Digging a Little Deeper Into Asheville, NC

Asheville, North Carolina is a city I’ve chosen to return to many times over the years. The only other city I can think of that I’ve chosen to return to more than a couple of times is Charleston, South Carolina. I first went to Asheville when I was in graduate school in Tennessee and I fell in love with it then. For those of you not acquainted with Asheville, it’s in the mountains of western North Carolina. By car, it’s about 2 hours from Charlotte, NC or Knoxville, TN in the other direction and about 1 hour from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I’ve been to the Biltmore House in Asheville many times and had a season pass at one point. Although the Biltmore is lovely all four seasons, Christmas is my favorite, with spring in a close second. The first overnight vacation I took my daughter on was to Asheville, and we toured the Biltmore when she was about two months old. I’ve also hiked all over in and around Asheville. But I’m not going to talk about the Biltmore House or hiking here. I’ve already done that and you can read my posts here: Christmas at Biltmore Estate and Exploring Asheville, North Carolina and Camping in Asheville, North Carolina.

I’m going to talk a bit about other things to do in Asheville because Asheville is so much more than just the Biltmore House and hiking/camping. Asheville is full of things to do and is a foodie town that can hold its own to other foodie towns like Charleston, SC. Too many people just get stuck in the Biltmore or hiking rut and don’t venture off to the plethora of other offerings Asheville has, myself included, until recently. So here we go digging a bit deeper.

Things to Do

Even though I’m a huge fan of botanical gardens, I only recently discovered the botanical garden in Asheville. It backs up to the University of North Carolina at Asheville campus so it’s easy to find. More importantly, it’s a quiet and peaceful place to walk around for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on whether you get in the water or not. Reed Creek flows through the gardens and provides a relaxing place to cool off in the summer or just to stop and enjoy the sounds and views. There is no admission fee and dogs are not permitted. https://ashevillebotanicalgardens.org

On a similar note but much bigger than the botanical gardens is the North Carolina Arboretum with gardens, a bonsai exhibit, hiking and biking trails, and views for miles on a clear day. There is no admission fee but there is a parking fee that some might consider a bit hefty ($16/vehicle). There are discounts offered for some affiliations and on the first Tuesday of the month so check the website for more information. https://www.ncarboretum.org

The Grove Arcade isn’t really an arcade at all but one of the most stunning indoor shopping malls I’ve ever seen. Originally opened in 1929 as America’s first indoor shopping mall, the Grove Arcade is a mix of stores and restaurants. Even if you don’t care for shopping, if you love ornate architecture, you might want to pop in to admire the building. There are even apartments for rent here and for just $2850/month you can have your own 2 bedroom apartment with 1478 square ft (yes, of course I realize that’s outrageous but I never said Asheville was cheap). Check out the website for a directory https://grovearcade.com

A friend of mine that had recently been to Asheville and knew I was planning a trip there asked if I had been to the Antique Tobacco Barn and I said I hadn’t so I thought I’d check it out. If you enjoy browsing through antiques, this is a huge place (almost 80,000 square ft) full of all kinds of antiques so big you can easily get turned around. There are something like 75 antique dealers, each with their own area within the space. Since I saw it was dog-friendly, I brought my dog and I’ve never seen her so happy when there weren’t treats involved. I guess she loved all of the smells from everything and her tail didn’t stop wagging the entire time we were there. https://www.atbarn.com

The River Arts District has working studios and galleries from many different kinds of artists and forms of medium including painting, glass, metal, jewelry, and more. If you’re lucky enough to be there on the the second Saturday of the month, there are gallery walks, workshops, wine tastings, demonstrations, and music. There’s even a trolley to help take you around the mile-long district, known as RAD. Check out more information plus the many events and classes on the website https://www.riverartsdistrict.com

For even more artistry, visit the Southern Highland Craft Guild. There are four locations where you can buy some of this fine handmade art by members of the group, with three in Asheville and one in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. The 75th Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands was in July and October of this year. To purchase tickets or for more information see the website https://www.southernhighlandguild.org/galleries/

If you have children or just love animals, there’s the Western North Carolina Nature Center, essentially a zoo, full of animals that live or have lived in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Or so they say, but there are red pandas that currently only live in Central Asia (WNC Nature Center says that the climate where red pandas live is nearly identical to that of Asheville). But I digress. It’s a pretty typical zoo, in my opinion, with extras like behind the scenes tours, nature play areas, but with an additional area you don’t normally see at zoos- a gem and fossil mining area. My daughter loved doing this when she was younger. For an additional fee, you buy a bag of stones that they call mining roughage and put it through the sluice to see what you find. https://wildwnc.org/plan-your-visit/

One place I’ve never visited but I know is popular is the Asheville Pinball Museum. For $15 you can play 35 pinball machines and 35 classic video games for “as long as you like.” I wonder if that last part has ever been tested by someone who is really good at pinball or video games and they’ve had to kick them out after playing for hours. https://ashevillepinball.com

Another place I’ve never been that is surprising even to me because I normally love places like this is the Asheville Museum of Science. Originally opened in 1960 in another location with the name Burnham S. Colburn Memorial Museum, the museum was moved and renamed a couple more times before its current location and name in 2016. They seem to have many hands-on exhibits that delve into astronomy, geology, weather, climate, ecology, and paleontology. Admission is a simple $10 for everyone over 3. https://ashevillescience.org

If you enjoy live music, there are many options in Asheville. One of the best sources is this calendar https://livemusicasheville.com/calendar-live-music-in-asheville/ or this one that has more than just live music (like links for food and drink, things to do, etc.) https://www.exploreasheville.com/iconic-asheville/music/live-music-events-calendar/

Food and Drink

Like I mentioned in the beginning, Asheville is a foodie city and has been for quite some time. Over the years, the food scene has just exploded as has the number of breweries. Depending on the source, I’ve seen estimates anywhere from 20 to 30 breweries in Asheville. Considering there are currently around 96,000 people living in Asheville, that’s a ton of breweries for a town of this size. Some of the more popular breweries include Highland Brewing, Burial Beer Co, Bhramari Brewing Co, Archetype Brewing, Hi-Wire, New Belgium Brewing Co, and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. I recently discovered White Labs Brewing Co and loved not only the beer but the pizza that was made with fermented dough, essentially sourdough. Sierra Nevada has some of the best food I’ve ever had at a brewery.

Some breweries including Sierra Nevada give tours as well

I don’t know how restaurants in Asheville stay in business given the stiff competition. You can find anything from food trucks to fancy dine-in restaurants and everything in between at all price points. It may seem surprising that a Caribbean restaurant, Nine Mile, is one of the highest rated restaurants given the location but probably not so surprising that there are a multitude of places specializing in pizza (pizza goes so well with beer). Some other highly rated restaurants include Cúrate, French Broad Chocolate Lounge, White Duck Taco, Tupelo Honey, Jargon, Rhubarb, All Souls Pizza, Buxton Hall, and Biscuit Head. I’ve been to many of these restaurants and will say the hype is real. I also discovered and really liked Gypsy Queen Market and Deli, a Lebanese restaurant when I was there last time.

Asheville is also a big coffee city with many local coffee shops including the touristy but still good Double D’s Coffee and Desserts where they sell coffee, tea, and desserts out of a bright red double-decker bus surrounded by a patio. You can find a whole list of some of the best coffee shops in Asheville here: https://www.exploreasheville.com/blog/post/fan-faves-ashevilles-best-coffee-shops/

Dog City USA

Asheville promotes itself as Dog City USA and tries hard to support that title. It’s one of the most dog-friendly places I’ve been and dogs are welcome at many breweries, restaurants (with outdoor seating) and stores. One restaurant, Twisted Laurel even has a doggie menu with protein, veggie, and dessert options. The Aloft Hotel in Downtown Asheville is so dog-friendly there’s no extra charge for dogs and there are usually rescue dogs available to adopt. Plus, there are many other pet-friendly hotels in Asheville at all price ranges.

