Colonial Williamsburg without a ticket

Recently I was going to be in Williamsburg, Virginia with my family primarily to go to Busch Gardens (see my post 5 reasons Busch Gardens Williamsburg has something for everyone) but we were going to have about a half day leftover before we would have to go home, so I thought we could go to Colonial Williamsburg.  An adult ticket online is $25.99 for a “sampler ticket” that includes a visit to 2 trade shops, the shuttle, the public gaol, and a visit to one family home.  A single-day adult ticket for $40.99 will get you all of the aforementioned plus more city sites, trade shops, family homes and gardens, live reenactments in the streets, Governor’s Palace and Capitol Building access, admission to two art museums, and 10% discount on tours and evening programs.  Considering we would only have a few hours in the area I didn’t see spending over $100 for that, so I decided we would not buy tickets at all and see what we could see.

After a delicious breakfast at Aroma’s Specialty Coffees, Bakery, and Cafe we walked around the main street of Colonial Williamsburg, Duke of Gloucester Street.  I knew that some of the homes here are private residences and offices and if there is a British flag flying, that means it’s open to the public.  We kept our eyes open for the British flag and went in several shops such as The William Pitt Shop that sells children’s colonial clothing, hats, toys, games, and books.  We also browsed in Prentis Store that sells unique items handmade by skilled tradespeople using 18th-century tools and techniques.  We found that if a store or building had people standing outside in period clothing that looked like they were guarding the place, that meant you had to have a ticket to enter so after one or two instances like that, we quickly learned to just by-pass those places entirely.  I had read online that the Raleigh Tavern Bakery cranks out hot, fresh-from-the-oven gingerbread cookies every morning so we stopped there to pick up some and quickly devoured them.

Although we just got a little taste of Colonial Williamsburg, given that we only had a few hours to spend I was glad we didn’t spend the money for tickets and just did our own thing on our own pace.  I think if we would have bought tickets we would have felt obligated to cram as much in as we could, which would have just been a bad idea.  We never would have been able to see and do as much as is offered here and we would have just been exhausted.

There is very little you can see and do without a ticket, so if you plan on spending more than a few hours here, you should definitely buy a ticket and plan on spending at least a couple of days here. Bottom line is pretty much all you can do without a ticket is look at the buildings from the outside and browse in the shops and eat at the restaurants.  Would I go back and spend a couple of days to do Colonial Williamsburg properly?  I would and if you’re also a history buff, I recommend it for you and your family.

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5 reasons Busch Gardens Williamsburg has something for everyone

When I was a kid, my brother rode the Big Bad Wolf and Loch Ness Monster while I just watched, too scared to go with him. We were at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Virginia but at this point in my life, I was too scared to ride roller coasters.  A few years after that, I discovered the adrenaline rush from riding roller coasters.  Recently, I wanted to go back as an adult to ride the coasters and let my daughter who had never been there experience the amusement park.  Unfortunately Big Bad Wolf, a suspended roller coaster that was in service since 1984 was closed permanently in 2009.  I love suspended coasters so I missed the boat on that one, but there are plenty of other roller coasters at BGW, which brings me to reason number 1 why Busch Gardens Williamsburg has something for everyone:  there are some great roller coasters here.

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Griffon Roller Coaster

Busch Gardens’ newest coaster Tempesto is a launch coaster with speeds up to 63 mph and a complete inversion 154 feet in the air.  Alpengeist is an inversion roller coaster that climbs to 195 feet and riders are hurtled through six inversions at speeds up to 67 mph.  Apollo’s Chariot has a drop of 210 feet and reaches a maximum speed of 73 mph.  Griffon has a 205-foot, 90-degree, 75 mph free fall.  Verboten® is a somewhat tamer roller coaster than the previously mentioned ones.  It is an indoor/outdoor ride with an 88-foot plunge toward the river.  A long-time favorite of the Busch Gardens coasters is Loch Ness Monster®.  This coaster has two loops and stretches 13 stories tall before racing down a 114-foot drop, with speeds as fast as 60 miles per hour.  Loch Ness is what I think of when I think of Busch Gardens Williamsburg.  The fact that is has been in operation since 1978 shows why it’s one of the most popular rides in the park.  It is a classic.

