not sure why but for the first time ever I felt like I learned my way around the area (Des Moines) almost immediately upon arrival. It could be the incredibly easy grid layout they had for the streets there, but I don’t think so. I’ve been to other Midwest cities and other cities that are laid out in a similar grid-style and I never felt like I figured my way around as quickly as I did in Des Moines. I think it was purely the fact that I had no one else to help me so I knew instinctively that I had better figure my way around quickly. Yes, of course I had Google Maps but I found myself turning it off after a couple of turns because I already knew where I was going.

Strangers will talk to you more when you’re by yourself. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who the stranger is. When I was in the Denver airport for a layover on my way to Des Moines, a woman sat next to me and started chatting away incessantly, something that would not have happened if I had been with someone else. She was obviously lonely and just wanted someone to talk to, but when she wouldn’t stop talking after what felt like a solid 30 minutes, I told her I needed to go to the restroom and slipped away. I’ve also noticed other strangers were more chatty with me at restaurants and other public places when I was by myself. Usually, this was a good thing.

Of course, the single biggest con that I can see with solo travel is you don’t have someone close to you to share special moments with. That stunning sunset, the unique sculpture, or the amazing dinner you had by yourself will just have to be enjoyed by you and you alone. The best you can do is snap a photo and send it to someone or make a video call but it will never be the same as if they were with you in-person. When I finished my half marathon in Des Moines, I made a video call to my daughter but of course that only lasted a few minutes and once I hung up I was still by myself.

Still, I agree that everyone should go on at least one solo vacation in their lives. I believe it’s good for the soul and who couldn’t use more of that?

Do you take solo vacations or do you always travel with friends or family? Are you curious about taking a vacation by yourself but never have? Tell me about your experience with solo travel.

Happy travels!

Donna

Just Two More States Left!

As I type this post, I only have two states left in my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, Iowa and New Mexico. Both races are close to each other so in less than a month, as long as all goes well, I will be finished with my quest. Honestly, it feels surreal to say that before the end of 2021 I will have run a half marathon in all 50 states.

It will have taken me almost exactly 21 years since my very first half marathon, the Battleship Half Marathon in Wilmington, North Carolina (Battleship Half Marathon and Gold Rush Half Marathon, North Carolina-My first half marathon (and third and fourth), on November 19, 2000 to finish this quest. Life is funny how things turn out. It was 44 degrees that day with a cold rain that later turned into snow. For the coast of North Carolina, it’s almost unheard of to see snow especially in November so it was definitely crazy and unexpected weather.

I knew that if I were to run the same race the following year it would almost definitely be better weather. That was my hook. I wanted to see just how I could do in a half marathon given better weather and of course better preparation that would inevitably come from another year of running. Had it been sunny and in the 50’s, who knows if I would have felt the drive to run that race again or any other half marathons for that matter.

When I ran the Battleship Half Marathon in 2001 it was sunny and 51 degrees and I shaved off almost 17 minutes from my finish time. At this point I had run several other races including the Kona Half Marathon in Hawaii (Kona Marathon and Half Marathon, Hawaii-2nd state). Not only was I hooked on running half marathons, I was hooked on traveling to half marathons although I didn’t have the goal of running one in every state at this point. Still to this day, I haven’t run a half marathon anywhere close enough to my home that I didn’t have to stay in a hotel the night before.

This was taken after my recent 14 mile training run

They say with children you should get them used to your lifestyle from the beginning so it becomes second nature to the child. For example, if you enjoy traveling and plan on bringing the child along with you, you should travel with the child from the start so they become accustomed to traveling and it’s just a “normal” part of their life.

I believe how you approach running and racing is a bit like that. If you start out running 5k’s near where you live and continue doing that over several years, it would be a much bigger barrier of entry to suddenly travel to a race. But if you’ve traveled to races very early in your racing history, it’s second nature to you and not traveling before a race would seem strange to you. At least that’s how I feel about racing.

