Faro, Sagres and Lagos, Portugal

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

Sagres

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

One of the amazing views from the Sagres Fortress

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

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

Can you tell it was windy at the fort?

Lagos

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

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

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

Faro

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

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

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

Photos from the Faro Municipal Museum and nearby

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

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

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

Happy travels!

Donna

A Week in the Algarve- Southern Portugal- Outdoor Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

Our temporary home in Portugal was perfect!

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

Things to Do- Hiking

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

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

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

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

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

Beaches

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

Ria Formosa Nature Park

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

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

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

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

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

Donna

The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.- Is It Worth Going To?

Although I have been to Washington, D.C. many times over the years, I had never been to the International Spy Museum, which opened in 2002, until recently. To give you a little background on me, I was a huge James Bond fan as a kid and have seen every Bond movie multiple times. I’ve seen all of the other popular spy-related movies and have always loved them. In fact, at one point in my life I wanted to either be an FBI or CIA agent.

I knew when I was going to be in Washington, D.C. in the spring I wanted to finally go to the International Spy Museum. In fact that was really the only other thing I wanted to do besides check out the cherry blossoms. The real reason I was going to D.C. in the first place was to run the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run so I thought it would be a good way to spend the rest of the day after the race.

If I’ve learned anything when it comes to visiting museums during the pandemic, it’s check the website first to see what the requirements are. I also knew most museums prefer people to buy admission online and some don’t admit you without a pre-purchased ticket. The International Spy Museum was no different and had openings for days and times for tickets to purchase online.

I’ve also learned the hard way that sometimes museums (and art galleries and other places that now require you to purchase tickets in advance that didn’t used to have that policy) often sell out, especially if it’s during a busy time of year (Cherry Blossom Season is hugely busy). I checked the International Spy Museum’s ticket status online weeks before I flew to Washington, D.C. (still during Cherry Blossom Season, though) and it didn’t seem to be too terribly busy so I felt confident I could still get a ticket the weekend I would be there for that Sunday. Since the tickets are non-refundable I waited until that Friday and I had arrived in the city to buy my ticket, just to be sure.

So what is the museum like, you may be asking? Is it worth the admission of $30.57 for adults? How much time should I allow when I go?

First, a brief word about the price of admission. I paid $30.57 but when you go to the website, it lists admission for adults as $26.95. What’s the discrepancy? Well, there’s a $2.00 online fee and sales tax of $1.62, so when you add all of that together you come up with $30.57. That all adds up and for a family of four if you have two young children, for example, you’ll be paying almost $100. This isn’t exactly a cheap place to visit, especially if you will be buying multiple tickets.

Back to my first question- what’s the museum like? I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you. If you got that joke, you’re probably a good candidate to go to the museum. But seriously, the museum experiences are on the 4th and 5th floors of the building, with the gift shop on the ground floor. When your ticket is scanned, you’ll go up the elevator to the 5th floor for “briefing.” The museum is immersive so the idea is to pretend like you’re a spy that has been given an identity and a mission. When you see certain kiosks relating to the spy mission, you scan the badge you were given at the beginning, answer some questions, and see if you pass the test so you can move on to the next step of the mission. There are hints along the way and reminders if you forget your spy name or information given to you at briefing. This part is also optional so if you’re just not into that you don’t have to do it and can still walk around and look at the displays.

Also on the 5th floor, there are displays on different spies from around the world, some of the gadgets used over the years, different codes used by spies, and covert missions. I found the information on this floor extremely interesting since I’ve always been intrigued by spies and I enjoyed seeing all of the gadgets that were used along with the background information behind how they were made. Reading about all of the covert operations, both the successful ones and the ones that failed was also interesting.

The 4th floor includes displays on spies from the American Revolution all the way up to modern spying methods including cyber spies. There are displays with spy information before the Berlin Wall was removed and other historical information. One of the more controversial subjects of spying is also on this floor, torture methods and there is information about how the laws for this have changed since September 11. You can also watch a video on how to decide if spies have gone too far. Finally, there’s a debriefing center with hands-on kiosks where you answer questions and find out if you completed your mission or not (I did, in case any of you are on the edge of your seat wondering).