Reason number 2:  Busch Gardens Williamsburg is a beautiful amusement park.  It is divided into sections with different European countries as themes.  These sections are Germany and Octoberfest, France and New France, Ireland, Scotland, England, Italy, and Festa Italia, and  Jack Hanna’s Wild Reserve.  Each section has corresponding scenery, rides, attractions, and restaurants.  It is nice to just walk around the park and take in all of the details and the scenery.  If you don’t like riding amusement park rides, you can easily fill your day with shopping, dining, sightseeing, and people-watching.

When you need a break from riding rides, you can always take in a show, which is reason number 3:  the shows are good with high-quality actors, singers, and dancers.  There are 8 family-friendly shows spread out all throughout the day so watching at least one or two shouldn’t be too difficult for most people.  All For One™ premiered July 1 and is about the Musketeers.  Mix it Up! includes a team of chef musicians in Italy’s il Teatro di San Marco.  Celtic Fyre is a popular show featuring Irish song and dance.  London Rocks™ is a musical journey that explores the roots of rock-n-roll and in a 25-minute live action and multi-media rock show.  Roll Out The Barrel includes live musicians, singers and dancers, and incorporates some acrobatics in this musical about a contest in a German village.  Sunny Days Celebration is a sing- and dance-along for younger children and their families featuring  Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Grover, Cookie Monster and Zoe.  I really wanted to see The Secret Life of Predators but there just wasn’t enough time.  This is a live-animal show featuring some of North America’s top predators.  One of my favorite shows is More…Pet Shenanigans.  I love the fact that the animal trainers at the park wanted to incorporate rescued and shelter animals in a show.  The park also supports animal shelters with a program called Happy Tails in which they offer two free single-day tickets to the park to those who adopt a dog or cat from participating shelters.

BGW also offers several special events throughout the year, which is reason number 4: there are five festivals or special events throughout the year.  The Food & Wine Festival is late May through late June.  For the weekend of July 4th, there is the Fireworks Spectacular.  Similar to Octoberfest is the Beer Festival, Bier Fest in September.  The month leading up to Halloween includes Howl-O-Scream.  During the holiday season beginning around Thanksgiving there is Christmas Town.

Often we think of amusement parks as a place to go for fast roller coasters and other rides, but Busch Gardens Williamsburg has many rides, shows, and attractions for younger children, making this park truly family-friendly, my reason number 5.  They call it “KIDsiderate” and while they offer play areas like Land of the Dragons® and the Sesame Street® Forest of Fun™ there are also an abundance of strollers, changing tables, nursing rooms, and of course kid-friendly food offerings.  BGW also takes safety seriously and offer height-check stations to make sure your child is tall enough to ride certain rides.

Although I didn’t even mention any of the other rides, there are many that are a lot of fun and definitely worth checking out!  Some of my family’s favorites include Escape from Pompeii, Le Scoot, Roman Rapids, and Aeronaut Skyride.  Although I’ve never done it, the Rhine River Cruise looks like fun.  Hmmmm, maybe next time!

Logistics:  check the website for up-to-date pricing but generally, a one-day ticket for an adult costs $80 online and $70 for children ages 3-9.  Buying tickets online generally saves you money and time (you don’t have to wait in line to buy tickets when you arrive at the park).  You can also add animal tours, dining plans, and wine tastings online for additional fees.

GPS Driving Directions

Busch Gardens
One Busch Gardens Blvd.
Williamsburg, VA 23185

Busch Gardens is located in Williamsburg, VA at Exit 243A on I-64. Alternative local routes include US Route 60, and State Routes 143 and 199. Major nearby cities include Virginia Beach (55 miles), Richmond (55 miles) and Washington, DC (150 miles).
Flying? Three airports are situated within a 45-minute drive of Busch Gardens.