The few local races I have run don’t stand out in my mind nearly as much as the ones I traveled to. Sure, I enjoyed the Color Run I ran with my daughter (Color Vibe 5k), a local 5k, but it did seem strange to sleep in my own bed the night before the race and drive back home after the race. Part of the difference could be that it was a 5k and you can’t fairly compare a 5k to a half marathon because of course it’s going to be a wholly different experience. Still, I have run a local 10-miler, almost as long as a half marathon and at this point in my life I have absolutely no desire to run a local half marathon and most likely never will run one.

For me, part of the draw to running a half marathon is the travel aspect and visiting a new area. I know for some people the mere idea of traveling to a race makes them so anxious they would never do that. Then again, I believe travel in general makes many people anxious and I understand that.

There are so many moving parts involved with traveling to a race including just getting to the city where the race is being held, whether it’s flying or driving, finding a hotel or other place to stay at least the night before the race if not afterwards as well, renting a car if you flew to the race, eating and finding suitable things to eat the night before the race so it doesn’t upset your stomach, getting to the race start, and on and on. I know for some people, the thought of planning all of these things is overwhelming and I believe this is why some people are drawn to the companies that have popped up that basically take care of everything for you if you’re traveling to a race so you just have to sign up and show up. A popular one is Vacationraces: https://vacationraces.com/.

Back to my half marathon in Iowa, state number 49. This race is full of firsts for me. It will be the first race where a family member won’t be going to a half marathon with me. This is also the first race where I won’t be traveling to other parts of the state once I get there. In fact, I’m not even going to rent a car but will be relying on the local transportation and ride shares. A friend of mine who lives in Iowa is also running the race so I won’t be totally by myself but for a majority of my time there I will be by myself so I’m calling it my first solo travel trip.

I’m not anxious at all about any of these first times. On the contrary, I’m very much looking forward to traveling by myself and seeing what solo travel is like. A travel podcaster I follow has said before that he thinks everyone should experience solo travel at least once in their life and I’ve heard other people say how much they enjoy traveling by themselves and the many positive things to come of it.

I will be sure to let you all know how the race goes and what I think of solo travel!

Happy travels!

Donna

My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Days Two and Three

If you missed the first part of this series, you can catch up here: My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Day One

On our second day at Yosemite, after a filling breakfast of oatmeal with added nuts, chia seeds, and dried apples, we all packed up our backpacks and rode in a van provided by Lasting Adventures about one and a half hours to get to May Lake. I had never heard of May Lake before but found it to be absolutely stunning with trees and mountains surrounding the crystal-clear water.

We only had a short one mile hike to our campsite from the trail head where the van dropped us off. This was a good opportunity for everyone to get more of a feel for hiking with our backpacks. We were told to periodically tighten or loosen straps and see what felt better. As we all found out, it takes some getting used to carrying 35+ pounds on your back (I never got a firm estimate from Bella or Savannah on how much weight we were carrying but it felt like at least 35 pounds to me if not a solid 40 pounds).

Not a bad place to sleep for the night and the views are pretty incredible

As soon as we reached our campsite, the first thing I did was take off my backpack. Then we all set up our sleeping areas, meaning we laid out the Tyvek sheet first then placed the sleeping mat on top, and our sleeping bag on top. We were told everything should be “tidy and neat.”

After a simple lunch of salami and bagels with a view of May Lake, a few of us went with Bella to hike up Mt. Hoffmann and the rest of our troop stayed back with Savannah at the campsite. We were told the hike to the top of Mt. Hoffmann is 6 miles round-trip and the view from the top was great. What I wasn’t aware of at the time is that the elevation of May Lake is 9270 feet and there’s a 2000 feet elevation gain to the peak of Mt. Hoffmann. Oh, and did I mention some of the steepest parts of the trail are covered in decomposed granite, which is notoriously slippery?

See a trail here? Neither did I. Good thing we had Bella to guide us up Mount Hoffmann!

