I recently had the pleasure of attending a wedding at Duke Gardens in Durham, North Carolina. Duke Gardens is part of Duke University’s campus. For those of you not familiar with Duke University, it’s a private university founded by Methodists and Quakers in the present-day town of Trinity in 1838, and the school moved 70 miles to Durham in 1892. Duke University is filled with old stone buildings and is beautiful to walk around especially when all of the flowers and trees are in bloom during the spring.
For someone like me, Duke Gardens is a place where I can easily spend hours walking around, but then I love botanical gardens. I’ve traveled to far-away places like the Canary Islands and have seen some stunning gardens around the world but Duke Gardens has to be on my top 10 list of best gardens I’ve been to. These are gardens that are beautiful regardless of the season because some areas might not be in bloom but others will be and there are enough evergreens and water areas that even in the dead of winter it would still be a wonderful place to visit.
Technically named the “Sarah P. Duke Gardens,” they consist of five miles of of allées, walks, and pathways throughout the gardens on 55 acres of landscaped and wooded areas within Duke University’s campus. Building of the gardens officially began in 1934 when a faculty member Dr. Frederick Moir Hanes convinced Sarah P. Duke to contribute $20,000 towards flowers in a ravine there. Unfortunately tens of thousands of flowers that were planted were washed away and destroyed by heavy rains and the gardens were destroyed at the time of Sarah P. Duke’s death in 1936. Dr. Hanes persuaded Mrs. Duke’s daughter to pay for a new garden on higher ground as a memorial to her mother. This time, the gardens were a success and today bring visitors from around the world to enjoy them.
Duke Gardens is divided into a few different sections: Historic Gardens, Doris Duke Center and Gardens, H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, and W.L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. Within each of these areas you’ll find everything from bridges to bogs to butterfly gardens and other specific gardens. There’s also the Terrace Shop where you can find Duke Gardens wall calendars, note cards, postcards and mugs along with plants and other garden supplies like plant stakes and decorative containers. You can also buy sandwiches and other snacks at the Terrace Cafe.
The gardens are enormous so you can easily spend a few hours here just walking around. My favorite areas are the Historic Gardens with all of the bulbs flowering, the row of cherry trees at the entrance, and the W.L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. The Asian-themed bridges are beautiful and I loved all of the details like handrails made out of bamboo.
Finally, you can arrange walking tours or trolley tours on certain days and times (check the website here) for $10 per person and they typically last 1 to 1.5 hours. The grounds are open 365 days a year from 8 am to dusk and admission is free for a self-guided tour. If you park at the closest lot, you have to pay either $1 or $2 per hour depending on the time of year, but there is a free parking lot on the corner of Yearby Avenue and Anderson Street at the Duke University H Lot, about a 5 minute walk from the gardens.
Oh, and I can’t forget to mention Duke University Chapel, which you can also walk to from Duke Gardens. The chapel was built from 1930 to 1932 in the Collegiate Gothic style and stands 210 feet tall. There are often concerts and events going on, which you have to purchase a ticket for, or you won’t be allowed to enter the chapel, so check the website here. You can also take free docent-led tours of the chapel that take approximately 45 minutes. Tours do not include access to the Chapel tower, which is unavailable to the public.
Do you love botanical gardens like I do? Do you have favorite ones you’ve been to?
Many months ago when my husband and I were discussing where we wanted to go during our daughter’s school break the end of February/first part of March, Hawaii came up. As much as I’m dying to go to Portugal, I want to wait until the weather is more ideal than it would be the end of February. Hawaii, on the other hand, has perfect weather year-round. The last time we were in Hawaii, which was the second time for each of us, we went to Kauai and the big island and these had become our collective favorite islands. I think it was assumed we would return to the big island and Kauai this time as well.
At the time of our trip planning, the big island was having its most recent massive volcanic eruption. Sections of the island were closed and the air quality was poor. I knew of course things wouldn’t always be like that but I had no idea how long the lingering effects would go on. For example, would Volcanoes National Park or parts of it be closed when we wanted to go there? How long would the poor air quality linger? Not really wanting to take a chance and perhaps being overly-cautious, I suggested maybe we should skip the big island but go to another island instead, along with Kauai. Perhaps we should go to Oahu; after all, Oahu is the most-visited of the Hawaiian islands.