The first official dog welcome center in the US is inside The Dog Door Behavior Center and Outfitter in Downtown Asheville across from the Grove Arcade. They have indoor and outdoor seating, a doggy potty area, water fountains, free goody bags, doggie ice cream, and info on their top 100 dog-friendly attractions, restaurants, and things to do. You can also buy treats, bandanas, toys, and other goodies for your dog in the store.

Best Time of Year To Go

Asheville definitely has all four seasons, with snow in the winter, spring flowers in the spring, hot but not excessively so summers, and autumn leaves in the fall. Summers are the busiest time of year and most packed with families. Spring and fall are probably the best overall in terms of weather and crowds but the spring can be fairly rainy and chilly, especially in March. January is the coldest month and can get quite chilly by North Carolina standards, although the lows don’t typically dip below the 20’s.

The best time of year to visit really depends on what you plan to do. If you want to go hiking, you can do that year-round but bring weather-appropriate clothes and good sturdy hiking shoes or boots. There are bears so be aware of that and make sure you make noise periodically when you’re hiking so that you don’t startle a bear. Spring is when bears have their cubs so that’s the time of year to be especially cautious. I would recommend spending three full days in Asheville or four if you plan on driving to other cities like Boone or Blowing Rock (which I recommend) or going to Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi.

Have you been to Asheville before? If so, what did you do? Are there any places you really enjoyed and recommend?

Happy travels!

Donna

What I Learned From Every Half Marathon I Ran- Part 2

If you missed part one, you can read it here What I Learned From Every Half Marathon I Ran. TLDR? I went through the half marathons I ran in all 50 states beginning with my first one in North Carolina in 2000. I briefly state what I learned at each race, since after all, life is a learning process. In my first post, I stopped at a half marathon I ran in Mississippi in 2010 so that’s where I’ll start here.

Picking back up where I left, although I was struggling with health issues at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon in November of 2010, my health continued to deteriorate for another reason. By the time of the Arbuckles to Ardmore Half Marathon in Oklahoma in March of 2011, I had full-blown anemia. This was my 21st state (and 23rd half marathon) but my first experience with anemia. I was borderline in need of a transfusion but my doctor chose to prescribe heavy doses of iron pills along with B12 and other vitamins to help with absorption. She also told me not to run. I learned it is indeed possible to run a half marathon if you don’t mind going slowly (but I certainly don’t endorse this).

At the Missoula Half Marathon in Montana I learned to be better prepared for drastic changes in weather at races. Although it was supposed to be mid-50’s at the start of the race, a cold front had moved in the day before the race so it was predicted to drop to the low 40’s that morning. For some people, that’s shorts and short-sleeve weather but not for this southern gal. I went to a running store in search of running pants but the closest they had was capris, in a size smaller than I normally wore. I bought them anyway and while not ideal, at least my legs weren’t freezing.

I learned having elite runners at a race can have its perks for everyone else. When I ran the Kaiser Realty Coastal Half Marathon in Alabama, elite runners Deena Kastor and Johnny Gray were speakers there (they didn’t run the race) and we were treated to one of the best post-race spreads I’ve ever had at a race. At the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, I learned it’s possible to have fun and not be overwhelmed at big races as long as they’re well-organized like this one. I learned just how hot it gets in Chicago in June at the Chicago 13.1 Half Marathon.

At the Amica Half Marathon in Newport, Rhode Island, I learned just how much of an underrated state this smallest of the US states is. The Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon showed me just how insanely hilly Knoxville is (one of the hilliest races I’ve ever run). I learned how amazingly scenic the islands off the coast of Washington are when I ran the San Juan Island Half Marathon.

I learned that all-women’s races have a different vibe than coed races do when I ran the All Women & One Lucky Guy Half Marathon in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The New York City 13.1 showed me how many fun half marathons (and other distances) New York State and New York City has and you don’t have to run the bigger, better-known races to have a great race (this was in Queens). When I ran the Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon in Portland, Maine, I learned just how hot and hilly Maine is in July but since it’s so beautiful, it’s worth it.

The Roller Coaster Half Marathon in Branson, Missouri showed me it’s possible for someone who had never even finished in the top three in her age group before to finish first. After I ran the Frederick Running Festival Half Marathon in Maryland and learned the race director was my daughter’s teacher’s niece, I learned what a small world it truly is. The Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon in South Dakota showed me two things: 1) South Dakota is entirely different in many ways than North Dakota and 2) I love races that start at the top of a canyon and you run down it.

In September of 2015, I learned that some race directors were still not using timing chips at the Dixville Half Marathon in Colebrook, New Hampshire. At the McKenzie River Half Marathon in Eugene, Oregon, I learned just how intense runners are in this part of the country. I asked someone at the packet pickup about the hills and was told, “they’re not that bad,” only to find out the only flat portions were the first two miles and the last mile, with none of the hills going down, only up. The Boulder Rez Half Marathon in Colorado showed me what I already suspected, that running at altitude is no joke.

I learned sometimes race directors try to cram too many events into one race at the Silver Strand Half Marathon in California. In addition to the half marathon, there was a 5k, 10 miler, and half marathon for skaters, handcyclers, and wheelchair racers and the course was extremely crowded. I learned it can be so cold in Utah in February that despite wearing gloves, my fingers were still cold at the end of the Dogtown Half Marathon and my feet were numb for the first couple of miles. The Superhero Half Marathon in Morristown, New Jersey showed me how much fun it was to see other people’s costumes at a race (I didn’t dress up).

The Marshall University Half Marathon in Huntington, West Virginia showed me how cool it was to run with a football on a football field at the end of a race. The Famous Potato Half Marathon in Boise, Idaho showed me how life often doesn’t turn out how you think it will but that can be a good thing. For years I thought I’d run a half marathon in Coeur d’Alene for my Idaho race but the timing was never right so I signed up for this race in Boise and loved it. I learned it’s possible to have a not-so-unique race even in such a beautiful state as Alaska at the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Anchorage. The course was primarily on greenways, with little water views and overall not that scenic in my opinion.

I learned it’s possible to have a blazing fast course, plenty of amazing volunteers, boatloads of food before and after the race, huge medals, and quality shirts for finishers at small races like the White River Half Marathon in tiny little Cotter, Arkansas. At the Seashore Classic Half Marathon in Lewes, Delaware, I learned running on crushed gravel is killer on the legs and a frozen strawberry daiquiri really hits the spot after a tough race. I learned it’s possible to PR at high elevation if the race has a downhill start like the Star Valley Half Marathon in Thayne, Wyoming.

The Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha, Nebraska taught me to tie my shoelaces better before a race. I had double-knotted them but they still came untied and that 20-something seconds it took me to tie them likely cost me a third place age group finish. At the Circle of Life Half Marathon in Lake City, Minnesota, I learned that “Minnesota nice” is real. Those were some of the friendliest and nicest people I had ever chatted with at a race.

I learned it’s possible to PR at your 51st half marathon at the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon in Iowa. This race also showed me that Des Moines knows how to put on a half marathon right, with so many little touches and big additions as well. The Albuquerque Half Marathon in New Mexico showed me life truly is all about the journey. Although many things went wrong or not exactly ideal before, during, and after this race and it didn’t end on such a high point as I would have liked, I learned running a half marathon in all 50 states isn’t just about state number 50, but the point is every single state along the way that adds up to all 50 states.