ORF – Norfolk International Airport
RIC – Richmond International Airport
PHF – Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport

Taking a train?
The Williamsburg Amtrak Train Station is just 10 minutes from Busch Gardens. For more information about routes and schedules, visit Amtrak’s website.

Central Oregon-Eugene and Bend

Portland, Oregon had almost 9 million overnight visitors in 2015 according to travelportland.com.  On the other hand, in central Oregon, Bend had roughly 2-2.5 million visitors that same year.  While I couldn’t find an estimate for annual visitors to Eugene, I would guess it’s even lower than for Bend.  When I was planning a trip to Oregon, I chose the less-traveled areas of Eugene and Bend for the majority of our time in the state.  Although we would be flying into Portland, I left zero time there for exploring that area, and we picked up our rental car and drove promptly to Eugene.  I was going to run my 36th half marathon (leaving only 14 more to go for all 50 states) in Eugene so we were going to spend a few days in Eugene then drive to Bend to spend a week there.  Nothing against Portland but there’s only so much you can see in 10 days.

Eugene, Oregon is famous for being the birthplace of Nike and is nicknamed “Track Town, USA.”  They were the hosts for the Olympic Track and Field Trials for 2016 and many other years.  If you’re a runner, chances are pretty good you’ve heard of Steve Prefontaine.  While in the peak of his running career, he was killed at the young age of 24 in a car accident.  “Pre,” as he was called, helped spark the city’s running boom in the 1970’s.  Ask just about any Eugene resident about Steve Prefontaine, and they’ll tell you an earful.  Running is in these people’s blood.  I was seriously nervous about running a half marathon here (I might be dead-last running against all of these die-hard runners) but I somehow managed to win third place in my age group.

If you’re a runner, a must-do in Eugene is to run on Pre’s Trail, a nice loop on chipped wood in Alton Baker Park.  You can run past many water formations including a pond, creeks, and river as well as the famous University of Oregon stadium.  There are also many wineries in Eugene with not only tasty wine but also great people working there as well.  Everyone we spoke with at the wineries were all very friendly, down-to-earth, and not at all snobby like you find at wineries in other parts of the country.  Cascades Raptor Center is also a fun place to visit, even in the rain (Eugene experiences an average rainfall of 46 inches per year).  The Raptor Center is a working rehabilitation center and the birds on display could not be returned to the wild. Birds with the right disposition are used for educational exhibits.

When our time was up in Eugene, we drove to Bend and saw the landscape change from lush and green to dry, high desert.  The contrast was stark.  While Eugene is often rainy and overcast, Bend has an average of 158 clear days and 105 more that are mostly sunny, making it the city with the highest average sunny days in the state.  Bend has many places to hike and bike in warmer months and ski in the winter.  The largest beer trail in the West is also here, the Bend Ale Trail.  This is my kind of place!

For something other than the aforementioned activities in Bend, check out the High Desert Museum.  It’s like a zoo, history museum, and science exhibits all rolled into one place.  I always like checking out local history when I’m traveling and this was a good place for history of the Pacific Northwest.  There are temporary as well as permanent exhibits, some indoor and some outdoor.  Some favorites include the Miller Family Ranch, Autzen Otter Exhibit, Desertarium, and the Birds of Prey Center.

For some hiking, it’s hard to beat Smith Rock State Park and Tumalo Falls.  Smith Rock State Park is near Terrebonne and Redmond, Oregon and is a popular climbing spot.  One of the best trails here is Misery Ridge which takes you over Smith Rock, with a view of Monkey Face and views of the canyon and Crooked River.  To reach the viewpoint for Tumalo Falls you can walk 5 minutes from the parking lot and then there are multiple trails from here if you so desire.  The Tumalo Mountain trail is classified as moderate/difficult and is 1.75 miles one way.  It is a steep climb from 6400 feet to 7775 feet with a beautiful view at the top.  The trail starts at the Dutchman Sno-park on the Cascade Lakes Highway.

