A Bit of History and Nature in Charleston, South Carolina- Charleston Sole Walking Tour and The Center for Birds of Prey

Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Charleston, South Carolina many times. It’s a city I’ve grown to love as I’ve explored in an ever-expanding radius around the historic area of Charleston. I’ve been to all of the main beaches including Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, Edisto Beach, and Kiawah Island. Last year I went on a nature boat tour to the uninhabited island Morris Island, which I highly recommend checking out. I’ve been to numerous historical sites, but I had never been on a historical walking tour of Charleston, that is until recently.

I chose Charleston Sole Walking Tours for a historical walking tour. I’m just not a big fan of carriage rides, which seem to be over-priced and just skim the surface if you want an in-depth explanation of the architecture and history of an area. Our guide was Fin, a retired teacher, and he did a great job explaining everything along the way of our 2-hour tour that covered about a mile and a half.

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The Huguenot Church, also called the French Huguenot Church or the French Protestant Church

Our walking tour began outside the Old Exchange Building, which I highly recommend going inside and taking a tour inside on your own sometime. Along the way we learned about Dock Street Theatre, the Old Slave Mart Museum, St. Michael’s Church, the Nathaniel Russell House garden, waterfront mansions on the Battery and Rainbow Row. We learned why Charleston is nicknamed “The Holy City” and were given an account of how President Lincoln’s “safer” decision to go to the theater instead of the battlefield in Charleston ended in his demise. In short, if you like history, Charleston is steeped in it, and this is a great way to understand some of the history behind Charleston.

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Pink House is the sixth-oldest building in South Carolina by year built (1712)

I also discovered a new area of Charleston, Awendaw, just north of Charleston, and a short drive from Mount Pleasant, where I’ve stayed many times. I was with a group of people so we needed to rent a large house, and the one I found in Awendaw was perfect for us. I bring this up because had we not stayed in Awendaw, I might not have learned about The Center for Birds of Prey.

We chose the guided tour and flight demonstration at The Center for Birds of Prey, but they also offer private educational programs, an annual musical event called Bird Songs, an annual gala, and an annual birding festival. The guided tour was led by a volunteer who said she had been volunteering her time there for the past 18 years, and she was obviously very passionate about the center. Almost all (I’ll explain this later) of the birds at the center are ones that were rescued either because they were injured or had imprinted on humans and thus were unable to function in the wild.

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Following our guided tour at The Center for Birds of Prey, we watched a flight demonstration in a huge open field that included hawks, falcons, owls, eagles, and vultures as the stars of the show. We learned about the birds’ hunting and flying techniques and watched in awe as a kite, a bird I wasn’t previously aware of, flew around without landing for the duration. Apparently kite birds can regularly fly all day without landing, soaring and gliding in thermals in search of food, eating dragonflies in mid-air.

We were free to explore the Exhibit Area after the flight demonstration, but only after getting to see newly hatched baby owls, which was an unexpected surprise for me. The center sometimes will breed owls to use for the flight demonstrations or to send to zoos around the United States who are searching for owls.

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The grounds are designed as a campus where visitors follow paths accentuated with aviaries housing more than 30 species of birds of prey. Although we would have liked to have spent more time exploring the grounds after our tour and flight demonstration (and checking out the baby owls), we were ready for lunch, so we decided to cut our self-led tour of the grounds short. We booked the morning tour, thinking it would be a bit cooler, but had we booked the afternoon tour, we probably would have stayed a bit longer to check out the grounds. There are tours every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 10:30 am and 2 pm. The Center for Birds of Prey is only about a 30 minute drive from downtown Charleston, so if you’re in Charleston, it’s easy to get to, and I highly recommend going here.

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Baby owls!

I was happy to get to see and do some new things on this visit to Charleston. It’s a city I never tire of, given all of the options here. In addition to going on the historical walking tour and The Center for Birds of Prey, I also went to the beach, the historical market, and ate at some outstanding restaurants, so I blended some of my old favorites with some new places.

Is there a place you find yourself returning to year after year for vacations? What do you love about the place? Do you discover new places every time you go or stick to the “tried and true”?

Happy travels!

Donna

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Beautiful Boise- There’s so Much More to Boise, Idaho Than Just Potatoes!