So that’s it- 53 half marathons in 21 years and what I learned along the way. Every single race taught me something, sometimes big things, sometimes smaller things but they were all lessons nonetheless.

If you’d like to read more in-depth about any of the half marathons I’ve run, check out my page here: https://runningtotravel.wordpress.com/half-marathons/

What lessons have you learned from half marathons or other races you’ve run?

Happy running!

Donna

Most Overrated Tourist Attractions

I saw an article by Fodor’s Travel about the most overrated tourist attractions in the world and it made me pause. For the article, see https://www.fodors.com/news/news/the-most-overrated-tourist-attractions-in-2022. For a quick summary, there were places mentioned ranging from The Grand Canyon, The FRIENDS Experience New York, cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, but apparently the most popular places listed were Disney World and Disneyland. The reasons listed shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been to Disney- too crowded and too expensive. Rounding out the poll’s top 5 most overrated tourist attractions were The Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Eiffel Tower, Times Square, and The Louvre.

I’ve never been to The Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Eiffel Tower, or The Louvre so I can’t comment on my personal feelings about those places but I have been to Disneyland and Disney World, The Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Times Square. I agree that Disney is hugely expensive and crowded so I can see where people would rank those places as overrated. There wasn’t a reason or reasons listed why people thought Times Square was overrated but I can also understand how it could be a letdown for people expecting some sort of magical experience or inflated expectations.

I started thinking about what I would list as the top 5 most overrated places I’ve traveled to. Travel can be a subjective subject so I understand that places I may have hated or just generally disliked are places that other people love. Likewise, I’ve been to places that I loved that others have hated. For example, I’ve heard people say The Grand Canyon National Park is nothing but a big hole in the ground with a bunch of rocks and trees around. I thought the Grand Canyon was an amazingly beautiful part of our country and loved hiking there. Not everyone likes being out in nature, though.

Does this look like just a big hole in the ground? Not to me!

Probably my number one place that I would list as overrated is Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m not a gambler and both times I went there I didn’t gamble even once, not even to play the slot machines. I really could care less about gambling. The first time I went to Las Vegas I was in nearby Laughlin, Nevada for a half marathon and thought I should see what all the fuss was about in Vegas. Needless to say, I was not impressed. Sure, the enormous themed casino hotels (The Venetian, Paris, Bellagio, etc.) are cool but I wouldn’t go there just for the hotels. I’m also not a big drinker or partier so you could see where Las Vegas would not be a great choice for a person like me.

Las Vegas Strip at night

The second time I was in Las Vegas was when I was running a half marathon outside St. George, Utah and it was cheaper to fly into Las Vegas and drive from there. Since we landed in the evening I thought we should at least walk through some of the hotel lobbies and watch the fountain displays with our teenage daughter to show her the sights. Would I ever purposely go back? Maybe to watch a Cirque du Soleil show but that’s the only reason (I’m a big fan of their shows).

Next on my list of overrated tourist spots is Gatlinburg, Tennessee (not including Great Smoky Mountains National Park). Like Las Vegas, I’ve been here twice, once as a teenager with a friend of mine and her family and more recently to go hiking in the park with my daughter last summer. On my more recent visit, we skipped all of the super-touristy places like Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Guinness World Records Museum, and the Salt and Pepper Museum. I didn’t hate it here and there were some shops and restaurants I enjoyed but it’s definitely not a place I would go out of my way to go to. See my post: Gatlinburg, Tennessee “Myrtle Beach in the Sky”

Main strip of Gatlinburg, Tennessee

If you read my post on Gatlinburg, Tennessee, it may come to no surprise that next on my list here is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Like Gatlinburg and Las Vegas, this is a place I’ve been to more than once, the first time as a child and later as an adult. This is also a place I personally know many people go to every summer with their friends and/or families and love it here. I find it crowded with people and traffic and touristy shops and restaurants full of fried seafood (which I don’t like). The water is murky and there is often trash littered around the hotels and beach areas. I would hands-down rather go a little further south to Charleston, South Carolina, which in my opinion is about 1000 times better in every way imaginable than Myrtle Beach.

Next on my list is a place I’ve only been to once: Los Angeles, California. I went here during my trip to Long Beach, California, when I ran a marathon and explored the area afterwards. Personally, I found the Hollywood Walk of Fame to be a complete waste of time (it’s exactly what you think it will be, a bunch of famous people’s names on gold stars on the sidewalk) and the tour of celebrity homes was also a waste. What I remember from that tour is driving around in a van, going by a bunch of huge fences and shrubbery while the host talked about the celebrity who lived in each of the homes we couldn’t even see. Maybe I just chose a bad tour or maybe they’re better now since that was several years ago. Sunset Strip, the Hollywood Sign, and every single other thing I saw or went past was entirely a waste of time to me.

The final place on my list of overrated places is a city I was surprised I didn’t like it as much as I did and I found it disappointing overall- Athens, Greece. For all of the details, you can read my post: I’m Sorry but I Just Didn’t Love Athens. In short, I found it to be hot, crowded, and dirty and many of the ruins were in such a poor state you could barely even see anything there. That being said, it might be more pleasant during the spring or fall when it’s not so crowded or hot. It’s also a place despite the fact I found it overrated, I would still recommend everyone go there just once to experience it for themselves.

Recognize this ruin? Me niether but I know it was in Athens

In fact, I don’t want to imply that I think no one should go to any of these overrated places. Like I said earlier, I know many people who go to some of these places year after year and love them. Also, with the exception of Myrtle Beach and Gatlinburg, these are unique places that I encourage everyone to see for themselves for the experience. There truly is no other place (at least not that I’ve been to or heard of) like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, or Athens, each of which has unique qualities that some people are drawn to.

What about you? Do you love any of the places I listed as overrated? Do you have your own list of overrated places that you’ve been to?

Happy travels!

Donna

Duolingo 2.0

I first wrote a post about my experience with the language-learning website and app Duolingo in Review of Duolingo, which I published in 2017. Since I hadn’t been to any Spanish-speaking countries in quite some time, and I didn’t feel the need to learn Portuguese other than some important words and phrases before my trip to Portugal, I hadn’t used Duolingo in a few years. However, I had a trip planned to Costa Rica and I wanted to start brushing up on my Spanish again before I went there.

Let me just say, the Duolingo that exists now is much better in my opinion than the version I used a few years ago. But first, let me give a little background info before I go any further. Duolingo launched in November of 2011 and now has 106 courses in 41 languages and has around 42 million users. Duolingo is free (with ads) but there is a premium service called Super Duolingo (previously called Duolingo Plus) which is ad-free, lets you accumulate unlimited hearts, and lets you review your mistakes for $6.99/month.

In my first review of Duolingo, I wrote that because of so many multiple choice options, I felt it was too easy and could give users a false sense of security that they were “fluent” in the language they were learning. Now, I’m not seeing nearly as many multiple choice options, although there are still some. There seems to be more speaking required now and definitely more listening options. Now, you can listen to a short story in the language you’re learning and answer questions afterwards. I don’t remember having that option before so I believe it’s relatively new.

I have the free version and it seems like there are many more ads now than before. I won’t lie, the ads are annoying. I’ve learned to just put my phone down and walk away for a minute and come back when the ad is over, although some of the ads are shorter than others. I’m not sure there was a pay version in 2017 but if not that could explain why they’re playing so many ads now, in a hope to get people to pay to skip the ads. The ads I’m seeing are mostly for gaming apps but there are plenty of others as well.

While we’re on the subject of annoying things, another annoying feature is the reminder about the daily streak. Some people might be drawn to this idea of practicing a language on Duolingo every day without missing a day but it’s just annoying to me. I feel like I’ll use the app when I have time and I don’t need reminders that I’m about to lose my daily streak. I don’t care if I’ll lose my streak, Duolingo. I did eventually learn how to turn these reminders off, so at least that’s an option.