Like I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve always been intrigued by spies and international espionage so I loved this museum. If you’re not a big fan, you likely won’t enjoy it nearly as much. I had 2 1/2 hours with my ticket to explore the museum and I spent that entire time doing just that. If you just skim the displays and don’t engage in the hands-on kiosks and skip the mission you could potentially only spend an hour or less here.

Display with spy-related toys and other items

I saw many young children here, which honestly surprised me since a decent amount of the material might be considered inappropriate for children under 12. I’m sure they also wouldn’t grasp many of the more complicated concepts at the displays and videos at a young age. Perhaps parents see the lure of the mission and think that will entertain them but I would think parents with children under 12 might want their children to skip this museum, in my opinion. This is no “Disney” Epcot Center adventure game, in other words, but to each his own.

If you can’t tell by now, the answer to my question of is it worth going to, my answer is yes if you’re a fan of spies and spy-related information but probably not if you could take it or leave it. You likely would be bored with all of the displays if you don’t care about the information. It would be like when I went to the Football Hall of Fame in Ohio despite having zero interest in football- it bored me to tears and I only went because I was with someone else who wanted to go there.

For tickets and more information, go to their website: https://www.spymuseum.org/

Have you been to the International Spy Museum or have you wanted to go but haven’t made it there yet? If you’ve been, tell me what your experience was like.

Happy travels!

Donna

Alphabet Adventures: Travels Around the World From A to Z

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

A is for Austria

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

Bad Gastein Waterfall in Austria

B is for Boise, Idaho

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

Beautiful Boise

C is for Charleston, South Carolina

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

Powder-soft white sandy beaches near Charleston

D is for Duck, North Carolina

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

Playing in the sand with my daughter in Duck

E is for Evansville, Indiana

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

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

F is for Fort Lauderdale, Florida

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

Ft. Lauderdale Beach. Photo by Lance Asper

G is for Greece

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

One of many beaches in Crete with crystal-clear water

H is for Honolulu, Hawaii

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

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

I is for Italy

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

The Arno River in Florence, Italy

J is for Jamaica

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

Dunn’s River Falls. Photo from Pixabay

K is for Kentucky

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

Kentucky Derby photo by Bence Szemerey from Pexels

L is for Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain

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

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

M is for Malta

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

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

N is for New Zealand

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

Hobbiton in New Zealand was one of many highlights

O is for Omaha, Nebraska

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

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

P is for Peru

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

Machu Picchu in Peru

Q is for Queens, New York

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

After my half marathon through Queens

R is for Rapid City, South Dakota

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

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

S is for St. Kitts and Nevis

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

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

T is for Tenerife, Spain

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

Hiking Mount Teide, the highest point on Spanish soil

U is for Utah

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

Bryce Canyon in the winter was simply magical

V is for Vermont

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

One of many covered bridges in Vermont that I saw

W is for Washington, D.C.

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

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

X is for Xcaret Park, Mexico

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

Xcaret Photo from Pixabay

Y is for Yellowstone National Park

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

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

Z is for Zion National Park

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

Zion National Park in Utah

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

Happy travels!

Donna

Want to See a Bear in the Wild? Here are Some Places to Do That

When I went to Niagara Falls and spent some time on the Canadian side of the falls hiking, I fully expected to see a bear but never did. Likewise, I expected to come across a bear at one point or another during my hikes in Maine, Montana, Colorado, and the province of Alberta in Canada but I didn’t see a single bear on any of those vacations. Nor have I ever seen a bear when I’ve hiked in the mountains of North Carolina, Virginia, or West Virginia. Only when I traveled to Alaska did I see my first bear in the wild.