My first glimpse of Idaho was when I drove through Coeur d’Alene, Idaho from Spokane, Washington several years ago on my way to Missoula, Montana and parts of Canada. I was in awe of the natural beauty of that part of Idaho and I couldn’t wait to go back and actually spend some time in Idaho. I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states in the United States, and for my race in Idaho, I chose to run in Boise based on some race reviews of Boise by other runners. If you’d like to read about my half marathon, The Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon, just click here for the link.

When I arrived in Boise, I immediately thought of Missoula. Boise and Missoula are both in valleys surrounded by beautiful mountains. I loved Missoula so of course I also loved Boise right away. The first thing I did when I reached my Airbnb house was go for a run. I always love running in new places because I really get a feel for the area and it helps me get my bearings quickly.

The next day we went to the Idaho Botanical Garden and this is probably one of the best botanical gardens I’ve been to anywhere. At first glance, my daughter was a little disappointed, so when you drive up to the garden, don’t be put off by first impressions. When you get further into the garden, the beauty of it unfolds before you, so just keep walking.

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Idaho Botanical Garden

As is the case with most botanical gardens, the Idaho Botanical Garden is divided into several sections, like the English Garden, the Herb Garden, Firewise Garden, and Meditation Garden, just to name a few. Words really can’t describe this place, though. You really have to see it for yourself. We spent a little over an hour and a half here but you could bring a picnic lunch and spend a few hours here easily. There are plenty of seating areas, restrooms, and a gift shop. Pets are not permitted. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for kids ages 5 to 12.

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Idaho Botanical Garden

Boise is an outdoor lover’s paradise. There are trails and greenways everywhere for walking, running, and cycling, or hiking up mountainsides. During our time in Boise, we went hiking several days and each time the scenery just kept getting better. One of my favorite places to hike in the Boise area is Hulls Gulch. Hulls Gulch has several trails and you can spend days on end here if you hiked all of the trails. We chose a couple of trails here, including Red Cliffs Trail and were rewarded with these views.

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Hulls Gulch Hiking Area

Another place we went hiking that was incredible is Bogus Basin, where we hiked the Around the Mountain trail, or at least a portion of it. This is a ski resort during the winter months but they have trails for horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking during warmer months. There are some other summer activities like a toboggan ride and the lifts are open for quick access to the top of the mountain. We were there a few days before they opened for the summer season, so the cafe, lifts, and everything else was closed, but that just meant we pretty much had the trail to ourselves except for a few mountain bikers we passed.

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Bogus Basin

My absolute favorite hiking place in the Boise area is Lucky Peak State Park. The park was the start for the Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon, where we wound through the canyon for the first few miles and I ran my 44th half marathon in my 42nd state. A few days after my race, my family and I drove to the park and hiked up Cervidae Peak, which is 4.4 miles out and back, 1883 foot elevation gain, with views of two rivers and the marina directly below. This is a hard trail, pretty much straight up and straight back down but it is worth it for the incredible views.

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Lucky Peak State Park

If you’re not into hiking, downtown Boise is also a cool place with many great restaurants and shops. We discovered Freak Alley and all of the murals there and took a ton of photos while we walked around and admired the art work. We also popped into some of the unique shops and a small bookstore. Boise Art Museum looks like a great place, but we chose to hike instead of go there so I can’t speak from experience. Another cool place you can tour is the Old Idaho Penitentiary with its 19th-century prison cells and gallows, plus historic military weaponry.

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Freak Alley Gallery

Idaho has to be one of the most under-rated states in the United States in my opinion, especially by east coasters, many of whom don’t even know for sure where Idaho is and all they relate it to is potatoes. It is one of the most beautiful states I’ve been to, and is full of outdoor activities year-round. Most importantly, everyone we talked to, whether while hiking or in town was friendly and helpful. I’ve often said I tend to judge a city by how runner-friendly it is, and not only is Boise runner-friendly, it’s also outdoor-enthusiast-friendly with all of the options available. That’s my kind of town! 

Have any of you been to Idaho? If so, where did you go and did you love it as much as I did?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Busch Gardens Williamsburg- “World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park”

I’ve been to Busch Gardens amusement park in Williamsburg, Virginia several times over the years and Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida once. Obviously I’m a big fan of Busch Gardens, but the claim of “World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park” is the park’s, not mine. By no means have I visited enough theme parks around the world to say it’s the most beautiful in the world, but I can say it is beautiful and I love visiting there. I even wrote a post last year 5 reasons Busch Gardens Williamsburg has something for everyone if you want to check that out.