I also don’t like how you can’t “test out” if you’re already relatively fluent at your current level, at least not at the free level. Before, you could take a proficiency test and if you passed, you could skip ahead to the next level quickly. Now, as far as I can tell, that option is only if you have the paid version. Well, supposedly. My daughter did the free trial of the paid option and said she took the test to skip to the next level and it wouldn’t let her do it even though she didn’t miss any of the questions.

Back to some of the basic features. There are many sections broken down into units. For example, unit 1 has intro, phrases, travel, restaurant, family, shopping, present tense 1, school, and people. Then there is a checkpoint before you can move on to unit 2. Unit 2 has some of the same sections as unit 1 including family, travel, and people but some new sections like emotions, preference, and describe, for example.

One area I didn’t discover until I had used the app for a while was under the profile icon. There’s an Achievements area and until I clicked on the achievements I had earned, I didn’t actually get the gems and other achievements I had earned on earlier days. You also have the option to follow other friends who also use the app in the profile section. If you’re competitive, there’s a shield icon that will show you what league you’re currently ranked in, based on points. There’s another icon that looks like a gem where you can buy gems (using real money) to be used in the app or you can bump yourself up to Duolingo Plus.

Overall, I find the Duolingo that exists now to be a useful tool for learning another language. The ads are annoying but I’m just not willing to pay for the app so I guess that falls on me; the option is always there to skip the ads if you’re willing to pay for that. I guess the real question was how well did it prepare me for my trip to Costa Rica? Pretty well! I didn’t have any trouble speaking to anyone (and more importantly getting them to understand me) and I could follow along when they spoke as long as they knew I only knew a little Spanish so they could slow down and use more basic words.

Have you used Duolingo either when it first came out the end of 2011 or more recently? If so, what do you think of the app? Do you use another learning app or tool to learn or refresh a foreign language?

Happy travels!

Donna

How I Did It

I recently reviewed Molly Huddle and Sara Slattery’s book How She Did It, which you can read here (Book Review- How She Did It. Stories, Advice, and Secrets to Success from 50 Legendary Distance Runners by Molly Huddle and Sara Slattery).

In my review, I also provided a link to their website where you can buy a copy of their book and if you go there, you’ll see it includes a reader worksheet. This is the same list of questions the authors asked everyone they interviewed for their book. I thought it would be interesting for me to post the questions on the worksheet and put my personal answers here. Here goes!

YOUR CHAPTER

Below are the questions we asked all the athletes interviewed in How She Did It.

Use these questions as a guide as you think about your own experience. Then, look at the answers from the athletes in the book. Do you notice any similarities? Come back to this page often and review how your answers change over time

What were your PR’s?

Although I ran on my elementary school’s track team, I have no idea what my times were for the distances I ran then (the mile, 800 meter, and 4 x 400 meter relay). That was the only time I ran on a school team and the only time I raced shorter distances. I didn’t start racing until I was an adult so I only have PR’s from the last 22 years. I bring this up because in the book, people had PR’s from high school, college, and beyond. Here are my PR’s: 5k- 26:53 (May 2022), 10k- 52:27 (July 2021), 10-mile- 1:27:13 (April 2022), Half Marathon- 1:51:20 (October 2021).

How did you get into running?

As I mentioned above, I started running on my elementary school’s track team. Our PE teacher was phenomenal and I believe a big part of why I’ve always been athletic is because of his encouragement. I’ve always also had a drive in me and the adrenaline rush from running has kept me going.

What major setbacks/challenges did you face as an athlete?

I had shin splints in college that stopped me from running for a few years. At their peak, they were so painful I was in tears as I walked home from a run and that deterred me from running for a long time. I also had ITBS (iliotibial band syndrome) that I developed after the birth of my daughter when I was training for a half marathon in Ohio. I tried to push through the pain and keep running but that was not a good idea and I was forced to stop running for a few months after that race.

If you have this setback/setbacks, describe how long you were off from running competing? How did you overcome the issue?

I already answered the part about how long I was off from running. I overcame shin splints by buying better running shoes, focusing more on recovery, and just training more properly. My foam roller and deep tissue massages helped me recover from ITBS and it’s not been a problem since I incorporated both of those things into my regular practice.

What is your best race following your setback (or your best race ever!)?

My best race ever was the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon (see photo above). It was one of those races where all of the stars were aligned and I felt like I was flying on the course. In a close second (or maybe even a tie) was the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta where I had a huge smile plastered on my face for the entire 10k. Not surprisingly those were also my fastest races.

What are you most proud of in your running journey?

I don’t consider myself a “proud” person in general; I don’t go around bragging about myself or my accomplishments. That being said, I am proud of completing my goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states. It took commitment and perseverance on my part and the journey changed my life.

What did you learn and what would you have done differently?

I’m not sure if this question relates to the previous question but that’s how I’m going to answer it. I learned that I’m stronger than I give myself credit for (physically and mentally). I also learned that big goals are achievable if you make them a priority (I realize sometimes that’s just not possible so I’m not saying it’s easy to do that). I would have changed a couple of the races I ran and chosen different ones, with the Run the Reagan just outside of Atlanta high on the list as one of my most miserable races.

Who makes up your support system? (coaches, trainers, family, teammates, friends?)

My support system has changed over the years. For all 17 years of her life my daughter has been my biggest fan and supporter. She traveled with me to all but 3 states for the half marathons I ran (Pennsylvania, Iowa, and New Mexico) and always cheered me on. Never once when she was younger did she complain when I told her I was going on a training run. Now that she’s older she’ll often have a cold glass of water with Nuun waiting for me after a run.

What is your favorite workout?

My favorite workout is one that incorporates quarter mile repeats. They’re over before I know it but I feel like they make me faster and stronger.

What is your most interesting/funny race story?

Believe it or not, despite running somewhere around 60 races, I don’t really have any interesting or funny race stories that come to mind. I guess maybe the best I can think of was the half marathon in Boise, Idaho where a guy was running with a pool cue balanced on a finger, trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.

If you could give other girls in sport one piece of advice, what would it be?

My piece of advice for other girls in sport would be to listen to your body to notice any changes and seek help from either a coach or physical therapist when necessary. If something feels off, figure out why that is. For example, if you have a pain on the side of your knee, figure out what’s causing that pain and work on getting rid of that pain. Don’t continue running if something hurts. It’s not worth the damage you’ll inevitably do and be forced to take time off from running.

What has been most rewarding about your running journey?

The most rewarding part of my running journey has 100% been the people I’ve met along the way. I still remember conversations I had with other runners years ago either before or after a race. Joining a running club has been one of the best things I’ve ever done and have made lifelong friends. Connecting with other runners through my blog and social media has also been one of the best parts about my running journey.

Have you read How She Did It? Did you fill out this worksheet? If you did, is there anything from it you’d like to share or discuss?

Happy Running!

Donna

Day Trips From San Jose, Costa Rica- Poas Volcano, Waterfalls, Hot Springs, Manuel Antonio National Park, Sloths, and Monkeys!

As I mentioned in my previous post (Why You Should Spend Time in San Jose, Costa Rica), this wasn’t my first visit to Costa Rica. I didn’t say it before but I had previously been to the Guanacaste region in northern Costa Rica, many years ago, and I stayed at an all-inclusive resort and just took a day trip to go zip-lining and visit mud pools, plus take a cycling tour of the area for a couple of hours one afternoon. This time when I went back to Costa Rica, I wanted to do things differently and stay in the Central Valley region where the capital city of San Jose is and take some day tours from there.