To be perfectly honest, I had put off going to Alaska until my daughter was old enough and tall enough to not be an obvious bear lure. Even then, I didn’t really want to see a bear up-close. When we saw grizzly bears from the safety of our bus in Denali National Park several yards away, that was perfectly fine with me. That was my first bear encounter and I would have been fine if it was also my last but it wasn’t. You can read about my first bear encounter in Alaska here: Denali National Park in Alaska. Alaska has thousands of bears and is a good place to go if you have your heart set on seeing a bear. There’s even this online guide for spotting bears in Alaska: https://www.travelalaska.com/Planning/Tips/Where-are-the-best-places-to-see-bears-in-Alaska.aspx

Bears in Denali National Park in Alaska (from a safe distance)

When I went to Yellowstone National Park, I was fully prepared to encounter a bear on one of our hikes. Over the years I had read about bears attacking campers in the many campgrounds (looking for food) so I knew one thing, I would not be camping at Yellowstone. When we were hiking, some of the trails were fairly well-traversed so we usually weren’t the only people on the trails but there were some where we didn’t see another person for at least an hour. Still, the only bears we saw were at a distance in the safety of our car when driving through the park one day. Here is another online guide for seeing bears: https://www.yellowstoneguidelines.com/whats-new/the-best-places-to-see-a-bear-in-yellowstone.html

The third and hopefully final place I saw a bear was in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This place has an insane number of bears to humans, with around 1600 bears in the area. One of the problems with the bears in this area is they have lost their fear of humans. People are entirely to blame for this because they do dumb things like posing beside a bear for that perfect Instagram photo or even worse, they’ll feed the bears. Finally, people in this area don’t always properly dispose of their trash or store food in bear cans when camping so the bears have learned to associate humans with food.

In fact, I saw not one but three bears on my vacation in the Gatlinburg area, with one really up-close encounter on a hike through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For the whole story you can read my post: Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux. Every single other person I know who has recently been to Gatlinburg has told me they’ve seen at least one bear while they were there. If you’re going here, chances are pretty good you’ll see a bear.

Some photos from Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a bear in the bottom left

Another place where you might see a bear is Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, about 75 miles from Washington, D.C. https://www.nps.gov/shen/learn/nature/mammals.htm Depending on who is doing the calculations, estimates of bear populations in Shenandoah National Park range from 200 to 1000. For a park that just over 300 square miles, that’s quite a few bears even at the lowest estimate.

Have you ever seen a bear when you were hiking or spending time outdoors? What was your encounter like? Have you never seen a bear in the wild but would like to? Tell me about it.

Happy travels!

Donna

Upcoming Races- A Surprise and a Disappointment with Donuts and Cherry Blossoms

In a previous post, (Running Resolutions and My Word for 2022) I wrote about an upcoming race I was supposed to run in February, The Krispy Kreme Challenge. You run 2.5 miles to a Krispy Kreme donut store, eat a dozen glazed donuts, and run back to where you started. Many people think this sounds utterly disgusting but I’ve been intrigued by it since I first learned about it several years ago.

The charity this race supports is UNC Children’s Hospital, which recently became personally important to me when my daughter was hospitalized there. I felt I should support this race since it is for such a great cause so I signed up for it back in October of 2021. In fact, it was the same day I ran the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon and I was still in a sort of runner’s high from that phenomenal race.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

A while back I got an email stating they had made the decision to make the Krispy Kreme Challenge a virtual race this year. All registered runners could still pick up their shirts, medals, and a voucher for a dozen donuts from Krispy Kreme. Seriously? I thought. Who’s going to actually run 2.5 miles on their own, eat a dozen donuts, and run another 2.5 miles? Certainly not me. I can understand their reasoning, with rising COVID cases due to the Omicron variant at the time of their decision, but still. Some races just can’t be done virtually, at least in my opinion, like the New York City Marathon, or any of the world majors in fact, or any races in Hawaii. I’m sorry if you disagree but it’s just not the same for me to run in North Carolina as it would be to run in Tokyo, for example.

Then I read the email closer and saw at the very bottom an option to defer to 2023. I quickly clicked on the link that took me to a form to fill out to transfer my registration to 2023. Guess I’m running that race next February instead of this year. I’m disappointed but as I said, I understand their reasoning. If it was just a “normal” race it would be one thing but the added factor of people eating during a race just isn’t a good idea right now.