The trail definitely had some incredible views of May Lake and the surrounding area and I was doing pretty well trudging along, trying to keep up with Bella and our fast and fearless girls until we reached the very last part to the summit of Mt. Hoffmann, where I looked down and saw a sheer drop on one side. My fear of heights got the best of me and I announced that I was good where I was; I didn’t want to continue any further up.

Bella found a safe spot for me and our troop’s other chaperone, who said she was happy where we were as well and she would stay with me. I wasn’t sure if she was just saying that to make me feel better but I welcomed the company either way. We watched as the brave girls from our troop continued up the vertigo-inducing steepest part of the trail to the peak with its views of Clouds Rest and Half Dome and took in the views until they joined us shortly later.

When we got back to our campsite, we all changed out of our hiking shoes and enjoyed the refreshingly cold water of May Lake. After the intense hike to Mt. Hoffmann, the water felt great on my tired legs and feet. I could see the girls enjoying the views of the lake and mountains all around us and one kept saying, “I can’t believe I’m actually here. It’s so beautiful.” Indeed, I thought.

After a dinner of ramen noodles fortified with mixed dried vegetables we all collected wood for a fire (May Lake was one of the few places in Yosemite where a campfire was allowed because of recent wild fires and extreme drought in California). Bella really had the fire going and it was just what I needed to take the chill off the air. Because we were so high in elevation, it was considerably cooler here than where we started in Yosemite Valley. We were treated with mugs of hot cider and played a rousing game of Balderdash before turning in for the night.

The many views of May Lake

Day 3 was slated for our longest hike yet, at just around 7 miles. There was a lot of downhill hiking but also plenty of uphill to round things out. With the heavy backpack it was intense and we were all glad when we made it to the campsite. Bella and Savannah told us we would have incredible views of Half Dome from here. They even joked (or perhaps they were serious) that since there was no toilet at this campsite, unlike the previous ones, we could have the best view around when squatting to do our business.

One little note on that subject. I had peed in the wild many times when hiking or camping but I had never been without a toilet when I had to poop, not even on my epic multi-day trek to Machu Picchu in Peru. Believe it or not, the group we were with in Peru even had portable toilets for us spoiled Americans. There would be no portable toilets here. Bella and Savannah briefed all of us on the proper way to poop in the wild, which I’ll share here.

First you need to gather your supplies: a trowel with a blade that’s six inches long, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and a Ziplock bag to put your used toilet paper in. That’s it. The significance of the six inches for the trowel is that’s the Goldilocks spot for burying human excrement; too shallow and animals can and will dig it up, too deep and it’s not at the ideal depth in the soil for getting properly broken down and decomposed.

OK, so to poop in the wild, first find a spot approximately 200 feet from water sources and trails. Next, you dig a hole six inches deep with your trowel. Then you do your business, put the used toilet paper in your Ziplock bag, and use the hand sanitizer before covering the hole back with dirt using the trowel. The trowel should never touch anything but soil so it won’t need to be sanitized. That’s it! You just pooped in the wild!

Now back to day 3. As soon as we reached our campsite and set up camp, we went to a nearby creek where some of us just stuck our feet and legs in and others fully immersed themselves. As before, the water was quite chilly but refreshing especially after a challenging hike with a pack.

Our view for dinner on day 3- pretty nice, huh?

We had a delicious dinner of rice, soy curls and soy sauce. I had never had soy curls before but thought they were good enough to make a note to myself to look for them at the stores when I got back home. Also, if you haven’t caught on by now, almost everything we ate was dehydrated to save on space and weight. I learned on this trip that dehydrated food has come a long way since I had it many years ago, both in the taste and variety available now.

Bella and Savannah cooked our dinner at what they referred to as the “bluff,” with amazing views of Half Dome directly in front of us. We were hoping to see a bright pink sunset against the granite but it was too cloudy for that so we got a muted pink sky instead, still beautiful. Later, we were rewarded with a night sky full of stars and some shooting stars were thrown in for our added pleasure. Our entertaining guides captivated us with folklore stories about the constellations while we all sipped our hot cocoa.