Although he didn’t say as much, I could tell my husband was highly doubtful of my suggestion to go to Oahu. He had been to Oahu many years ago with his mother and sister and had been less than impressed. He tells stories of having to step over body after body on Waikiki Beach and only having barely enough room to put his towel down. Pretty much all he remembers doing on that vacation is going to Waikiki Beach multiple days, driving to the North Shore for the day, and taking a day trip to the big island.
Nonetheless, I began researching Oahu and talking to some co-workers who I knew had been to Oahu several times. I decided we would go to Kauai for a week and Oahu for four days. However, I was adamant that we wouldn’t stay in the Waikiki or Honolulu areas. When I found this gem of a place on Airbnb, I was sold. Since it’s actually part of Paradise Bay Resort, you get resort amenities (more on that later) and free breakfast through Airbnb. We would be staying on the east side of Oahu in a bay, close enough to drive to plenty of good places to hike and pretty much anywhere else on the island we wanted but far enough from the massive crowds to enjoy some peace and quiet.
Flying into Oahu, I immediately noticed the colors of the water seemed somehow prettier than the other islands. The turquoise was more vivid and there was more variation in colors. Then I saw the sprawl of Honolulu and all of the buildings, homes, and hotels crammed together and I was glad I had found the resort in Kaneohe Bay. After we landed and collected our rental car, we drove to the Crazy Shirts outlet and got some lunch nearby. Then we went up to the top of the Diamond Head State Monument and the fun really started.
Diamond Head State Monument is undoubtedly one of the most crowded places I’ve ever been to but absolutely worth it for the views. From the trailhead to the summit of Diamond Head Crater is 0.8 miles one way with 560 feet increase in elevation from the crater floor. There are hundreds of stairs and you go through a couple of tunnels. If you don’t like crowds or small spaces, I wouldn’t advise going here. However, if you don’t mind pushing your way through hordes of people (sometimes you literally have to do this), you’ll be rewarded with amazing views like this:
For the rest of our time in Oahu, we mostly spent our time hiking but we also went to the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC). One thing we discovered about the PCC is that you don’t in fact have to buy a ticket to walk around the grounds if you get there after 6 pm. General admission ticket prices (which are the cheapest offered) are $64.95 for adults and this includes a visitor’s center tour, self-guided tour through six different themed areas (like New Zealand), hands-on activities, a canoe ride, a brief movie, and a canoe show. However, if you’re content to walk through the themed areas on your own for a couple of hours in the evening, you can do so for free. There are also options that you can add on things like a luau, reserved seating, an evening show, and on and on with the most-inclusive package priced at $242.95.
Another non-hiking activity we did in Oahu was visit the Byodo-In Temple in Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. The Byodo-In Temple is a non-practicing Buddhist temple often used for weddings, funerals, and cremation services. I found the temple and grounds to be beautiful and peaceful. There is also a small gift shop on-site.
Some of our favorite hiking spots were Waimea Valley and Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park. Waimea Valley also has a botanical garden with thousands of different types of plants from around the world and a waterfall that you can swim in. This valley has historically been home to kings, chiefs, and high priests. You can see many archaeological sites throughout the valley. Admission for visiting adults is $16.95 and you can arrange for complimentary tours and activities depending on the day and time (check the website).
Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park was established to nurture and foster native Hawaiian cultural traditions and the cultural landscape of rural windward Oʻahu. Established as a “living park”, there are thirty-one families living in the ahupuaʻa of Kahana. These families assist with interpretive programs that share the Hawaiian values and lifestyle. There are two hiking trails available to the public, Kapa’ele’ele Ko’a and Keaniani Lookout Trail is a one mile long loop trail that begins at the Orientation Center and takes about one hour. The trail passes two cultural sites and offers stunning views of Kahana Bay. Nakoa Trail is named for the koa trees found along this 2.5 mile loop trail through a tropical rain forest. The loop hike takes about 2 hours. The total length of the hike is 5 miles from the Orientation Center.
My family and I are all about trails with views, so we chose the Kapa’ele’ele Ko’a and Keaniani Lookout Trail. As per our former experience with hiking trails in Hawaii, this one was extremely muddy and slippery in parts. The trail wasn’t too difficult other than navigating through the mud until we reached one of the viewpoints of the bay. At this point, the trail became what I would call pretty dangerous, with sharp drop-offs on both sides of a thin walkway. My husband went up that section to take some photos but I chose to stay behind until he came back and we went back the way we came. Also, if you go on this trail, wear bug-spray because we didn’t and got eaten alive by mosquitoes.