We decided to take three days for all-day tours and spend the rest of the time in downtown San Jose. This gave us a nice mix of museums and shopping in the city along with outdoor pursuits. Plus, it limited our days in the car, since a “short” drive to an excursion was a little over an hour away, one way. First, I should give a shout-out to the tour company I chose, Sol Tropical Tours https://soltropical.com.The resort where I was staying has a close relationship with this tour company, although not exclusively so anyone can book tours with Sol Tropical.

It turned out that when I was in Costa Rica, my daughter and I were the only ones at our small resort (only 10 units) that chose to do the tours that week so we literally had our own private tours, for the price of group tours. Score! Our guide, Christian, was so friendly and knowledgable about Costa Rican history, culture, and animals and we gained so much information we never would have if we were on our own. By the second tour, it felt like we were old friends and he was showing us around his beautiful country. We would pull up to a restaurant after he had called in our orders in advance and since he knew everyone in the place, they all made us feel extremely welcome and like a part of the family. Normally I don’t take tours when I travel but this time I was a firm believer in the value of a good tour guide.

Day Trip Number One- Sloths and Hot Springs

Our first day trip was to the Arenal Region. Because it was the rainy season and there had been recent mudslides and bridges getting swept away, Christian had to take an alternate route to the region. This reinforced the fact that it was a wise decision for me not to rent a car and just go it on my own. We stopped in the town of Sarchi for some souvenir shopping and breakfast on our own. Then it was off to a quick view of Arenal Volcano, although because of the mudslides and other reasons, we couldn’t get very close.

A SLOTH!!! It was so cool seeing them moving around in the trees.

There was an optional Sloth Tour in La Fortuna, which I was like, of course we want to take the sloth tour! Who wouldn’t? Christian had an expert eye for spotting all of the sloths and thanks to his telescope we were able to see them clearly up in the trees. Sure, I had seen sloths before in zoos and the like but this was immensely better seeing them in nature. He also showed us many different birds, trees, and flowers along the way.

For the grand finale, as if seeing sloths and a volcano wasn’t good enough, we went to what are often called the best hot springs in Costa Rica but I would say the best hot springs I’ve ever been to anywhere, Baldi Hot Springs. This is a 5-star resort with over 20 natural hot spring pools, several swim-up bars, two restaurants, accommodations, and of course changing rooms, showers, and lockers. We were allowed to stay there for three hours before dinner, and they were the most relaxing three hours I spent in Costa Rica.

We had access to all of the hot springs, including the VIP ones at the very top near the hotel rooms, and we went to every one of them, some twice. Christian had left us to enjoy the hot springs on our own and told us where to go for dinner, also on our own (but everything was included in the tour price). Dinner was a buffet full of traditional Costa Rican dishes like rice and beans, plantains, and fish but so much more as well, a wide array of desserts, and even a chocolate fondue fountain with things like marshmallows, strawberries, and graham crackers to dip in it. With full bellies and soothed muscles, we met Christian by the towel return area for our drive back to the resort.

Baldi Hot Springs

Day Trip Number Two- Poas Volcano and La Paz Waterfall Gardens

My daughter has an interest in volcanoes and even wants to be a volcanologist and work with volcanoes when she’s an adult (she’s 16 now). When I told her we could visit a volcano up-close, she was excited and of course she wanted to do that day trip. On this day, we went to Poas Volcano National Park, with the largest active volcano in Costa Rica and 8885 feet above sea level.

The crater of the volcano is over a mile across and 1050 ft.deep. Since the crater is in a continuous eruption with its sulfuric gases, visitors are only advised to stay 20 minutes at a time, to limit respiratory distress. We also were given hard hats to wear, in the event of flying rocks and debris from a sudden eruption. Christian pointed out indentations in the walkway up to the viewing spot where large rocks had landed in previous eruptions. He also showed us specific plants growing there and told us what animals live there (mostly birds, coyotes, rabbits, and marmots). There is a lake in the crater with a lovely light turquoise color, and with a pH of zero, it is one of the most acidic lakes in the world. Since it is at a high elevation, it’s much colder here than San Jose so it was nice to get a cup of hot cocoa at the cafe there to warm up afterwards.

It was a foggy, rainy morning at Poas Volcano so it was difficult to get a good photo of the lake. Like most places, photos don’t do it justice and it was much better in person!

Afterwards, we had a short drive to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. This is an easy walking trail (but with many steps) in a tropical rain forest. Christian pointed out birds and took us to the individual sections. There was a butterfly observatory, more hummingbirds than I’ve seen in one small area in the Hummingbird Garden, an Aviary exhibit, Serpentarium, Jungle Cats, and the Frog Exhibit. We had a nice lunch and once again filled up on the buffet with everything from chicken, fish, pastas, pizza, beef, the usual rice and beans, vegetables and salad, a multitude of desserts, and hot coffee and tea.

After lunch, we took the 2 mile path with the waterfalls, all 5 of them. One waterfall was so high and the water was so powerful you could feel the spray from pretty far away. I later learned La Paz is the most visited privately-owned ecological attraction in Costa Rica with the most famous waterfalls in Costa Rica, and the largest animal sanctuary in Costa Rica with over 100 species of animals. You can even stay at the park. https://waterfallgardens.com/la_paz_waterfall_gardens/

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Day Trip Number Three- Manuel Antonio National Park

As we were approaching the town of Quepos, the scenery suddenly changed. This seemed like a town over-run with tourists and there was a restaurant and small hotels or rooms for rent everywhere I looked. Street vendors were selling everything you could think of and it seemed like way too many people piled into this small town. Men were aggressively trying to get us to park in their parking area and sell us day tours. Fortunately Christian, our guide, knew the best spot to park and not overpay. When I asked him how a tourist would know the difference between a legitimate parking lot and an overpriced one, he said simply, “They wouldn’t.” Hmmm. Another reason I was glad we had a reputable tour guide with us.

Christian had to buy our entrance tickets to the park in advance online, as is stated on the park website, https://www.sinac.go.cr/EN-US/ac/acopac/pnma/Pages/default.aspx. Entrance fees are $16 for foreigners. No food is allowed in the park but beverages are. The reason for that is the monkeys.

This little white-faced monkey was adorable

Let me just say a word about the monkeys. There are white-faced monkeys, titi monkeys, and howler monkeys in the park. The white-faced monkeys are aggressive (but not in a harmful or scary way) and used to people. When we were walking on the boardwalk to enter the park, a woman was blocking the path of a white-faced monkey and it very comically pushed her aside so it could get past her (she was fine and it didn’t bite her or hurt her in any way; we all laughed). I loved watching the monkeys, especially the white-faced ones since they were running around on the ground in addition to being in the trees so they were easier to see. We also spotted the other monkeys while we were there but they were in the trees and didn’t come down around people.

There are also two-and three-fingered sloths (both of which we saw, and one even was a mama with a baby!!!), coati, raccoons, birds, caymen, and iguanas in the park. There are three species of mangroves, the main beach (Manuel Antonio Beach), Gemelas Beach, Espedilla Sur Beach (with strong waves so be careful), and trails. Plus, there are changing rooms and showers (no soap or shampoo allowed) and drinking water.

We were content to stay at Manuel Antonio Beach the entire time we were at the park and my daughter and I happily jumped the waves (not too high, not too wimpy) for just about the entire time we were at the beach. Christian had gone off for a run to let us have free time on our own and not hover over us but I had his What’s App contact info just in case plus he checked in on us periodically. The day we were there the beach wasn’t overly crowded but was big enough to allow people to spread out and relax under the shade. Even though it was rainy season, the sun shone all day and it was a gorgeous day for the beach.