Not to imply that our sunset wasn’t absolutely gorgeous because it was as you can see!

This was one of the chilliest nights we had experienced, with temperatures in the 40’s, but our sleeping bags kept us warm, and we slipped off to sleep to the sound of utter silence. A few of us were lucky enough to witness the Perseid meteor shower late that night.

To set the scene, this campsite was really deep in the wilds of Yosemite, with no other humans in sight. If I had been hiking in that area by myself without our guides I never would have even known it’s a designated campsite. Also, there was a bear in this area known to swipe bear cans and throw them over the cliff, knowing they would break open when they hit the bottom, spilling out their contents and providing dinner for the bear.

To be continued…

Rediscovering Abundance in Atlanta: Some of My Favorite Places in Atlanta, Georgia

Over the years Atlanta has been one of those cities that has a certain draw for me and I can’t stay away forever. Unlike most other cities I go to, once just wasn’t enough when it came to Atlanta. I first went to Atlanta when I was in college in the late 90’s and I’ve been back a few times since then. I almost moved there straight after graduate school and most likely would have if I would have gotten a job offer there.

Still, when I go back (as I recently did) I’m always amazed at how much the area has grown since my previous visit. I read a projection that they expect the population of Atlanta to grow to 8.6 million people by 2050 (it’s currently just over half a million). Traffic is insane and you’d be well-advised to take the MARTA public transportation system https://www.itsmarta.com/, primarily the train system although there are buses and streetcars as well. Besides, even if you don’t mind sitting in endless traffic, parking is expensive and hard to find especially in the popular Midtown and Downtown areas.

The MARTA trains are abundant, clean, and safe for the most part. Just learn which line your stop is on and if you need to transfer stations and know which direction you need to go. It’s easy to figure out but I’ve always found friendly and helpful people to ask if I was confused about something or forgot something.

Where to Stay

There is an abundance of hotels, Airbnbs, Bed and Breakfasts, and even an Alpaca Treehouse with llamas, alpacas, bunnies, and chickens (https://www.alpacatreehouse.com/alpaca-treehouse). The most convenient and safest place to stay is in the Midtown or Downtown area although I’ve also stayed just north of Atlanta and that was fine albeit not quite as convenient. Prices range from the super-expensive Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott Marquis, and St. Regis to the moderately-priced Doubletree by Hilton, Sonesta, Hotel Indigo, Radisson to the budget-friendly options like Econo Lodge, Days Inn, Motel 6 and so many more. Often the more expensive places to stay are located close to an array of shops and restaurants so the downside if you stay at a budget-friendly hotel you may have to drive or take public transportation for a bit longer than otherwise. Even more important than saving a few dollars, first and foremost make sure your hotel is in a safe area.

Favorite Places

Likewise, there is an abundance of things to do in Atlanta. Here are some of my favorites with a couple of others thrown in that are popular with other people but just aren’t my thing.

Atlanta Botanical Garden- I’ve been here a couple of times and on my most recent visit I discovered places that I hadn’t seen the first time. It’s funny because they even state on their website: “As the Garden evolves, it’s never the same place twice.” I can attest to that so even if you’ve been before, it’s worth going again. I love the “Garden Guide” feature that you can click, choosing specific things like Family Adventure, Flying Solo, Fresh Art and Music, and more, then click which garden (there’s another in Gainesville), how much time you have, and so forth. https://atlantabg.org/garden-guide/

This is definitely one of the best botanical gardens I’ve been to anywhere in the world and also one of the largest and most comprehensive. Tickets are on the pricey side, starting at $22.95 and up for adults but if you enjoy flowers and nature, I feel like it’s worth it. Most people spend a couple of hours here, especially if you don’t stop to have lunch or dinner at the cafe (which is good but also on the pricey side if you get table service).