The final thing we did in Oahu that was a ton of fun was to go standup paddleboarding for the first time. Remember that awesome Airbnb we stayed at- well, Paradise Bay Resort offers free standup paddleboarding and kayaking lessons once a day on certain days. After a quick lesson of what to do (it’s pretty simple, honestly) we began paddleboarding around the small body of water (I guess you’d call it an inlet) directly behind the resort. Once I felt confident on my knees, I stood and pretty quickly felt like I had the hang of it. However, the winds were really strong that day and every time I tried to go out into the bay, the wind would push me backwards. Finally, I decided to just stay in the inlet. There were mangroves and I could still see into the bay so it was still scenic.
On our final day in Oahu, we tried to go to the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout but unfortunately the Pali Highway was closed when we were there. All was not lost, though. We made our way to Leonard’s Bakery to try some famous malasadas, which are Portuguese donuts without the hole. For the three of us, we ordered two each with Li Hing, cinnamon sugar, and original coating but when I opened the box in the car, I discovered they had given us several extras. We also got some of the custard-filled ones and extra ones of the others as well- bonus!
We decided to walk along the harbor area of Honolulu before heading to the airport and it was a nice way to end our time in Oahu. I know I for one was very glad I decided to take a chance and come to Oahu and I feel pretty sure my family would agree! Since we’re not really ones to go where the crowds are (with some exceptions like Diamond Head in this case) but we prefer to go a bit off the beaten path, the windward side was perfect for us.
Have you been to Oahu? Did you stay in popular Waikiki or somewhere else? Tell me about your experience in Hawaii.
My first glimpse of Idaho was when I drove through Coeur d’Alene, Idaho from Spokane, Washington several years ago on my way to Missoula, Montana and parts of Canada. I was in awe of the natural beauty of that part of Idaho and I couldn’t wait to go back and actually spend some time in Idaho. I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states in the United States, and for my race in Idaho, I chose to run in Boise based on some race reviews of Boise by other runners. If you’d like to read about my half marathon, The Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon, just click here for the link.
When I arrived in Boise, I immediately thought of Missoula. Boise and Missoula are both in valleys surrounded by beautiful mountains. I loved Missoula so of course I also loved Boise right away. The first thing I did when I reached my Airbnb house was go for a run. I always love running in new places because I really get a feel for the area and it helps me get my bearings quickly.
The next day we went to the Idaho Botanical Garden and this is probably one of the best botanical gardens I’ve been to anywhere. At first glance, my daughter was a little disappointed, so when you drive up to the garden, don’t be put off by first impressions. When you get further into the garden, the beauty of it unfolds before you, so just keep walking.
As is the case with most botanical gardens, the Idaho Botanical Garden is divided into several sections, like the English Garden, the Herb Garden, Firewise Garden, and Meditation Garden, just to name a few. Words really can’t describe this place, though. You really have to see it for yourself. We spent a little over an hour and a half here but you could bring a picnic lunch and spend a few hours here easily. There are plenty of seating areas, restrooms, and a gift shop. Pets are not permitted. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for kids ages 5 to 12.
Boise is an outdoor lover’s paradise. There are trails and greenways everywhere for walking, running, and cycling, or hiking up mountainsides. During our time in Boise, we went hiking several days and each time the scenery just kept getting better. One of my favorite places to hike in the Boise area is Hulls Gulch. Hulls Gulch has several trails and you can spend days on end here if you hiked all of the trails. We chose a couple of trails here, including Red Cliffs Trail and were rewarded with these views.
Another place we went hiking that was incredible is Bogus Basin, where we hiked the Around the Mountain trail, or at least a portion of it. This is a ski resort during the winter months but they have trails for horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking during warmer months. There are some other summer activities like a toboggan ride and the lifts are open for quick access to the top of the mountain. We were there a few days before they opened for the summer season, so the cafe, lifts, and everything else was closed, but that just meant we pretty much had the trail to ourselves except for a few mountain bikers we passed.
My absolute favorite hiking place in the Boise area is Lucky Peak State Park. The park was the start for the Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon, where we wound through the canyon for the first few miles and I ran my 44th half marathon in my 42nd state. A few days after my race, my family and I drove to the park and hiked up Cervidae Peak, which is 4.4 miles out and back, 1883 foot elevation gain, with views of two rivers and the marina directly below. This is a hard trail, pretty much straight up and straight back down but it is worth it for the incredible views.