Around the same time I found out about the Krispy Kreme Challenge being postponed I also got an email with the subject line saying I wasn’t selected for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. Then I got another email shortly after that with the subject line saying I was in fact selected. However, the body of both emails said I was selected. Just to be 100% sure, I checked their website where they had a list of everyone who had registered and sure enough I was selected. Yay!

I immediately went on to find a hotel room near the race and work on logistics like how I was going to get from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. I had four options: drive my car there which would take about 4 1/2 hours if there magically wasn’t any traffic but realistically more like 5 or even 5 1/2 hours (on a good day), fly a direct one-hour flight, take a train that would take about 6 hours, or take a bus that would take about the same time as the train.

Surprisingly, the train was about the same cost as the plane but considering I have a ton of frequent flier miles that I could use for this flight, it would only cost $11 if I used miles and I would get there in about a fourth the time it would otherwise take even with getting to the airport early. I decided to book the flight and save the time, which was especially important since I’m only going for a long weekend and prefer to spend the maximum time in D.C. rather than in a car/train/bus. Plus, if I drove I would have to pay parking fees in the city which are notoriously high. AND traffic is an absolute nightmare in that area. Decision made.

I should mention the Cherry Blossom 10-miler is so popular there is a lottery for registration because it coincides with the peak bloom of cherry blossoms in the area. We have some cherry trees where I live and I absolutely love when they’re in bloom. I’m sure Washington, D.C. is beautiful with all of the cherry trees in bloom and the monuments and water views in the background. There’s also a parade and some other festivities for about a month starting in March and going through part of April but since I’m just going for the weekend of the race I’ll miss most of the other events. You can check out their website if you’re interested: https://nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/.

I’m also registered for a local night race in May, or I should say an evening race since it starts at 8:30 pm. There are luminaries that line the course and runners are given glow sticks to run with. The race supports cancer research so it’s for a good cause and should be fun as well. As for Canadian races, I’m still waiting to see how things go with covid and all of the other issues they’ve been having there. The first race I was looking at in Canada isn’t until June so there’s still time to figure it out. More importantly, my daughter isn’t in good health and will likely have to have some serious procedures done over the summer so I have to see how that goes.

What about you? What races do you have coming up that you’re looking forward to? Have you been to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. or have you run the Cherry Blossom 10-miler?

Happy running!

Donna

What to do When Things Go Badly When Hiking

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

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

This trail in Chile was like an enchanted forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park was exhilarating!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy hiking!

Donna

Answers to Ask Me Anything

Thank you so much to everyone that asked questions in response to my post Ask Me Anything! It was a success and you all asked some thought-provoking questions. If you missed that post, I thought it would be fun to have people ask me questions related to my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, which I just finished in November 2021.

I’ll type the questions in the order received and put my answers after. Here goes!

Q: When you first set your 50 state goal how long did you think it would take?

A: Although I ran my first half marathon in 2000, I didn’t set my goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states until some time after that. I believe it was somewhere around state number 3, when I ran the Philadelphia Distance Run in 2004 when the idea to run a half marathon in all 50 states began forming in my mind. That same year I ran the Kiawah Island Half Marathon in South Carolina and had signed up to run the Valley of the Sun Half Marathon in Arizona when I found out I was pregnant. Since I had been running half marathons for a few years and had no underlying health conditions my doctor said it was fine to run the race in Arizona, plus I was only about two months pregnant then. I didn’t run another half marathon until 13 months later when I ran the Columbus Distance Run in April 2006 but at this point I definitely had the goal to run all 50 states. Knowing I could run 3 or 4 half marathons a year (but most years it was 3), I knew it would take several years for me to finish and I was fine with that. At that point I estimated it would take another 14 years to finish, which would have put me finishing in 2020. Then the pandemic hit and that pushed back all of my races a year so I ran my last race in 2021, 21 years after I ran my first half marathon.