Fernbank Museum– the tagline is “Where Science, Nature, and Fun Make History” and this is a perfect description of the museum. There are indoor exhibits such as Fantastic Forces, A Walk Through Time in Georgia, Curator’s Corner; outdoor exhibits such as WildWoods, Fernbank Forest, Rain Garden; and temporary as well as permanent special exhibits such as Sky High focusing on birds, Habitat where you can see sculptures and explore four different biomes. Plus you can watch a movie on a giant screen for a bit extra. As a scientist and nature- and history-lover, this place is just heaven to me and worth every penny for the $20 admission. https://fernbankmuseum.org/

The Fernbank Museum

Georgia Aquarium– this is the largest aquarium in the world, whether you’re measuring by number of fish or volume of water. I really like how their exhibits are laid out, for example take the Aquanaut Adventure: A Discovery Zone. This has 49 kid adventures, more than 15 species, and one rope bridge. Here you can learn about aquatic life in extreme environments. In other words, you don’t just walk by tanks filled with fish and other animals, you learn about the animals and gain an appreciation for aquatic animals and the research marine scientists do.

The Georgia Aquarium is heavily invested in research and conservation, a fact that I love. There are also several behind-the-scenes encounters you can pay extra for, which is great if you especially love, say, penguins, seals, or sea lions. Plus, there are many educational programs, both online and in-person, in addition to volunteer programs, programs for military and veterans, and even virtual yoga. Tickets for adults are $36.95 and includes access to all the Aquarium galleries, 4D Theater shows, general-seating Dolphin Presentation, Sea Lion Presentation and supports ocean conservation. https://www.georgiaaquarium.org/

Atlanta History Center– not only is there historical information on events that specifically took place in Atlanta, like the 1996 Olympics, but there are also displays on national events like the 19th Amendment, the American Civil War, and so much more. In my opinion, this is one of the best history centers in the United States and ranks up there with the Smithsonian museums as far as quality and quantity. The outside grounds are also worth checking out, with 33 acres of gardens, woodlands, and trails. You can also have lunch at the Swan Coach House on the grounds of the Swan Mansion and try some quintessential Southern fare like pimento cheese grit fritters, chicken salad tea sandwiches, mint juleps, and homemade pecan pie. https://www.atlantahistorycenter.com/visit

Stone Mountain Park- located in Stone Mountain, Georgia, about 30 minutes from Atlanta is Georgia’s most-visited attraction. Located on 3200 acres of land, you can find trails that range from short and easy to longer and more difficult. One of the toughest trails is also one of the most popular, the Walk Up Trail; even though it’s only a mile, it goes straight up the mountain, much of it on stone, with the steepest parts near the pinnacle. If you’re not able or just don’t want to hike that steep of a trail, you can take a cable car to the top (Summit Skyride) for a fee.

Cherokeee Trail is one of the longer trails, at 5 miles and it meanders along past water views and through the woods. You can also see a 100-year-old Grist Mill (although you can’t go inside) and the Quarry Exhibit to see how the park was made with photos and outdoor displays plus there are extra activities for children that require a ticket. If you plan to just hike around the park for the day, entry is free except for the parking fee. There are a few options for staying inside the park, ranging from a campground with over 400 sites, Stone Mountain Inn, and a Marriott hotel. The MARTA public transportation stops about 1/2 mile from the park’s West Gate or you can take an Uber from Atlanta if you don’t have a car. https://www.stonemountainpark.com/

The bottom right photo is the very last section of the Walk Up Trail, straight up a rock face!

World of Coca-Cola– as you might imagine this museum showcases all things about the Coca-Cola Company. I’ll admit, I’ve never been here, as I’ve never been a big fan of Coca-Cola or any soda for that matter, but I know it’s popular. There are artifacts, a bottling display, a tasting experience (that’s been altered for COVID safety), and more. Most people spend a couple of hours here. Tickets for adults are $18. https://www.worldofcoca-cola.com/plan-your-visit/

Zoo Atlanta- with over 1000 animal species and the only twin giant pandas in the United States, this is a nice way to spend a morning, especially if you have young children but even if you don’t. You can find the usual zoo offerings like behind-the-scenes encounters, giraffe feedings, train rides, and wildlife presentations. The zoo is also actively involved in research and conservation programs around the world. Tickets start at $26.99 for adults and $20.99 for children. https://zooatlanta.org/visit/