If you’re not into hiking, downtown Boise is also a cool place with many great restaurants and shops. We discovered Freak Alley and all of the murals there and took a ton of photos while we walked around and admired the art work. We also popped into some of the unique shops and a small bookstore. Boise Art Museum looks like a great place, but we chose to hike instead of go there so I can’t speak from experience. Another cool place you can tour is the Old Idaho Penitentiary with its 19th-century prison cells and gallows, plus historic military weaponry.
Idaho has to be one of the most under-rated states in the United States in my opinion, especially by east coasters, many of whom don’t even know for sure where Idaho is and all they relate it to is potatoes. It is one of the most beautiful states I’ve been to, and is full of outdoor activities year-round. Most importantly, everyone we talked to, whether while hiking or in town was friendly and helpful. I’ve often said I tend to judge a city by how runner-friendly it is, and not only is Boise runner-friendly, it’s also outdoor-enthusiast-friendly with all of the options available. That’s my kind of town!
Have any of you been to Idaho? If so, where did you go and did you love it as much as I did?
Let me start with God’s Finger or El Dedo de Dios, as it’s called in Spanish, since that’s the place that had me intrigued by the name but then came as a disappointment once we learned the truth. Near the town of Agaete, God’s Finger is a rock formation about 30 meters high in the Atlantic Ocean off the northern part of Gran Canaria. Or, it was until a tropical storm broke off the top in 2005 and it fell into the sea. We didn’t learn the history of all of this until we arrived at the area and couldn’t find any kind of rock structure that might resemble a finger. Finally, we saw something on a local shop, Googled God’s Finger, and found the complete story.
Why did we end up at God’s Finger in the first place, you may ask? Well, I was checking out places to hike and other towns of interest, and God’s Finger came up, but the author failed to mention that it fell off many years ago and there’s really nothing to see now. Not that it would have been something worth going out of your way for even when it was still standing, but I thought since we’ll be in Agaete anyway, we’ll check it out. If you go to Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, you’ll know to skip God’s Finger.
Agaete, on the other hand, is a beautiful little port town you shouldn’t skip. The Agaete Santa Cruz de Tenerife ferry route connects Gran Canaria with Tenerife, which is how we got from Gran Canaria to Tenerife. Besides taking the ferry, the other option is to fly.
When I checked prices for my family, there wasn’t a huge price difference between flying and taking the ferry and since we enjoyed the ferry from Gozo to Malta last fall, I made reservations for the ferry. Long story short, the inter-island ferry is also something you should skip. The water was extremely rough (we had been warned by some ex-pats prior to taking the ferry that this is often the case) and honestly the only thing to see the entire way there was the water between the islands. Skip the ferry and fly instead.
Back to Agaete. Puerto de las Nieves is the port town with some shops and restaurants (many selling fish, not surprisingly). Walk around this area, take in the scenery, and grab lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants. We ate dinner here one evening and were lucky enough to catch the sunset.
About a 30 minute drive north from Agaete is Amagro National Park or Macizo de Amagro. This park is full of natural monuments or geological formations. If you have several hours, a rental car, and don’t mind winding roads, take the GC-200 for one of the most scenic drives you’ll ever take to Tamadaba, south of Agaete. Tamadaba is a natural park with a large picnic area and camping areas and is beautiful. We also stumbled upon a very picturesque beach in this area, Playa de la Aldea and walked around here for a while.
I also wanted to go to a botanical park in Gran Canaria and discovered quite a gem indeed. The Viera y Clavijo Botanical Garden in northern Gran Canaria is one of the biggest and most extensive botanical gardens I’ve ever been to, and even better, admission is free! The garden is 27 acres (10 hectares), on which approximately 500 plant species endemic to the Canary Islands are cultivated.
There are several sections of the Viera y Clavijo Garden including the Garden of the Islands (Jardín de las Islas), the Garden of Cacti and Succulents (Jardín de Cactus y Suculentas), the Macaronesian Ornamental Garden (Jardín Macaronésico Ornamental), and the Hidden Garden (El Jardín Escondido) with a greenhouse. At the “Fountain of the Wisemen” (La Fuente de Los Sabios), botanists who discovered and described the flora of the Canary Islands are honored. There are no restaurants or cafes on-site so you’ll need to plan accordingly.