Last year, we only had one full day to spend at Busch Gardens and quite frankly, it wasn’t enough. We felt rushed to cram everything we could into one day and it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as it could have been. This year, we decided to spend four nights in Williamsburg and divide our time between Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens and that amount of time for both places was perfect. We had the Spring Bounce ticket but there’s also a Summer Bounce ticket and other multi-park tickets.

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Griffon roller coaster- you dangle at the top of the hill for a few seconds before the big drop. Wait for it!

The park is divided into sections with different country names:  England, Scotland, Ireland, France, New France, Germany, Italy, in addition to Oktoberfest and Festa Italia. Each country section has flags overhead and decorations that you would expect to see in that particular country. The entire park  is beautifully landscaped and well-laid out so that it’s pretty easy to figure your way around. There are also numerous shaded areas to help cool you off on a hot day.

So what’s so special about Busch Gardens Williamsburg you ask? I think it goes beyond the landscaping and decorations. The people working here are super-friendly and helpful from the tram drivers to the restaurant workers to the people checking that you’re properly buckled in at the rides. Also, the performers at the shows are extremely talented and excellent entertainers. But I think it goes beyond all that. We are talking about an amusement park after all.

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This kids’ area is awesome with the climbing structures and it’s pretty cute too!

The rides are pretty spectacular in my opinion. If you’re a roller coaster fan, there are some great ones here ranging from the wooden roller coaster Invadr to Tempesto with inversions 154 feet in the air to Verbolten that lulls you into thinking it’s much calmer than it really is and has some surprises in store for you to the classic Loch Ness Monster that opened in 1978 and is full of loops, twists, and turns. In all, there are seven roller coasters. My daughter, who has a tougher stomach than I do and will ride any and all roller coasters (she’s 12 by the way), says her favorite roller coasters are Verbolten, Tempesto, Alpengeist with a climb of 195 feet and six inversions at speeds up to 67 miles per hour, and Griffon that has a 205-foot drop 90 degrees straight down at 75 miles per hour.

There are also three water rides, a carousel, a train with stops in Scotland, New France and Festa Italia, a river cruise, skyride that goes over the park, bumper cars, teacups, battering ram, Da Vinci’s Cradle, swings, a drop tower, and an extensive kids area. The newest attraction is Battle for Eire virtual reality ride. Surprisingly, my daughter, the roller coaster queen, rode all of the roller coasters multiple times and felt a little queasy at times but nothing a little walking around didn’t take care of, but after she rode Battle for Eire, she was much sicker than after any of the other rides, so this one may not be for the weak-stomached (I chose to skip this one because I know from experience VR rides make me sick).

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One of the beautiful wolves from Howl to Coexist

Finally, the shows at Busch Gardens Williamsburg have always exceeded my expectations. This time we watched Howl to Coexist, a presentation with the Busch Gardens’ wolves, barn owl, rats and a Harris’s hawk. The Howl to Coexist trainers were able to be educational in an entertaining way, and I really enjoyed the show. We also watched Celtic Fyre, a live Irish dance show. The singers, dancers, and musicians were all phenomenal and could have easily performed on Broadway. The theater for Celtic Fyre is air-conditioned, so it’s a great way to escape from the heat for a bit on a hot day.

I’ve also seen the shows Mix it Up!, Oktoberzest, and More…Pet Shenanigans over the years and have thoroughly enjoyed them all. There is also a British rock show in England, Britmania, but it wasn’t open when I was there. Finally, there are two shows geared towards young children that I have not seen or maybe I did when I was younger but I don’t remember them. One great thing about the shows is they give your stomach a bit of a break from all of the jarring from the rides and it’s a good way to give your feet a break from all of the walking as well.

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Entering Ireland. There are bridges with trees everywhere like this in the park.

Tips for Busch Gardens Williamsburg:

  1. Plan on spending more than one day at the park and buy a multi-day pass. Two full days at Busch Gardens would be sufficient, but three days is even better so you won’t feel so rushed.
  2. Look for deals on tickets. Beyond the website, check with local credit unions or your work place for discounts.
  3. The crowds will be smaller if you come before Memorial Day or after Labor Day or during the week if you can only come during the summer.
  4. Arrive at the park as soon as they open. Not only are crowds smaller, it’s also the coolest time of the day.
  5. Realize it will be hot at Busch Gardens during the summer months. In this part of Virginia it’s quite hot and humid during the summer. Bring sunscreen. Water bottles are allowed in the park but they’re supposed to only be filled with water.
  6. Backpacks are allowed in the park but not allowed on just about every single ride. Either have someone not riding that can watch your bag or rent a locker. You can rent by the hour or for the day.
  7. Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be doing a lot of walking. Leave the flip-flops at home.
  8. You can rent strollers at the park and there’s even a kennel for your dog.
  9. If you want to save money, bring a cooler with lunch items. Although you can’t bring the cooler into the park, there are picnic tables in some of the parking lots. We also saw a big group of people tailgating with food from a catering company in one area of a parking lot.
  10. Check park hours before you buy your tickets and check the weather before you go.