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Smith Rock State Park
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View from the top of Misery Ridge
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Tumalo Falls

It’s  easy to spend a week in Bend, but 2-3 days in Eugene is plenty.  It seems that so many people overlook these areas when planning a vacation in Oregon and just go straight to the ever-popular Portland.  They would be missing out on some unique scenery and fun things to do for the whole family in by-passing these areas.

 

 

Camping in Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina is perhaps best known for Biltmore Estate, the mansion built by George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895.  It is currently the largest privately owned house in the United States.  In 1956, portions of the house were opened to the public for tours and since then more rooms have been restored and opened for viewing.  I have toured the Biltmore several times, during different seasons of the year.  However, on my most recent visit to Asheville, the Biltmore Estate was nowhere on my agenda.  If anything, we would be doing the exact opposite of touring a huge mansion.  We would be camping in a tent and hiking for the weekend.

Where to camp?

Set in the western end of North Carolina very close to South Carolina, Asheville lies between Pigsah National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Dupont State Forest is a short drive away.  Hiking, biking, camping, and rock climbing are all extremely popular in this area.  We chose to camp at Lake Powhatan Recreation Area Campground based on a recommendation from someone who lives in Asheville.  Lake Powhatan is deep in the Appalachian Mountains with an elevation of 2,200 feet.  The campground has tent as well as RV sites, a bathhouse, and a lake that is suitable for swimming (in the roped-off section) or fishing.  That being said, my daughter and her friend swam in the lake for a while but pretty quickly were done, saying the water was “gross.”  I did not get in the water but it didn’t look very clean.  That didn’t stop several other people who were in the water while we were there.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a short drive from Lake Powhatan Campground, as is an arboretum, the Biltmore Estate, countless trails for hiking or biking, the French Broad River, and if you forget something there are several stores within a short drive.  We arrived late on a Friday and immediately set up our tent and got settled for the night.  The next day we drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway and found Mt. Pigsah Trail and a few other shorter trails nearby.

Hiking Trails

Mt. Pigsah Trail is at milepost 407.6 from the Blue Ridge Parkway and is in Pigsah National Forest.  At the parking lot for the trail, the elevation is just under 5,000 feet.  You’ll reach the summit at 5,721 feet after a 1.5 mile hike and be rewarded with panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains to the west and Asheville and Mount Mitchell to the north.  Other trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway include Skinny Dip Falls, Graveyard Fields, and Devil’s Courthouse. After hiking a few trails, we went back to our campsite and went to the lake for a while, then relaxed by a crackling fire until it was time to turn in for the night.

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Waterfalls

The next day, we decided to check out some of the waterfalls in the Brevard, NC area.  For our first stop, we drove to Looking Glass Falls on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway in Pigsah National Forest.  There is easy access to this waterfall with only a short walk from the parking area, then stairs to get a closer look.  You can even get in the water and swim up to the waterfall to feel the power of the water pounding on your shoulders.  The water was quite cold in June but maybe it warms up later in the summer.  The waterfall is 60 feet tall and is beautiful.

Just a short drive from Looking Glass Falls is Sliding Rock.  There is a nominal fee to enter this area, but it was the only fee other than at the campground that we had to pay the entire weekend.  Sliding Rock is actually a waterfall along a large rock that is relatively smooth so you can slide 60 feet down the rock into the 6 foot deep plunge pool at the bottom.  The water was quite bracing when we were there, so when you hit the water, you’re breathless for a second.  On a hot day I’m sure this would feel refreshing but it was cooler and overcast when we were there so we only went down a few times before we were ready to dry off and get into some dry clothes.  Lifeguards are on duty here during the summer months, if you’re concerned about safety and there did seem to be lifejackets available.

Next on our agenda was Moore Cove Falls.  The parking area for Moore Cove Falls is one mile from Looking Glass Falls so we back-tracked a bit and parked here.  The trail is a short 0.7 miles and is listed as moderate.  It was a nice way to end our hiking in Asheville.