Money-saving Tip: If you plan on doing a few of these activities, you should consider buying an Atlanta CityPass. For $77 for adults and $63 for children you will get entry to 5 attractions including Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, and Zoo Atlanta plus 2 more attractions that you can choose from Fernbank of Natural History, College Football Hall of Fame, and National Center for Civil and Human Rights. It could potentially save you 45% off ticket prices if you purchased them separately. You have nine consecutive days to use the pass beginning on the first day of use. https://www.citypass.com/atlanta

Favorite Foods and Restaurants

I would be remiss to not include some of my favorite restaurants in Atlanta. Again, there is an abundance of truly over-the-top restaurants scattered all around the Atlanta area. The ones I’m going to list here also rank high on lists like Yelp (because I know food choices can be subjective).

Let’s play “Find the item that doesn’t belong here”

South City Kitchen– Southern food at its best: shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, collard greens, Carolina trout are some of my favorites.

Local Expedition Wood Fired Grill– technically not in Atlanta but two locations on the outskirts, Sandy Springs and Alpharetta. Fresh, made-to-order at the counter with choice of protein, sides, rice or salad, or you can get wraps or salads. Great if you’re in a hurry but want something healthy.

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken– besides Atlanta, locations in Nashville, Memphis, Birmingham, and Las Vegas. I ate at one of the Nashville locations first and have since tried the Atlanta location. The chicken is tender and juicy and hot but not too much spice to be enjoyable.

Aviva by Kameel– Mediterranean food. Excellent shawarma, hummus, and falafel.

Atlanta Breakfast Club– need I say more?

Ice Cream Places- we seemed to get on an ice cream kick when we were in Minnesota prior to going to Atlanta recently. Some places we enjoyed include: Amorino Gelato (in Lenox Square), Morelli’s Gourmet Ice Cream (so creamy), and Frosty Caboose in a converted train caboose in nearby Chamblee (the green tea ice cream sundae with crystallized ginger and a fortune cookie on top is genius).

Atlanta is definitely a city where you can pop in for a long weekend or you could stay a week and there would still be plenty to do. Another thing of note is it does get hot and humid during the summer, as does the rest of the Southeast in the US. If you’re not used to sticky hot summer weather, the fall or spring would be more comfortable, or even the winter. The lows in the winter hovers around the mid-30’s and the highs are around the mid-50’s so it’s still not too cold to walk around outside.

Have you been to Atlanta, Georgia? If so, tell me about it- what did you do and what were some of your favorite things?

Happy travels!

Donna

Museums, Shopping, and More in Duluth, Minnesota

When I was planning my vacation to Minnesota of which a portion included some time in Duluth I knew I wanted to go hiking and I knew there were many options for that given all of the city and state parks (Duluth has an astounding 83 parks). See my post on hiking in and near Duluth: State and Local Parks Plus Daytrips From Duluth, Minnesota. However, I also knew I didn’t want to spend every day just hiking so I began to look into other things to do in the area. Typically I enjoy history, science, and art museums, art galleries, and local shops in an area where I’m traveling.

I found a plethora of these things in Duluth and had a hard time narrowing it down to ones my teenage daughter and I would have time to visit. My daughter asked if she could pick some of the museums we went to and I agreed. I thought she came up with some unique places. Here are some of my favorites.

The back of Glensheen Mansion

Glensheen Mansion

Glensheen mansion was built between 1905 and 1908 by Chester and Clara Congdon. The 27,000 square foot, 39-room mansion cost the Congdons $854,000 to build and was eventually donated to the University of Minnesota in 1979 and opened to the public for tours. The Congdons became known for opening up iron mining in the area and setting aside land for public use such as Congdon Park.