When we left the park, Christian took us to a small restaurant nearby where he once again knew the people working there and they all treated us like rock stars. We had a table waiting on us and as soon as we were seated, we were given tasty fruit drinks to help cool us off. I have to say a word about the fruit in Costa Rica. It’s some of the freshest I’ve had anywhere, including places like Hawaii. My daughter swears she can never eat pineapple anywhere else than Costa Rica now.

That’s it for our day trips! They were all unique and if I had to pick just one, it would be extremely difficult. The hot springs were amazing but so was Manuel Antonio National Park, as was Poas Volcano and La Paz Waterfall Garden. Christian from Sol Tropical Tours was one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had and he helped us experience true Pura Vida of Costa Rica.

Have you been to Costa Rica? If so, where did you go and what did you do? Any advice about when I go back to the Guanacaste region (where I went many years ago)?

Happy travels!

Donna

Why You Should Spend Time in San Jose, Costa Rica

Many people fly into the capital city of Costa Rica, San Jose, only to quickly leave and go to another city or cities for their vacation, and they don’t bother checking out things to do in San Jose. I recently went to Costa Rica for the second time and I purposefully chose to stay in San Jose (technically it was a suburb only 5 minutes from downtown San Jose) so that I would be centrally located for day trips in the Central Valley region of Costa Rica. This decision turned out to be even better than I thought it would be.

Here’s a paragraph taken from the Frommer’s travel website that sums up San Jose well: “Although most tourists enter Costa Rica through the international airport just outside this city, few travelers take the time to soak in San José’s gritty charm. Costa Rica’s bustling capital and population center is not a bad place to hang out for a few days, or to get things done that can’t be done elsewhere, but it isn’t a major tourist destination. Still, that lack of tourism makes the city feel uniquely Tico. And because San José is the country’s biggest urban center, it has varied and active restaurant and nightlife scenes, museums and galleries worth visiting, and a steady stream of theater, concerts, and other cultural events that you won’t find elsewhere in the country.” I agree completely.

What’s there to do in San Jose?

Well, if you like museums, there are plenty of good ones including the Museo de Arte Costarricense (Museum of Costa Rican Art). The art museum is in La Sabana Park at San Jose’s first international airport facilities, and the building itself is a work of art. You can find contemporary and modern art in many different forms and as you would expect the museum houses the most complete collection of Costa Rican art in the world. Upstairs includes a room with bas-relief walls, visuals of the pre-Columbian natives and an impressive mural by French artist Louis Feron. Outside is a sculpture garden with art by Costa Rican sculptures. Very little information is in English but that wasn’t a problem for me, given the nature of the material.

Museum of Costa Rican Art

The Museo Nacional de Costa Rica (National Museum) is in the Plaza de la Democracia and includes a wide array of historical and archaeological samples with pre-Columbian art and artifacts, musical instruments, recreated tombs, pottery, and pieces in jade and gold. There are also dioramas with recreated interiors, furniture, and paintings. There is even a butterfly garden with over a dozen different species. Much of the information is in English. Check the website for prices and other info: https://www.museocostarica.go.cr

One of my favorite museums in San Jose is the Museos del Banco Central de Costa Rica (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum). I was told by a tour guide that this museum was one of his favorites in San Jose and after visiting I could see why. Not only are there 1600 gold pieces dating back to 500 B.C., there are many cultural displays about the indigenous people in Costa Rica, which I found interesting. There were also many ancient maps and information about Spanish and other conquerors over the years in Costa Rica and Central America. Much of the information is in Spanish and English so it’s easy to understand the displays. https://museosdelbancocentral.org/eng/exhibiciones/

Pre-Columbian Gold Museum

Another popular museum is the Museo de Jade Marco Fidel Tristán (Jade Museum). It may surprise you that during pre-Columbian times in Central America and Mexico jade was more valuable than gold. This museum is massive, with 5 floors and over 7,000 pieces so make sure you allow a couple of hours to fully explore everything. All of the text on the walls is also in English. http://Museo de Jade Marco Fidel Tristán (Jade Museum)

One museum that was one of my favorites but is often over-looked is the Museo de Ciencias Naturales La Salle (La Salle Science and Nature Museum). This museum is also in Parque La Sabana, so it’s easy to combine it with a visit to the Museo de Arte Costarricense. At first glance you might think it’s for children because there are dinosaur bones when you first walk in, but this museum is most definitely for adults as well. I was in awe at the huge number of items on display here. There are taxidermic animals and birds from Costa Rica and beyond, animal skeletons, sea shells, minerals, preserved specimens in jars (including a two-headed pig!) and an enormous collection of butterflies. According to the pamphlet I picked up at the entrance, “this is one of the most complete museums in Iberoamerica with more than 70,000 items on permanent exhibit.” There is an incredible amount of specimens on shelves plus dioramas full of taxidermic animals grouped together by category, like birds or mammals. It was utterly fascinating to me. Like the art museum, there is very little in English here but since it’s such a visual museum, it’s not necessary to be fluent in Spanish to understand what you’re looking at. https://www.museolasalle.ed.cr

I saved the best for last, in my opinion. Teatro Nacional (National Theater) is a must-see place in the Plaza de la Cultura. It took 7 years of construction but the theater opened in 1897 using taxes on coffee (their most popular export at the time). The theater still houses plays, concerts, dances, and operas. They offer a one-hour tour in English every hour (but that varied when I was there, so check in advance) and it is well worth it, even if you don’t normally take tours. The tours are led by artists who perform at the theater and include some areas normally off-limits like the Men’s and Women’s (separate) Smoking Rooms. Plus, you learn information about the theater you wouldn’t otherwise know. Finally, there is one of the most beautiful cafes in San Jose in the theater where you can enjoy a cup of their delicious Costa Rican coffee. http://www.teatronacional.go.cr

Teatro Nacional

Shopping

The Municipal Crafts Market is a fun place to stroll around for 30-60 minutes and browse the local goods. This is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir and you can find a wide array of hand-made goods, along with clothing and leather products (wallets, purses, etc.). The people selling their goods are more than willing to haggle, even if you don’t normally engage in this. I don’t haggle but when I went to purchase a Christmas ornament, the woman automatically lowered the price, without me even asking. https://mercadomunicipaldeartesanias.negocio.site/

In the same vein as the Municipal Crafts Market, there’s San Jose Central Market. This is more geared towards locals rather than tourists because it has more “everyday” products like herbs, meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, desserts, and also some crafts and souvenirs. There were also some small restaurants called “sodas,” which doesn’t refer to the drink but it means they have local food on the menu and mostly locals eat there. In other words, sodas in Costa Rica have delicious, authentic and inexpensive food.

Being a big city (with around 1.5 million people), San Jose has all of the shops you would expect but some were eye-openers to me. There were stores that I would call “Dollar Stores” back in the United States that were utterly fascinating to walk through. Things seemed to be randomly arranged on the shelves with umbrellas next to makeup next to small religious statues, then there was some candy, next to men’s socks. We made it a point to check them out after we experienced our first store and just see all of the crazy offerings and laugh at how they were grouped together.

I found prices to be all over the place at the clothing stores and other stores we went in. Some things would be much lower than here in the US, like the cute t-shirt my daughter found for $4, but other things like a name-brand shampoo I could get for $20 a bottle was $60 a bottle in San Jose. Groceries were mostly cheaper than in the US, with some exceptions, and restaurants were always cheaper unless they were obviously geared toward tourists, which is always the case no matter where you are in the world.

Such cool architecture! Even their post office is beautiful!