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Refuel for the Drive Home

For lunch we stopped at The Hub and Pigsah Tavern, a bicycle shop and tavern in Pigsah Forest, NC.  The Tavern only serves beer but has a nice selection of beers on tap, bottles, and cans.  Asheville is also known for its abundance of breweries and has been called “The Napa Valley of Beer” by NPR.  While we were at the Tavern, two food trucks were also there, Aloha Hot Dog Co. and Blue Smoke BBQ.  I got the Pulled Pork Sandwich on a bun and my husband got the BBQ plate from Blue Smoke BBQ.  We both agreed that was the best BBQ we had eaten in a long time.  We were pleasantly full and ready for the drive back home after a fun weekend in Asheville.

 

 

New Zealand- My family’s North Island Adventure

 Next up:  Tongariro National Park

I can’t wait to go back to New Zealand and visit the South Island!

Run the Reagan Half Marathon, Georgia-14th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Georgia was my 14th state.

For my half marathon in Georgia, I really wanted to run the one on Tybee Island. However, in 2008, the year I was planning on running it, there was talk of cancelling it so to be on the safe side I found another half in Snellville, Georgia around the same time (February) and thought that would be fine. I was very wrong indeed.

Curious about what it might be like to run along a major expressway that’s usually only opened to vehicles? My word of advice:  think twice about running a race that’s entirely on an expressway.

This race course began and ended on the Ronald Reagan Parkway so for much of the race, all I could see was the highway and trees along the sides and nothing else. At least in my experience, highways aren’t the most scenic of places. Even worse, your sense of direction is thrown off because all you see is miles upon miles of highway with no houses or anything to break up the distances so it’s really difficult to judge how far you’ve gone or how far you have left.

To make matters even worse, the weather was terrible- cold and rainy the entire duration of the race plus after I finished. There was a great kids play area at the start/finish area, but it was too rainy, cold, and muddy for the kids to even enjoy them.

My finish for the Run the Reagan Half Marathon was 1:59:49.

I received a cotton long-sleeve shirt of pretty low-quality and a fairly plain medal; both had the race logo on them (the red, yellow, and blue squares), as seen on the banner in the photo below. Food at the finish was the usual bananas, oranges, bagels, water. Since it was so cold and rainy I didn’t even want to get any food, though. I just wanted to get back to my warm hotel room.

This was a race that I was happy to just finish. After I was done running, we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. We did have a fun time in Atlanta, which was close-by so I’m glad we could at least enjoy the sights there.

If you’re looking for things to do in Atlanta, here are just a few suggestions and some of the things my family and I did while we were there:  visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden, be awed by all of the animals at the Georgia Aquarium, see some art exhibits at the High Museum of Art and get a burger and milkshake at the The Varsity, the world’s largest drive-in restaurant.

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Run the Reagan Half Marathon

Naples Daily News Half Marathon, Florida- 8th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Florida was my 8th state.

I  know a lot of people may question why I didn’t run one of the races in Disney World for my half marathon in Florida. Honestly, I purposefully didn’t choose a Disney race because the huge crowds at their races and super-early start did not appeal to me, plus they’re crazy expensive. I think Disney is fine for family vacations just not for a race, but I know plenty of people love their races so I may be in the minority on that one.

I ran the Naples Daily News Half Marathon in January 2007. I chose this race for my one in Florida for a couple of different reasons. At the time, my mother-in-law and step-father-in-law had recently bought a winter house in Naples and had invited us down for a visit. Also, we (my husband’s parents and my husband, daughter, and me) were all planning a vacation together in Hawaii the following fall and would be bringing our daughter who would be almost 2 when we flew to Hawaii. I wanted to see how she would do on an airplane before we flew all the way to Hawaii. Since this race was in January, it would be a nice respite from the cold weather where we lived.

There was an early start to the race to beat the heat. The course was flat and went through wealthy neighborhoods with enormous multi-million homes and views of the water. There was a priest in front of Trinity-by-the-Cove Episcopal Church blessing runners going by with holy water, which was a first for me to see at a race. Our finisher’s medals were cute and of good quality, as were the short-sleeve technical shirts we received. My verdict: the Naples Half Marathon was a fun, not overly-crowded race in a perfect location for those from colder climes looking for a break from winter weather.