Q: Did you set aside some time to actually see something of all the states? What was your favorite non-running find?

A: From the beginning, I always wanted to incorporate as much time as possible into seeing some of the states I was running a race in. I knew that would mean I wouldn’t be able to run as many states a year but it was important to me to not just check off the boxes. For most states I tried to spend a week in the area, preferably after the race and sometimes I spent more than a week in the state. I was lucky enough to spend an entire three weeks in San Diego when I ran the half marathon there, which is the most I spent in one place when I went there for a race.

My favorite non-running find is a tough one. There were so many little towns I went to that I never would have discovered if not for the races I ran there. I absolutely loved Woodstock and Quechee in Vermont but also Newport, Rhode Island and the nearby little towns, and tiny little Thayne, Wyoming not to mention Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota. I guess I’d have to choose Rhode Island. It’s the smallest of the United States but is filled with such beauty and is an undiscovered gem in my mind, although I hear the summers are filled with New Englanders. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who told me they were going on vacation in Rhode Island unless they had family there, which is a shame given what a cool place it is and so many people have never been there.

One of the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island

Q: What resources did you use to pick the races?

A: Over the years I’ve used many websites to pick the races I ran. Ones that I found myself returning to over and over include: Running in the USA https://www.runningintheusa.com/, Halfmarathons.net https://www.halfmarathons.net/race-calendar/, Race Raves https://raceraves.com/, Half Marathon Search https://www.halfmarathonsearch.com/half-marathon-calendar and Bibrave including the Bibrave 100 https://www.bibrave.com/thebibrave100/2020.

I also ran some races after speaking to people I knew who ran them or reading blog posts on them. Those that come to mind are the Shamrock Half in Virginia Beach, Kiawah Island in South Carolina, Missoula Half in Montana, and Bayshore Half Marathon in Michigan. These all lived up to the hype and were indeed great races (plus cool towns which made them perfect racecations).

The huge Poseidon statue near the finish of the Shamrock Marathon and Half Marathon

Q: How did you train for the different conditions (ex: hills, races at altitude, humidity)?

A: Living in central North Carolina gives me some variety when it comes to weather and running conditions. We have hills, heat, humidity, and even ice in January when we inevitably get freezing rain. The only thing we don’t have that was mentioned above is altitude.

One of the first things I would do when deciding on a race was check the course. If there were going to be substantial hills I made sure to incorporate hill repeats in my training. If there were going to be rolling hills I would run my long run where there were rolling hills. I ran several races during summer months where it was hot and humid. Since the heat really kicks in here in May, for those summer races I had been running in the heat for long enough for me to have acclimatized for those races (typically it takes a couple of weeks to acclimatize to the heat). I personally feel like I never really get used to the humidity and the only thing I can do to prepare for that is to make sure I run with fluids and am fully hydrated in the hours before I even step out the door to run.

When I was choosing half marathons in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming or any other state with high mountains one of the first things I looked up was the elevation in the cities where the races were. I purposefully chose races that were in cities with some of the lowest elevations in those states. I also read that it takes most people at least a few days to acclimatize to high elevation so I would fly into those states a few days before the race.

Almost as soon as I landed I started drinking water like my life depended on it since water helps with getting used to high elevation. One of the hardest half marathons I ran was in Boulder, Colorado even though it didn’t even have the highest altitude (around 5400 feet vs. around 6000 feet in Thayne, Wyoming). I think the difference was the course in Boulder was around a reservoir and was relatively flat compared to the course in Wyoming that had a fast downhill start for the first few miles and leveled off after that.

After the finish at the Star Valley Half Marathon in Thayne, Wyoming (right beside Afton, WY)

Q: How did you balance being a mom, working, having a social life, et cetera with a regular training plan over so many years? How did you keep up your motivation to train even when you felt too busy or tired?