Driving in San Jose

I did not rent a car the entire time I was in Costa Rica and every single day I was glad I didn’t. The traffic in San Jose is busy, the drivers are aggressive, and drivers often don’t stop at stop signs. Parking didn’t seem easy to come by in San Jose, either. On the other hand, taxis and Ubers were plentiful. Uber is a funny thing in Costa Rica. Technically it’s illegal but you’ll have no problem finding half a dozen drivers to pick you up, at least in and around San Jose. If you have problems in other areas, it’s probably because you’re in a remote area and you can’t get a good signal for Uber.

The Uber app works exactly like it does in the US. Once you request a driver, you’ll be connected to one and given their car make and model and license plate. Since it’s illegal, it’s best if you don’t make it so obvious by sitting only in the back seat if you’re traveling with others but honestly, my daughter and I rode in at least three Ubers before a driver suggested I ride in the front (so it wasn’t so obvious he was breaking the law to take me back to my resort). Never once did I feel unsafe or that it was a potential problem. I only took one taxi (when I couldn’t get a Wi-Fi signal) because I was warned by a local they’re more expensive than Uber and the drivers sometimes “forget” to start the meter when you get in the car. The one time I took a taxi, he did start the meter but the price was definitely more than any of my other Uber rides for the same distance.

Have you been to San Jose or Costa Rica before? If not, are you surprised at all of the museums in San Jose? Do you like museums or not so much?

Happy travels!

Donna

Global Entry- Is It Worth It?

I have a platinum Delta Airlines frequent flier credit card and when they offered to reimburse fees for Global Entry as a perk for all card owners, I jumped at the chance. Global Entry costs $100 and includes TSA PreCheck and is good for five years. In other words, it’s not only useful for international flights but for domestic flights as well.

On the other hand, if you just get TSA PreCheck by itself, it’s $85 for five years, so for just $15 more you can get BOTH Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. I’m not sure who would even hesitate to just get Global Entry given this fact, unless you truly had no plans whatsoever of flying internationally in the next five years.

I applied for Global Entry sometime around the beginning of 2020. You know, before the pandemic started and people were still flying to other countries regularly or at all for that matter. I had applied online and got an email saying the first part of the process (background check) was approved and I just needed to schedule an interview at an airport approved for interviews at my earliest convenience. But then when not only international borders but also states were restricting travel early in the pandemic, I quickly saw my options for scheduling an interview go out the window.

The closest airport to me was never an option for an interview but I was willing to drive to another airport if it wasn’t going to be too far away. Even those airports weren’t offering appointments after the pandemic started, though. I remember checking the airports I was going to be flying into when I did start flying again in 2021 but none of those airports were scheduling interviews for Global Entry and I started to get extremely frustrated.

Finally, before I flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico in the fall of 2021 I checked the online calendar for Global Entry interviews there and somehow managed to find an appointment that would work with my schedule. The “interview” was basically getting fingerprinted and my face scanned for facial recognition. They did ask me a couple of questions like if I had been to Mexico in the last six weeks or something like that but it was nothing intense. Within about 10 minutes, I was out of there and was told my card would arrive in the mail shortly.

I knew I would be flying to Portugal the following spring and while I would have my Global Entry card, my daughter, who didn’t go to New Mexico with me did not have hers. She had been “conditionally approved,” meaning she still had to have the interview and fingerprinting done. Fortunately some time in 2021 several airports began offering this final step in the process upon arrival from another country, including Newark Airport in New Jersey, which we would be arriving to from Portugal.

After getting off the plane when we were headed toward Customs and Border Control, I saw the signs for Global Entry and followed them through until I saw kiosks. I scanned my face and a receipt was printed out that said to hand it to an agent upon exit and that was it! I was done! No line, no waiting, nothing! My daughter, however, had to wait in a short line behind about five other people for her interview, which went without incident and then we were both done.

I’ve used TSA PreCheck before so I was already aware of the benefits with that program. If you’re not familiar with TSA PreCheck, it basically allows you to jump ahead in the security line to a dedicated line and you don’t have to remove your shoes or jacket and you can keep liquids in your carry-on bag. I probably wouldn’t pay for TSA Precheck by itself unless I traveled much more than I do but since it’s part of the package with Global Entry, it’s a nice extra perk.

What if you only fly once a year internationally, is it worth it, you may be asking. Let’s break it down a bit. That’s $100 for five years or $20 each year for both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. Would I personally pay $20 for A LOT less hassle after arriving home from an international flight, where I’m inevitably going to be exhausted? Probably but when you throw in TSA PreCheck on top of that for multiple domestic flights a year that I usually take, my answer is a stronger yes. Of course, the more you fly internationally and domestically the more it would be worth to you, but to me, just one flight a year out of the country is worth having it.

Since I get my Global Entry fees reimbursed by Delta, it was a no-brainer to get Global Entry, since I don’t even have to pay $100 for the programs. This wasn’t a one-time offer, either. When I renew with Global Entry, my credit card will reimburse me for the fee. Of course I did have to pay for my daughter but when I include her in the costs, it’s like I’m getting a 2-for-1 deal. For only $50 each for five years or $10/year we get Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, which is really 100% worth every penny.

One final note, while it took quite a while for my Global Entry card to be processed, that was largely due to the pandemic. Under “normal” circumstances, it shouldn’t take nearly as long or be such a pain to get as mine was. Still, you should allow a minimum of 90 days for processing. If you don’t live near an airport where they do the in-person interviews, either plan on doing approval upon arrival or find an airport where you can make an appointment (like I did when I was flying domestically).

What about you? Do you have Global Entry? If so, what was your experience like using it? Have you thought about getting it but didn’t because of the pandemic and shutdowns?

Happy travels,

Donna

Bucket List Running Goals and Motivation

Most people that regularly follow my blog know that I had a big goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states and I ran state number 50 in New Mexico last November. What you probably don’t know is since then I’ve been slacking off quite a bit when it comes to my running. Since my half marathon in November I’ve run a couple of races, Catching Fireflies 5k- My First Night Race! in May and Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run in April but that’s it. I was supposed to run a race in February but it was postponed until next February.

The major reason I haven’t run that many races or started working on another big goal for myself is my daughter has been going through a serious health situation. It’s not cancer or anything like that but a chronic condition she’s had since she was 9. She’s under the supervision of some incredible doctors and we hope she’ll be through the worst of it soon and her life will greatly improve by the time she goes back to high school in late August.

It’s been extremely stressful for me as her mother, and I’ve had to take her to multiple doctor visits and stay in the hospital with her around the clock multiple times sometimes for more than a week at a time. Of course it’s been even harder for her. She’s supposed to be having fun with her friends and just enjoying life as a teenager, not being in and out of the hospital for months on end.

I realize you may have seen the title and thought I was going to announce a big bucket list running goal, but I’m not. While I did say at the beginning of the year that I would like to start running a half marathon in all of the Canadian provinces in my running resolutions post in January (Running Resolutions and My Word for 2022), that’s not going to happen any time soon. When I wrote that, I thought it would be possible to run a couple of half marathons in Canada this year but since then things have changed and there’s no way that will happen. Maybe next year.

Taken on a run with my daughter back in 2020

In hindsight now I can see when I had the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states, that definitely gave me motivation to run. I know not everyone needs a big goal to keep them motivated but for me it certainly helps. Even running local races hasn’t been possible for me since late spring. I just haven’t had the time to devote to training for much of a race other than possibly a 5k. Plus, once the summer heat and humidity kicked in here in late May, there were less and less races so my options dwindled.

Although it took me 21 years to complete my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, I never doubted it would happen. It was always about the journey for me anyway. I’ve never been the type of person to run a race just to check off a box (not that there’s anything wrong with that; to each his/her own). But I always wanted to spend at least a few days, preferably more in every state to get an idea about what the state was like, or at least the part or parts of the state I was in, try the local foods, and talk to the local people.