My finish time for the Naples Daily News Half Marathon was 2:01:09.

For things to do, there’s the Naples Zoo, which is especially good if you have younger children; the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a fantastic place for viewing wildlife in the area; and if it’s warm enough there are some beautiful beaches.  One of the best beaches is Loudermilk Beach with powder white sand, perfect for long walks after you’ve ran your race.

www.napleshalfmarathon.net

Philadelphia Distance Run, Pennsylvania-3rd state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Pennsylvania was my 3rd state.

I decided to go to Philadelphia because I saw a great airfare there and since neither my husband nor I had been there, we thought it would be a fun long weekend trip. I also thought I could squeeze in a half marathon while there, as it just happened there was one when we were planning our trip. I still didn’t have the intention of running a half marathon in every state at this point.

Anyway, I ran the 2004 Philadelphia Distance Run and it was the largest race to date for me with almost 7300 runners that day. Hurricane Ivan had just rolled by and portions of the course were flooded the day before causing officials to devise an alternate route. However, the day of the race, the weather was great for running- no rain and nice temps but a bit warm by the finish.

This was a fun, mostly flat course along some famous icons of Philly and the river. And if any of you that are familiar with Philly are wondering, yes, we ran past the “Rocky Steps” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There were amazing volunteers and the energy from the crowds was probably the best I had ever experienced. I also received one of the coolest, most colorful race shirts to date.

This was the first half marathon for me where all runners received a medal for finishing (that matched the race shirts). For my first few half marathons beginning in 2000 Battleship Half Marathon and Gold Rush Half Marathon, North Carolina-My first half marathon (and third and fourth)Kona Marathon and Half Marathon, Hawaii-2nd state medals just weren’t handed out to all finishers, but by 2004, it had become standard.

My finish time for the Philadelphia Distance Run was 2:00:31.

Philadelphia is a fun city to check out for a weekend or long weekend trip. Of course everyone that goes to Philly must see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall (it’s free, too) and my husband and I definitely did that. We also went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and that was nice. Philadelphia is also world-renowned for their cheesesteak sandwiches so we had at least a couple of those while we were there. It’s a nice walk-able city so we were able to burn off the extra calories pretty easily with all of the walking we did.

As far as I can tell, the Philadelphia Distance Run no longer exists.  There is now a Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in its place.

Rock ‘N’ Roll Philadelphia

 

 

Kona Marathon and Half Marathon, Hawaii-2nd state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Hawaii was my 2nd state.

Over the years when I’ve told people I’m running a half marathon in every state, they usually would ask, “Have you run one in Hawaii yet?” Hawaii was actually the second state I ran a half marathon in, before I even had the goal of running one in all 50 states.

I just happened to be planning a vacation to Hawaii and saw somewhere there was a half marathon in Kona, which is one of the places I was going to be, and it was during my time there, so I thought, what the heck! At least it will be a scenic race! And boy was it ever!

Even though it was way back in 2001, I still vividly remember that race. There was an early morning start so I got to watch the sunrise over the ocean and I remember thinking how lucky I was to be there as I gazed at the pink, orange, yellow, and red streaks across the sky.

The 2001 Kona Half Marathon course was out and back along the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. The start was 0.2 miles from the Keauhou Beach Resort on Alii Drive, where the finish also was. The course included some hills and was along some of the same portions as the Ironman triathlon.

My half marathon in Hawaii was the first half marathon I traveled to so I made it into a racecation and stayed for about 10 days in the beautiful state of Hawaii. If ever there was a race to turn into a racecation, this is one! I had a great time in Kona for a week after the race. I’ve since been back once and would love to go back again. I highly recommend Kona and the big island of Hawaii.

In 2001, medals weren’t given out to every finisher after half marathons including this one, so I didn’t even receive a medal at this race. I did get a short-sleeve cotton t-shirt and fantastic memories, however.

My finish time for the Kona Half Marathon was 2:02:06.

http://konamarathon.com