A: Ah, the old life/balance question. I’ve always had a full-time job since I graduated from college and I’ve been a mom since my early-30’s so there was only a brief period where I didn’t also have to work and take care of my child in addition to getting my training runs in. Honestly, I don’t think most people can achieve a perfect 50/50 balance if you’re pursuing a huge goal. The best that most people can hope for is to have what I’ve heard referred to by others as “seasons” in life. For most people it means you have periods where you focus on your goal and other periods when you cut back on your goal a bit and focus on family and work. For me this literally meant spring, summer, fall, and winter where I would be training for and then traveling to a race during the spring, summer, and fall months then I would take most or much of winter off to rest, recover, and catch up.

All of this doesn’t mean I just ignored my work and family obligations because I was training for a half marathon but I did make running a priority in my life or it never would have happened. From the start I made it clear to my boyfriend who later became my husband that running wasn’t just something I would do occasionally but it was a huge part of my life. If he would have had a problem with me going for a run, we never would have lasted more than a week.

Likewise with my daughter, she grew up watching Mom go for a run and it was just “normal” life for her. She also traveled to the majority of my races with me, even when she was a baby, so that also became “normal” for her. She thought all moms traveled all over the United States for half marathons and ran for an hour or two on the weekends with other runs throughout the week. I know this because when she was in grade school, she told me all that. She said she had recently realized most moms didn’t do this and most moms she knew weren’t like her mom when it came to running and travel. When she was old enough she began running races too, working up from the 5k to the half marathon.

My daughter and me after the Circle of Life Half Marathon in Lake City, Minnesota

Like I mentioned earlier, by making running and specifically running a half marathon in all 50 states a priority in my life, I always had the motivation to train even when I felt too busy or tired. It helped that I also knew how much running helps my mental state and I’ve always come back from a run feeling better than when I started, even if I was tired when I started. Finally, I’ve always given myself some grace when it comes to running. If I had to miss a 40 minute run because I had to take my daughter to the doctor or I had to work late at work and was exhausted I knew in the grand scheme of things, it would be fine to not run and I wouldn’t suddenly lose all of my fitness. If it would have ever happened where I was consistently missing runs (that never happened), I would have had to take a good look at what was going on in my life and re-evaluate if training for that race was truly a good idea or maybe I should push it back to another time.

Q: What made you choose the half marathon distance vs any other distance?

A: I’ve always felt like the half marathon is the perfect distance for me. It’s just long enough that it’s a challenge and keeps me in good shape but not so long that I am utterly destroyed afterwards like with the marathon. Plus training for a half marathon is much more manageable than for a marathon. I’m also not a big fan of 5k races because if I’m going to truly race them, they’re HARD! I do like the 10 mile distance even though I’ve only run one 10-miler but I am signed up for another 10-miler this spring.

Q: Did you do specific training when you planned for races in western states with higher elevation?

A: No. As far as I could tell when I looked around online about this there really is no way to prepare yourself for running at higher elevation unless you can spring for a hyperbaric tent to sleep in beforehand. I would arrive at the races a few days before the race and drink tons of water, like I mentioned above. I also should have mentioned I lowered my expectations of any finish times for those races and was pleasantly surprised when I finished much faster than I would have predicted at some of them.

Q: Did you ever miss a flight?

A: Yes, but since I always worked in at least one extra day before a race it always worked out. I remember when I flew to one race (I forget which but it was a western state), there were severe thunderstorms that caused major airline delays and cancellations. I was supposed to have a layover in Denver and arrive at my destination that evening but all flights out of Denver were cancelled that evening so I had to stay in a hotel and fly out the next morning. Because of my buffer, I still made it to the packet pickup on time and everything was fine, other than missing some time in my destination.

Q: Does your work have an unlimited vacation time policy?

A: Not unlimited but it is generous. I’ve been at my job for 21 years and I now get 5 weeks of vacation. After I hit 15 years I got bumped up from 4 weeks to 5 so I’ve always had plenty of vacation days. Plus I get 11 days off for holidays that I can use as flex time. On top of all of that, I can roll over something like 30 days of unused vacation time by the end of December to the next year. With all of that being said, I’ve always eventually used every single day of my vacation time and not lost it at the end of the year even during the beginning of the pandemic when I wasn’t traveling, thanks to being able to roll over time to the next year.