The website for Busch Gardens Williamsburg can be found here.

Have any of you been to Busch Gardens Williamsburg? If so, what do you think of it?What are some of your favorite theme or amusement parks?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

Some of My Favorite Dog-Friendly Restaurants in Williamsburg, Virginia

I don’t really think of myself as a foodie but I can appreciate a good meal. One of the reasons I love visiting Charleston, South Carolina so much is the staggering number of excellent restaurants in the area. I don’t know if I’ve ever truly had a bad meal there in all of my many years of visiting Charleston. Charleston is well-known as a foodie town. I’ve also visited Williamsburg, Virginia many times but for some reason I didn’t really think of the area as a foodie place, that is until I recently went there.

My family and I visited Williamsburg in May and spent four nights there. Over the span of that time, pretty much every meal was outstanding. We had brought our two dogs with us and wanted to get them out of the hotel room as much as possible, so we were limited to dog-friendly restaurants with outdoor seating areas. Still, for each and every meal, we walked away feeling like it was one of the best meals we’d had in a while.

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Libby and Chile with my daughter before we went to Virginia

Here are some of my recommendations for restaurants in Williamsburg, Virginia, all of which are dog-friendly:

  1. Aromas Specialty Coffee & Gourmet Bakery. Aromas actually has three locations in Virginia:  Williamsburg, Newport News, and Swem Library. This wasn’t our first time eating at Aromas; last year we went there and the food was just as good as this time. We’ve been for breakfast, brunch, and lunch and each time the food was excellent. This time I had a chicken salad sandwich on a freshly baked croissant, my husband had a huge and very filling Cobb salad, and our daughter had a peanut butter and banana sandwich on a bagel; we all throughly enjoyed our meals. They have tables outside in the front where you can sit with your dog, or just sit outside if the weather is nice. Many people sit outside to enjoy a cup of coffee or a baked good and people watch. Aromas serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner and has a kids’ menu and even fondue and nachos in the evening.
  2. The Hounds Tale. Only open for dinner. My daughter said they should have named it The Hounds Tail (get it?). My husband and I both got the Wagyu Beef burger and it was delicious, as were the fries, which were perfectly cooked and seasoned. Our daughter got the house-made cavatelli pasta, which was also very good. The server brought us out popcorn in a dog bowl before our meals came, which our pups also enjoyed with the inevitable pieces that fell to the ground. There are only a few pub-style tables in the front the restaurant, so if you’re going to eat outside, you may want to come early to beat the crowds, especially during the busier times of year.
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The Hounds Tale
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Burger from Hound’s Tale

3. Berret’s Seafood Restaurant and Taphouse Grill. Open for lunch and dinner. Actually two separate places, we ate at the outdoor Taphouse Grill, which is open April through October. The Taphouse Grill is more casual than the historic Berret’s Seafood Restaurant across Duke of Gloucester Street. The menu features seafood, chicken and beef, highlighting Virginia specialties such as oysters, crab, and fresh produce. I had the crab cakes and they were just as good as ones I’ve had in Charleston, which is saying something. Live music is featured Tuesday through Sunday (weather permitting). Every Thursday is Flight Night. A different brewery, winery, distillery or cidery is featured each Thursday with 4 unique selections. The service was top-notch and our server even brought out a water bowl full of fresh water for our dogs.

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Crab cakes, polenta, and asparagus from Taphouse Grill

4. The Cheese Shop.Way more than just cheese, The Cheese Shop has made-to-order sandwiches, packaged sides (my husband had pickled brussels sprouts but there was also potato salad, macaroni salad, and a few others), potato chips, sodas and beer, a plethora of cheeses as you would expect, and even a wine shop in the cellar. This is one cool place. I loved just walking around looking at all of the unique foods for sale in the store and if I would have had more time, I would have liked to check out the wine downstairs. There are many tables with umbrellas in a shady spot in front of The Cheese Shop, so once you go inside and get your food, you can enjoy your food outside if you have pups with you. If you’d rather eat inside, there are also tables inside. Everything we ordered tasted very fresh with high-quality ingredients.