Even though bucket list running goals are a huge motivator for me, it’s OK that I’m not working on any big running goals now. It’s OK that my motivation to run has dwindled. And it’s OK that my overall running has slacked probably more than it has in over 20 years. Obviously my daughter comes first before anything else.

Honestly, it’s not like I’m not motivated, either. That’s not truly stating how I feel. I would love to be able to train for half marathons and travel to run them. The timing just isn’t right for me at the moment to be able to do that. It’s more like my motivation to run local short distance races has waned a bit. But then again, I never was motivated to run local short races other than the 5k I ran in May, so that’s nothing new.

I have no doubt things will improve with my daughter and once that happens, I can jump back into things. Well, I should probably ease back into things and not overdo it. Still, I know this isn’t permanent and eventually I’ll be able to start on my bucket list goal of running a half marathon in all of the Canadian provinces. Until then, I’m going to continue running when I can and be content with that.

What about you? Have you had a bucket list running goal you’ve had to put on hold for something other than covid? Do you have a bucket list running goal/s or does that not appeal to you and you’d rather just see what races pop up?

Happy running!

Donna

A Couple of HUGE (and Costly) Travel Learning Experiences For Me

During my week in the Algarve in Portugal, two things happened to me that had never happened to me EVER while traveling. I consider myself a pretty savvy traveler, at least for an American, having been to several islands in the Caribbean, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, parts of Europe, and South America. However, two things happened that ended up throwing me for a loop and I want to pass along what I learned as a result so that hopefully none of you make the same mistakes I did.

I have a Garmin GPS-enabled watch that I wear all the time. It usually resets itself to the current time when I travel but in the past it may have taken it a day or so to reset itself. While I was in Portugal, I noticed it suddenly reset itself after several days, on the Friday evening we were there. Since it had taken my watch a while to catch up before I didn’t think much of it. Around the same time I noticed my Samsung phone had also reset itself to the same time as my watch.

Sunset during dinner on our last night (nope even that didn’t trigger anything at the time even though we normally don’t eat that late)

Of course I assumed both my watch and phone had reset to the current time in Portugal, which was 5 hours ahead of EST, where I live. I assumed incorrectly, because as you will later see, both my watch and phone had actually reset 4 hours ahead, not 5 hours. So when I looked at my watch or phone and thought it was 6 am, it was actually 7 am. There was no reason for me to check that both devices had reset to the correct current time and there were no clocks in the Airbnb to check. I didn’t do a Google search to see current time in Portugal and check that it was the same as my watch and phone.

This wasn’t a problem until it was time to fly back to the United States on Saturday morning. I thought we were arriving at the Faro airport two hours before our flight, which should have been enough time since we weren’t checking bags and I had printed out our tickets at the Airbnb the night before. Plus, I knew Faro airport wasn’t huge like some other international airports.

At the airport, I checked the board to see what gate our flight to Lisbon was leaving out of and thought it was strange it said final boarding. I remember thinking to myself, “That’s strange they’re doing final boarding so early” but I still didn’t think much of it. We arrived at our gate and I saw a line of people getting ready to board a plane, thinking of course that was the line to board our plane, but I was wrong again. This line was full of people going to Berlin, as the chatty girl in line in front of my daughter mentioned and when I actually looked up and saw a Ryanair sign, my heart sank. Then I saw the final blow, a clock that read 7:00.

Frantically, I looked at my watch and phone and said, “But it can’t be 7:00! It’s only 6:00!” My daughter, who has nightmares about missing flights, despite the fact that it’s only happened a handful of times out of the dozens of flights we’ve had, usually due to weather delays and missed connections, started crying uncontrollably and she started to panic. Of course that didn’t help me. Nor did the fact that not a single soul was around to help me sort this out.

I went back to the ticketing area (thank goodness we never check bags and still had ours with us) and tried to find someone from TAP Portugal Airlines. There was no one. Finally someone in an information booth told me to wait until an hour before the next TAP Portugal flight, and someone from the airline would be at the airport then. Since it was a little after 7 am, that meant someone should be there to help me in a little less than two hours. I knew there was a flight from Faro to Lisbon with TAP Portugal at 10 am so I felt confident as long as there were seats left they could get us on that flight.

So we waited and I bought us some pastries from a kiosk and some bottled water since European airports don’t typically have water fill stations for water bottles. Finally someone from TAP Portugal showed up and I kindly explained that we had missed our 7 am flight to Lisbon and asked if we could please be put on the 10 am flight. She looked at me with disdain and repeated, “Missed your flight?” to which I replied, “Yes, we missed our flight. We had car troubles,” thinking she might be more sympathetic to that rather than saying my watch and phone hadn’t reset properly and had only reset 4 hours ahead rather than the entire 5 hours, which was actually the truth but I realized how crazy it sounded.

She then informed me rather brusquely that indeed there were seats available on the 10 am flight and I could purchase them for 2800 Euro. I was shocked and blurted out “Excuse me? I need to pay for these seats even though I already paid for the seats from the 7 am flight? And is that per seat or for two seats?” She said it was for two seats and yes, that was correct. I was dumbfounded. Previously we had missed a flight going to the Canary Islands with Iberia Airlines and we had been put on the next flight without having to buy new tickets so I didn’t think it was just a difference between US airlines and European airlines. I hadn’t bought the cheapest seats available with TAP Portugal, either. She suggested I do a search online and compare my options with different airlines to see if I could find another option. In other words, I was on my own.

My mind felt like it was spinning a million miles a minute. Not only did I have to search for flights from Faro to the United States that same day but our flight back to North Carolina was at 9:15 pm out of Newark so we needed to get to Newark before 9:15 that evening. Thank goodness I had good wifi at the airport.

I finally found an acceptable flight with British Airways from Faro to London, London to Newark that was leaving in about an hour and a half, which I thought should give us plenty of time to get through security again and to the gate. It also didn’t cost me nearly as much as the 2800 Euro I would have had to have paid with TAP Portugal (this would have been on top of what I had already paid for our tickets from Newark to Portugal). Because of COVID, I also had to download all kinds of extra information like our negative tests and certifications that we were healthy.

We did indeed make it to the gate on time and boarded the flight on time. The flight from London just barely missed getting us into Newark in time for the flight home; we missed it by less than 30 minutes. Fortunately, the nice person from United that I called from the BA airplane when we were waiting to deplane was happy to put us on the next flight from Newark, in about an hour later, at no charge.

Typical buildings and cobbled streets in the Algarve; this was in the city of Portimão.

The next day after we got home I called TAP Portugal, thinking surely they would give me a travel voucher if nothing else. I was curtly told that was not their policy and since I missed the flight, there was nothing they could do for me. I hung up the phone shocked. Believe me, I will try everything in my power to never fly TAP Portugal again but if I have to for some reason (because I would like to go back to Portugal) I will make sure I’m at the airport three hours in advance, not two, and more importantly, I will do a Google search asking what time it is in my current city every single time I travel across time zones.

Have you ever heard of a GPS-enabled watch or phone only partially adjusting when someone travels across time zones? Has this ever happened to you? A friend of mine suggested maybe since I didn’t have cell phone coverage in Portugal, my phone only partially reset but that doesn’t explain my watch. And why they both reset 4 hours ahead instead of 5 hours ahead is a mystery to me.

If you missed my other posts on Portugal, you can find them here: A Week in the Algarve- Southern Portugal- Outdoor Adventures, Faro, Sagres and Lagos, Portugal, First Impressions of Every Day Life in the Algarve (Southern Portugal) from an American Point of View

Happy travels!

Donna

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