That’s all of the questions I received. Thanks again to everyone who submitted questions. That was interesting for me and hopefully to you all as well!

Did anyone forget to ask a question you’d like to ask now or did you miss my first post? Feel free to ask here.

Happy running and travels!

Donna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy travels!

Donna

Stunning Santa Fe, New Mexico

For my first trip to New Mexico, even though the first part of my time was spent in Albuquerque (Quirky Albuquerque, New Mexico), my time in that city was primarily for a half marathon (The Albuquerque Half Marathon, Albuquerque, New Mexico-50th state). As much as I enjoyed Albuquerque, I’m not sure I would have chosen to go there otherwise, but Santa Fe, on the other hand, was always slated as my highlight to New Mexico. I literally went straight from the race to my hotel for a quick shower and finished packing my bags, (all of which I did in about 20 minutes), before I hopped in the rental car for the one hour scenic drive to Santa Fe. When I was driving past all of the Native Indian Reservations, I kept thinking to myself how much it reminded me of parts of Colorado and Arizona mixed together, not surprising given their geography.

Albuquerque was a good introduction for me to the higher elevation of Santa Fe, since the former is at about 5300 feet and the latter is at about 7200 feet. Santa Fe is a quaint town nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and it has a definite artsy feel. New Mexico’s capital city isn’t the largest city by population in the state but there is plenty to do year-round. Here were some of my favorite things to do and places to eat in the Santa Fe area.

Quintessential Santa Fe

Things to Do

Museum Hill has four museums all in the same area so you can walk from one building to another. The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art has almost 4,000 pieces of Hispanic New Mexico art. The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture gives more of the story behind the American Indian people in the Southwest and includes prehistoric through contemporary art. The Museum of International Folk Art has 130,000 pieces of folk art from all over the world. There are dolls and unique displays, some of which are enormous with elaborate detail. I enjoyed this museum much more than I thought I would. Finally, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian has historical Native American art through contemporary art and includes the Case Trading Post, which sells jewelry, art, ceramics, and textiles. Check the website for hours and tickets: https://www.museumhill.net/

I loved the Museum of International Folk Art so much!

Right beside Museum Hill is the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. This is definitely one of the smallest botanical gardens I’ve been to and it’s entirely outside with no conservatory but I still enjoyed it. There were some unique sculptures and it was nice to just casually stroll around the grounds and not feel rushed to take it all in, which you can easily do in an hour or less. https://santafebotanicalgarden.org/

Even though I had heard of Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, an immersive art experience, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go. It seemed a bit “out there” to me and I wasn’t sure it would live up to the hype. After going, I have to say I absolutely loved this place! It was bizarre and creative and just made me laugh at times. Although it’s completely hands-on where you have to touch things, crawl through tight spaces, open cabinets and drawers, climb into the dryer, and play the dinosaur rib cage to get the most out of your time there, there were multiple bottles of hand sanitizer in every single room and masks were required. If you’re claustrophobic or don’t like/aren’t able to go through small areas or climb ladders you likely won’t enjoy it as much but many things are completely optional and have multiple entries and exits. I would love to go to the one in Denver now and see how the two places compare (there’s also one in Las Vegas but I have no plans to go back there). https://meowwolf.com/visit/santa-fe

Photos definitely don’t do Meow Wolf justice

One thing I skipped just because I don’t care for her art work is visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum but I know it’s hugely popular. She was known primarily for modern art work, of which I’m generally not a fan and the $18 admission ticket seemed a bit steep for someone who probably wouldn’t even enjoy the art. Since art is subjective, there are obviously many people who appreciate her art. You can also visit her two former homes in northern New Mexico, Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu Home and Studio. https://www.okeeffemuseum.org/

If you want to go shopping, which I highly recommend, Old Town is a fun place to walk around and pop into the local stores. There are several art galleries, jewelry shops, and stores selling fetishes, which as I mentioned in my post on Albuquerque are made by the Zuni pueblo people. They carve small animals from stone, wood, antlers, glass, or shells and these animals are sacred, each with symbolic meanings. I didn’t buy a fetish in Albuqueque because none of them “spoke” to me, and neither did any speak to me in Santa Fe. I was looking for something to commemorate my running a half marathon in all 50 states, with New Mexico as my last state, but I’m not even sure what kind of animal would represent that.