5. The Virginia Beer Company.  I drove by here on my way to pick up something at the grocery store one evening to take back to the hotel room and decided to check it out for dinner the next evening. Although they don’t serve food at the Virginia Beer Company, food trucks are here for dinner during the week and lunch and dinner on weekends. Check the schedule on the web page ahead of time. When we went, Capt’n Crabby food truck was there and we got the Korean BBQ chicken sandwich, Ahi Tuna Bowl, and a fresh mozzarella cheese and tomato sandwich with fresh basil. My daughter didn’t care for her cheese and tomato sandwich, but my husband and I were really happy with our choices. Our beers were also very good and there is a good selection of year-round, seasonal, and experimental IPA’s on tap.  There are picnic tables to sit at, a fire pit, corn hole, and board games so it’s a good place to hang out with friends and/or family. There is also an indoor seating area for those not bringing dogs or just want to sit inside.

I love that we were able to find so many dog-friendly restaurants in Williamsburg with truly excellent food. This is definitely a dog-friendly town so if you’re ever in the area and are fortunate enough to bring your dog(s) with you, by all means, do so!

Do you all ever travel with your dog? What are some of the most dog-friendly cities you’ve been to?

Happy travels!

Donna

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia with Spring Bounce Tickets

Last year my family and I went to Williamsburg, Virginia with the main purpose to go to Busch Gardens. We were going to have a few hours to kill the morning after we went to the amusement park, so I thought we could go to Colonial Williamsburg and see what we could see without purchasing an admission ticket. Long story short, there isn’t a whole lot you can see without a ticket other than walking around the roads and going into some of the shops selling things. You can read more about our experience at Colonial Williamsburg without a ticket here if you’d like.

This year, we decided to allot more time in Williamsburg so we would have plenty of time to take in the sights. I made reservations for 4 nights and bought Spring Bounce tickets, which allow you to go to both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens for a week. There are also Summer Bounce tickets, single day tickets, and many combination tickets where you can combine Water Country USA, Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown Settlement, American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, and Yorktown Battlefield. The website for tickets is here.

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Governor’s Palace Gardens

With general admission tickets, we were able to tour the Governor’s Palace and Gardens, and pretty much any of the other homes and most areas that were open while we were there.  For example, the Governor’s Palace was only open from 4-5 pm so we needed to be there during those hours. I remember touring the Governor’s Palace when I was a child with my brother and mother and the gardens still looked exactly as I remembered them. The people working at the Palace, as well as all of Colonial Williamsburg, are extremely knowledgeable and thoroughly answered any questions we had as well as telling us about the sites.

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Governor’s Palace from the gardens

Some things do cost extra even with general admission tickets, such as firing a flintlock musket, which is an additional $76. My daughter was dying to go to the Ax Range where she could throw axes, something she had wanted to do ever since seeing it on one of her favorite TV shows, “Property Brothers.” We bought tickets for her and my husband for $10 each and went to the Ax Range. After being given a safety demonstration and instructions on how to properly throw an ax, my daughter and husband’s fun began. They were allowed to throw for about 15 or 20 minutes, which was plenty of time really. Both my husband and daughter managed to land some of the axes in the target as well. My daughter said later that this was a highlight of her time at Colonial Williamsburg.

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Ax throwing!

My husband and I also toured the extensive Art Museums, which have a wide array of galleries including portraits, furniture, Folk Art, silver objects such as tea sets and much more. You can easily spend a couple of hours here if you enjoy art museums. Although admission was included in our general admission tickets, you can buy day passes to the art museums for $11.99. When we went, the art museums also had a hands-on activity for children, where you could make a toy like ones on display in the toy section of the museum. Adjacent to the Art Museums is what’s left of the Mental Hospital that used to be on the grounds before it was moved to another area outside Colonial Williamsburg. It’s pretty much just a hallway now but has some displays of objects historically used to treat mental illness and some of the appalling accommodations mental patients used to have to endure.