There are several options for tours including the self-guided Classic Tour, Full Mansion to see all 5 floors, Grounds Admission, and Kayak Tour. There are also some fun extras like scavenger hunts for children, a coffee bar and Johnson’s Bakery Donuts, Shark on the Lake where you can get ice cream from Love Creamery and beer or cocktails, and concerts on the pier in July and August. https://glensheen.org/

Some of my favorite parts of Glensheen Mansion

Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum

My daughter found this little gem. I was a bit hesitant about going to a museum primarily full of manuscripts but I was glad we went. The museum has an eclectic collection of original manuscripts and documents from a wide range of historical events including the original Bill of Rights, the first printing of the Ten Commandments from the 1455 Gutenberg Bible, and Richard Wagner’s “Wedding March.” There are 11 locations of Karpeles Manuscript Museums in the United States including the one in Duluth. It was founded in 1983 by real estate moguls David and Marsha Karpeles and includes permanent and temporary collections that travel from one site to another.

When we visited, the temporary collection was from Star Trek. My daughter and I are both Trekkies so we greatly enjoyed looking at original drawings from the show. The museum is housed in what was originally a First Church of Christ, Scientist and the building itself is like a piece of art. We spent about an hour looking at every single piece in the permanent and temporary collections and I also reminisced with the person working there about the collection of antique phones (remember bag phones, the original cell phones? I actually had one when I was in graduate school!). https://karpeles.com/index.php

Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum

Lake Superior Railroad Museum

Housed in the St. Louis County Depot, the Lake Superior Railroad Museum is a must-do if you’re a train buff or enjoy historical sites. There are dozens of trains, some of which you can walk through and other train-related historical memorabilia. You can also buy tickets here and take a narrated train ride from Duluth along the shores of Lake Superior into the woods. You will need to buy tickets for entry to the museum but don’t need to purchase them in advance. https://lsrm.org/

Duluth Art Institute

Also in the St. Louis County Depot is the Duluth Art Institute, with free entry. Although I found it to be on the small side, considering the price of admission, it’s worth going to. There was mainly modern art and textile art when I was there but I know the art is temporary in most of the galleries so the displays change regularly. There are also events like artist talks, book club, and Free FriDAI which is a growing collection of digital activities to help people engage with the exhibitions on view at the Duluth Art Institute, make art from home, and learn about art. https://www.duluthartinstitute.org/

Favorite Places to Eat

Most of the best places to eat are downtown and on Canal Park, or at least that’s what I was told. Some of my favorites include: Fitzer’s Brewhouse, Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake, Black Woods Bar and Grill, Bellisio’s, and Va Bene. I had my first wild rice burger ever at Fitzer’s and it was really different but delicious. It had a bit of a crunch from the rice that just added to the flavor. Just a short drive away in Superior, Wisconsin is Thirsty Pagan Brewing, which I thought had great pizza and the TPB Bread appetizer (a 10-inch round of pizza dough; I had the Margherita with fresh garlic, tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese) was amazing. You also have to get ice cream from Love Creamery.

Ice cream from Love Creamery and my wild rice burger from Fitzer’s

Unique Shopping

Canal Park has many unique shops like Two & Co (women’s clothing and jewelry), Duluth Kitchen Co., Frost River Trading (for some high-quality packs and bags made by hand in Duluth), Indigenous First: Art and Gift Shop, a few cool art galleries, and Legacy Glassworks where you can take a Glassblowing class (we watched someone taking a class and it was really fun to watch).

Fitzer’s actually is more than just a Brewhouse; there’s also an Inn there plus several shops in the building. In a similar vein, the Downtown Holiday Inn houses over 40 shops and restaurants in the bottom few floors and is the center of the Downtown skywalk system. If you like antiques, Father Time Antique Mall has over 75 antique shops and Old Town Antiques and Books has antique furniture and books.

I really enjoyed Duluth and found it much more diverse than I expected it to be, with a wide range of foods, shops, and unique museums. I would highly recommend going here for a few days and add some more on to go to the state parks in the north.

Have you been to Duluth, Minnesota? If so, what were some of your favorite places or things you saw?

Happy travels!

Donna

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