Jackalope Mercado is a shop that was recommended to me by a friend who knows someone who used to live in Santa Fe. It’s a large store with an outdoor area as well as indoor items, with mostly pottery and home decor but also a wide selection of souvenir-type items. I was told the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market is a good place for local foods and handmade items but when I went, it was a bust. There were only a handful of vendors and I didn’t buy anything. It’s probably much busier in the summer months than the late fall when I was there.

Places to Hike

Santa Fe is a hiker’s paradise, with a multitude of places to hike for all abilities, with trails ranging from easy to difficult. Originally I thought I’d visit Valles Caldera National Preserve and Bandelier National Monument, which are about an hour drive from Santa Fe. However, after seeing all of the trails that are much closer, I decided to just stay in the Santa Fe area.

I had so much fun hiking in Santa Fe!

Some of my favorite trails were in the Dale Ball Trails, with 22 miles of trails. Right beside these trails is the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary with hiking trails, guided bird walks and tours of the Randall Davey Home. These areas are in the eastern part of Santa Fe.

Directly south of Dale Ball Trails you can find a cluster of trailheads; one of my favorites was the Atalaya Upper Trail. You can park at the St. John’s College parking lot (free) and find the Atalaya and Dorothy Stewart Trailheads from this parking lot. Conveniently enough, St. John’s College is right by Museum Hill.

Northern Santa Fe has the La Tierra Trails including Calabasas Trailhead and La Cuchara Trailhead. One day I hiked seven miles along the Rio Grande River (which was dry when I was there) and it was beautiful with the Cottonwood trees all around and their golden yellow leaves that rustled in the wind like paper. I was able to hike at least portions of all of these trails in about five days. Their close proximity to each other makes it easy to go from one trail area to another without losing much driving time in between. https://www.alltrails.com/parks/us/new-mexico/santa-fe-national-forest

Places to Eat

As good as the food was in Albuquerque, Santa Fe raised the bar another level. There wasn’t one place where I ate that wasn’t at least very good and most were outstanding. Some of my favorite places included:

Two sister restaurants La Choza and The Shed for excellent New Mexican dishes https://www.lachozasf.com/ and https://sfshed.com/

Some of the best Ethiopian food I’ve had in my life and one of the best meals I had on this entire trip at Jambo Cafe https://jambocafe.net/

Very good ramen at this small restaurant also with great service, Mampuku Ramen http://places.singleplatform.com/mampuku-ramen/menu

Good pizza if you start to tire of New Mexican food and want something different at Back Road Pizza https://www.backroadpizza.com/

For desert, if you haven’t tried Mexican ice pops, this is a good place. I will warn you all of the toppings and endless options can add up, so be mindful of what you’re ordering. Also, this is a chain and is not only in several places in New Mexico, but also Colorado, Arizona, California, and Florida. https://www.thepaletabar.com/

I’m a huge tea-lover so I highly recommend The Teahouse Santa Fe if you also love tea. They have an enormous selection of teas to drink in the restaurant as well as tea you can buy and take with you. The food is also very good and the setting is quaint with both an indoor seating area as well as a nice patio. https://teahousesantafe.com/

It’s a good thing I hiked so much with all of the good food in Santa Fe!

I really loved Santa Fe and highly recommend going there if you haven’t been. With all of the hiking trails, shopping, museums, and great food, there’s something for everyone no matter what your interests. It is a bit on the pricey side (but not as much as what you’d spend in a large city like New York City or Los Angeles) so you might want to factor the costs in when planning a trip there, especially for accommodations.

Have you been to Santa Fe? If so, what were some of your favorite places or things you did there?

Happy travels!

Donna

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