This year, since we had more time to spend in Colonial Williamsburg, we went in more of the shops and buildings than we did last year. Two of our favorites were the printing press and book bindery buildings. We chatted for quite a while with the people working in both of these rooms. In addition to being shown how the printing press works and how books were historically bound, we talked to an art apprentice who showed us some of his pencil and ink drawings. He showed us some of the tools he uses and discussed the differences in these tools. Clearly the people working at Colonial Williamsburg are passionate about their trades and love discussing all of the techniques involved.

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One of many shops- this one sells toys!

With the Spring Bounce tickets, we were able to go between Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens any time we wanted, which was great. Originally, I had thought we would spend the first full day at Busch Gardens, then the next full day at Colonial Williamsburg, then back to Busch Gardens, and finally spend a few hours in the morning at Colonial Williamsburg before we drove back home. Instead, we ended up not spending the first full day at Busch Gardens so we went to Colonial Williamsburg and toured the Governor’s Palace and watched the Fife and Drum corps evening march. We continued to divide up our days between both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens, and that seemed like a better way to spend our days.

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Fife and Drum Corps

Planning tips for Colonial Williamsburg:

1. There are many, many other activities you can do for additional fees, as well. You can take a carriage ride, participate in a local court session, take several guided tours, take an ox wagon ride, watch a play, go to an organ recital, and go on ghost walks. Depending on what you choose to add on, a visit to Colonial Williamsburg can be quite expensive, however, so plan accordingly.

2. Williamsburg, Virginia gets hot and humid during the summer months so if you can manage a visit during the spring or fall, the weather should be more pleasant. While we were there in mid-May, the high for the day hit 95 degrees one day, so even in May it can get extremely hot here.

3. If you have a week to spend in the area, visit Yorktown and Jamestown also, which are a short drive from Williamsburg. Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg are about 15-20 minutes from each other. In my opinion, three full days for Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg (bouncing between the two places on all three days) is the perfect amount of time to spend if you’re only going to these two places. If you plan on going to Water Country USA in addition to Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg, I would plan on spending four full days total in the area.

4. You will be doing a ton of walking no matter where you go in the area so wear comfortable shoes.

5. You can stay at one of the hotels within Colonial Williamsburg, or at a hotel in Williamsburg, but don’t feel like you have to stay within the colonial grounds. The hotel where we stayed was less than a five minute drive from the colonial area, and there were numerous hotels that were also this close.

6. A car is essential for getting around Williamsburg and the surrounding area so if you’re flying to the area, get a rental car. Busch Gardens is approximately 55 miles from Richmond and 150 miles from Washington D.C. Although you could fly into Washington, D.C. and drive from there, most people fly into Norfolk, Richmond or Newport-News-Williamsburg International Airport.

Have any of you been to Colonial Williamsburg? If so, tell me about your experience and if not, would you like to go? Any history buffs out there?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

An Interview with my Daughter About Travel

My 12-year-old daughter is by no means a “world traveler” but by most American standards for children who travel, she’s seen her fair share of the world, especially the United States. She’s been to all but 9 states in the United States and outside the US to 9 countries on 4 continents. Her first flight was when she was about a year and a half and by the time she turned two years old she had flown to three states including from the east coast to Hawaii . While there are of course American children who flew at an earlier age and have flown further and to more countries, it’s fair to say she’s a pretty well-seasoned traveled for her age.

When she first mentioned to me that I should interview her for my blog, I dismissed it. But then I started thinking about it and realized it could be really useful, especially for parents with young children who might be on the fence about traveling with their children. This is actually my second time interviewing her; the first interview was about her experience with Girls on the Run, which you can find here.

Q1. What are some of your favorite places you’ve been and why did you like them?

A1. Niagara Falls because it was so amazing to see falls that went over two countries, and I really liked when they were lit up at night. I liked Greece because the culture was so different and it was interesting to see the ruins and try their food. New Zealand was cool going to the Hobbiton movie set plus so much more there. I also liked Arizona because of Antelope Canyon.

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Boat ride in New Zealand, one of the highlights of our trip

Q2. What are some places you’re dying to go to?

A2. I want to go to France, Italy, and the Caribbean.

Q3. What are some things you’ve done because of traveling that you otherwise would have never done?

A3. I probably wouldn’t have tried some of the foods I had in Greece if I hadn’t gone there. I also got a camera because of all of the traveling I’ve done. Now I like that I can take my own pictures.

Q4. What are some places you’ve been to that you didn’t care for?

A4. None that I can remember.

Q5. What are some ways you’ve learned to occupy yourself during long flights, car rides, etc.?