One of the things I liked best about this botanical garden is how it’s spread across different levels, so you can pretty quickly walk up and get great views of the area. If you can’t climb stairs or go up steep inclines there’s plenty to see on the main area on the ground too.
When I started writing this post, I almost put “Montreal, a little slice of France,” as the title, but then I stopped myself for a few reasons. 1) I have never been to France before so I can’t really say that. 2) I might seriously make some Canadians upset by saying this (or French people). 3) Montreal really is a unique city unlike any other. However, there is definitely a strong French influence in the food and culture. French is the city’s official language and is the language spoken at home by the majority of people living there. If you’re into food, architecture, and/or history, this is a city for you!
Some of my favorite sites in Montreal include Old Port, Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, Biodome, Jardin Botanique, just to name a few. Old Port, or Vieux Port de Montreal, has a lot going on. During warmer months, there are pedal boats and jet skis for rent, Voiles en Voiles where you can climb about a life-size replica of a pirate ship, you can cruise on a schooner, take the Decalade challenge at the Conveyor Quay Tower or if that’s not thrilling enough you can sky jump. There are numerous special events in Old Port throughout the year as well. Last but not least, there is the Montreal Science Centre full of fun exhibits and an IMAX theatre.
The Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal is like visiting a museum as well as a massive, ornate church. There are many tours offered including a 60 minute guided tour that will take you in very private areas of the Basilica as the galleries and the baptistery. You can also sit in the balcony of the organ to listen to classical organ music and meet organist Pierre Grandmaison. The original chapel was much smaller and was operated by the Jesuits. In 1657, the Sulpician Fathers took over operation and started construction of a larger church. Construction of this Baroque style church was completed in 1683. However, by 1800, this church was also deemed too small and construction of a larger Gothic Revival style church began and was completed in 1829. In 1889, the architects Perreault and Mansard were commissioned to build a chapel that would accommodate ceremonies for smaller ceremonies. Named the Chapel of Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur (Our Lady of the Sacred Heart) it was built in Gothic Revival style and consecrated on December 8, 1891, only to be seriously damaged by a fire in 1978. The new chapel was opened in 1982.
The Biodome, Botanical Garden, Insectarium and the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium are all part of Space for Life, which has the purpose to raise individual and collective awareness about the need to get involved in protecting the Canadian heritage. This mission is carried out through educational, conservation, research and outreach efforts. The Biodome recreates ecosystems of the Americas including a Tropical Rainforest, the Laurentian Maple Forest, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Labrador Coast, and the Sub-Antarctic Islands. When the Biodome opened in 1992, its ecosystem concept was a world first. With over 4,500 animals from 250 different species and 500 plant species, the Biodome is bound to have something for everyone. The Insectarium has both permanent and traveling exhibitions and includes one of the most comprehensive collections of insects in North America. The Botanical Garden is full of themed gardens such as the Japanese Garden and Chinese Garden as well as 10 greenhouses open to the public. The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium has one of the largest collections of meteorites in Quebec, the permanent exhibit called EXO: Our Search for Life in the Universe, as well as rotating shows in the immersive theater. There are several options for tickets for these four places. You can combine two or more places to get a better deal on pricing and tailor your tickets depending on your interests and income.
Montreal has some stunning architecture, with some buildings going back to the 16th century. In 2006 Montreal was named a UNESCO City of Design, only one of three design capitals of the world (the others being Berlin and Buenos Aires). There are 50 National Historic Sites of Canada in Montreal, more than any other city according to Wikipedia. Many of these historic sites are churches and battle sites but there are others as well. I enjoyed just walking around the city and admiring the beautiful buildings around me.
Finally, to the food of Montreal! Some foods in Montreal are unique to the city itself or to Canada in general and are definitely worth trying. One example is Montreal smoked meat and one of the best places to get it is Schwartz’s Deli. Believe me, it’s worth the wait. Another famous example is poutine. These are french fries smothered in gravy, cheese, and curds but you can get all kind of different toppings on them. One place to try them is Poutini’s House of Poutine but you’ll find them at restaurants scattered throughout the city. There are so many different phenomenal restaurants in Montreal, you should have no problem finding good food. The only problem may be in deciding which place to go to since there are so many to choose from! Some of the current top restaurants include Bouillon Bilk and Le Robin Square. While the restaurants in Montreal tend to be a bit expensive, they’re an experience you won’t forget and that is priceless. Come to think of it, your whole vacation in Montreal will be a priceless experience that you won’t forget.