A5. By listening to music, doing puzzles and games on paper and on my tablet or phone, playing games, audio books.

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Italy, one of the places on my daughter’s travel wish list that I went to before she was born

Q6. What are some travel tips for kids you’d like to share?

A6. If you’re in a foreign country, give the food a chance. It may not be what you’re used to, but it’s usually pretty good. Bring things to occupy yourself. Pack for the weather, so bring pants if it’s going to be cold where you’re going. I only brought shorts once and froze even though I was told before the trip to pack pants.

Q7. Is there a place you think is more special to go to as a child versus if an adult were to go for the first time?

A7. Disney because the rides are more meant for kids and they can meet the characters like Mickey Mouse, which wouldn’t be as special for adults.

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Hobbiton in New Zealand

Q8. Are there any life lessons travel has taught you?

A8. Give everything a chance because a lot of times it can end up being worth it.

Q9. What would you say to parents who say their child is too young to appreciate a place?

A9. That’s not true. Even if they don’t remember it later, they’ll still enjoy it in their own way when they visit it.

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Antelope Canyon

Q10. Do you think you’ll still travel as much as an adult as what you do now?

A10. If I have the money to, yes. If I can get a job that pays enough I could make traveling my life.

That’s it, for the interview. It looks like we have a world traveler in the making!

How do you all feel about traveling with kids? As a parent, I’d say it’s much easier in many ways to just leave them behind with a trusted family member or sitter but the experiences they gain from travel is priceless. I realize not everyone can afford to travel with their children, especially people with 3 or 4 children, but I encourage you to consider it if it’s feasible, even if it’s only for every other vacation you take.

I’ve seen how traveling as a family has brought my family together. We’ve seen and done things that have permanently bonded us, in ways that every day life would never have done.

Happy travels!

Donna

Lessons Learned by an American in the Canary Islands

My family and I recently went to the Canary Islands for the first time. Even though I tried to do my research before we went, there were still some things that happened after we got there and I learned as we went along. I’d like to pass along some of these things that I learned in hopes of making things a bit easier for other first-timers to the Canary Islands.

Learn Spanish before you go to the Canary Islands. Don’t expect everyone to speak English. While some people know some English in the Canary Islands, in my experience, I came to assume that most people would in fact not speak English and I would need to speak Spanish. Never once was this an issue, however, and while my Spanish is ok, I’m by no means fluent. All that being said, there are a fair amount of ex-pats from the UK that live and work in the Canary Islands.

Carnival in the Canary Islands is a lot of fun and I highly recommend going during this time if you can. We watched a Carnival parade in Gran Canaria and it was everything I had hoped it would be. This was actually one of the items on my bucket list and I was glad to be able to experience it. Just learn from my mistake and either choose your accommodations very far in advance (several months to a year) so you can find a place within walking distance from the parade route or if you have a rental car like we did, park your car in a place where you won’t be blocked off by the parade route when you want to leave.

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One of many floats from one of many Carnival parades

Although the water is perfectly safe to drink in the Canary Islands, it does not taste that great so most people buy bottled water. One resort I stayed at even went so far as to say the water isn’t safe for brushing your teeth with, which is not true. You do get used to the taste over time, too, or at least I found it wasn’t quite as bad by the end of my two-week vacation.

Parking in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria can be difficult to find and free parking pretty much doesn’t exist but it’s not completely impossible. Although not free but pretty cheap, if you can find a turquoise-marked parking spot, take it. You will need to enter your car’s license plate number in the kiosk and put the receipt on your dashboard. There are also parking garages throughout Gran Canaria, especially the busier areas like Las Palmas. The same can be said for Tenerife, although we found parking to be a bit easier in general on this island than Gran Canaria.

Having a rental car is by far better than taking the bus to get around the islands. Driving in the Canary Islands is pretty easy for the most part. We found locals to be courteous drivers and not overly-aggressive. One of the worst parts about driving in the Canary Islands is how narrow some of the side roads are. I recommend getting a small rental car. Overall, the roads in Tenerife seem to be a bit wider than in Gran Canaria in general.

Playa del Ingles in Gran Canaria is an extremely touristy area. I personally don’t care for touristy areas, especially when it’s a natural setting like a beach, park, or other area like Niagara Falls but obviously some people like this kind of thing because touristy areas always seem to be over-run with people. I just don’t like all the mini-golf, kitschy shops, restaurants with mediocre at best food, and rows of hotels. If you can get past all that, this beach is a nice enough beach. However, it is clothing-optional so if that bothers you, it might be best to skip it. There are also touristy areas in the southern part of Tenerife as well but they didn’t seem so over-the-top as Playa del Ingles.

The sand dunes of Maspalomas that are behind Playa del Ingles are pretty cool, however, and are totally worth a trip to the area. We had so much fun playing on the dunes and even sliding down the hills of sand. Just be aware that you need to pay 50 cents to use the restrooms here and facilities are limited. In fact, we found several other beach areas on the islands where you had to pay 50 cents to use the restrooms.

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Maspalomas sand dunes. This place is enormous!

In addition to all of the beautiful and varied beaches in the Canary Islands, the options for hiking are also numerous and varied. We hiked through more canyons than I can remember and had so many experiences where we hiked to the top of a mountain and were rewarded with a gorgeous view. In addition to hiking up steep trails of mountainsides, we also had some wonderful strolls around small, quaint towns where we were also rewarded with seaside or mountain views. Plus, there are several botanical gardens around the islands that you can walk around, most of which are free.

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Hiking in Teide National Park

There is no central air conditioning and heat in the Canary Islands. In the cooler months people use small space heaters and blankets to keep warm at night. In the warmer months, people use fans and open windows. Because the islands are off the northwestern coast of Africa, the weather is pretty mild here year-round. It does help if you dress appropriately too and bring a jacket for the cooler months.

Gran Canaria and Tenerife are both extremely varied in topography and general vibe in different parts of the islands (i.e., North vs. South) so if you just stay at your resort in one little sliver of the island, you won’t get a real feel for the island as a whole. Likewise if you just go to one island you’ll miss out on what other islands have to offer. I feel like I missed out by only visiting two islands but that seemed reasonable for a two-week vacation. Next time I’d like to visit another island. I really liked Tenerife quite a bit better than Gran Canaria and would go back to Tenerife, but probably not Gran Canaria.

Choices for inter-island hopping include taking a ferry or flying. When I checked into prices and options for going from Gran Canaria to Tenerife, the prices weren’t hugely different to fly versus take a ferry. We enjoyed the ferry to the San Juan Islands in Washington in the US and from Gozo to Malta so much that we decided to take the ferry to Tenerife. This was a mistake. The water was so rough both my daughter and husband were sick the entire time so they didn’t even enjoy it. Honestly, there isn’t much to look at either other than the water. Next time I would fly for sure.

Having a mobile WiFi or MiFi is a valuable tool to have when traveling abroad, and the Canary Islands are no exception. I first used a MiFi when I went to Malta last year and had such a great experience with it, I decided to rent one for the Canary Islands. I did have a bit more trouble finding a company with coverage in the Canary Islands, but I eventually chose California-based Vision Global WiFi, and we never had any problems  getting a signal with the one exception of once in Teide National Park. My husband anticipated this and downloaded the area from Google maps onto his phone so we could still drive around without getting lost. In addition to using Google Maps for everywhere we drove, we also used the MiFi several times to translate Spanish words or phrases or look up other information while we were away from our room.

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The MiFi is about the size of an adult hand so it’s easy to take with you.

If you do nothing else in Tenerife, go to Teide National Park . It was my favorite thing to do in Tenerife and it’s free too. If the weather had been better, we would have spent more than one day here and also taken the cable car up, but it was just too windy and rainy during the days we could have gone there. We did finally get to go hiking in the park, on our last full day in Tenerife, and loved every minute of it. Another piece of advice regarding Teide National Park is to stay until dusk. We had dinner at Mariposa, a restaurant close to the park that I thought was going to be touristy with mediocre food but it was actually really good. When we were driving out of the park, we got some cool shots of the sky and moon. Also, all of the cyclists we saw earlier when driving around the park were all gone, along with the majority of cars as well so driving out of the park was a breeze.

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Teide National Park at dusk with the moon

The Canary Islands are beautiful and remind me in many ways of Hawaii but they are unique in many other ways (it’s much cheaper here than Hawaii for starters). I would happily go back and explore another Canary Island, Lanzarote, which I hear is a hotspot for athletes. Who knows, maybe I’ll run a half marathon here one day Lanzarote Marathon and Half Marathon.

Have any of you been to the Canary Islands? What was your experience like? If you haven’t been, is is on your list now?

Happy travels!

Donna