Weekend in Huntington, West Virginia

I spent the first 22 years of my life in West Virginia. I grew up in the southern part of the state and got my undergrad degree in the northern part at West Virginia University. It’s fair to say I’ve seen quite a bit of the state and spent my fair share doing mostly outdoors activities.

I’ve gone skiing and/or tubing at Winterplace Ski Resort and Snowshoe Mountain (I hate skiing so I am not a skier now but love tubing). I’ve gone whitewater rafting many times down the New River. I’ve gone hiking in most of the state parks throughout the state. I’ve been to the capital, Charleston, for many different occasions. I’ve gone camping throughout the northern and southern parts of the state. However, I had never spent any time in the second-largest city in West Virginia, Huntington, until recently.

Even though Huntington is the second-largest city by population in West Virginia, it’s still pretty small by most standards, coming in just under 50,000 people. The entire population of WV isn’t even 2 million but it does have more people than 12 states and the District of Columbia. I’ve mentioned all of the outdoor activities I’ve done throughout WV, and it’s no surprise since outdoor activities are what drive most tourists to the state.

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Heritage Farm Museum and Village

I was going to Huntington to run a half marathon, though, as part of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. West Virginia would be my 43rd half marathon in my 41st state. I didn’t think it would be a great idea to go hiking all over the place the day before a race. What on earth is there to do in Huntington besides go to Ritter Park, the number one thing to do on TripAdvisor? There’s also the Huntington Museum of Art, but again, I didn’t really want to spend a lot of time on my feet before the race. We were heading back home after the race on Sunday, so it’s not like we could go after the race.

Enter Heritage Farm Museum and Village. My family and I went to a similar place before the previous half marathon I ran in Morristown, New Jersey and we had a great time. Fosterfields Living Historical Farm in New Jersey seemed to be considerably bigger than this one in Huntington and I did OK after walking around there, so that’s what I decided we would do. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but honestly, I wasn’t seeing many options that would work given our situation.

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There was a wedding the day we visited Heritage Farm

Heritage Farm is a good way to spend a couple of hours especially if you have kids and/or are a history buff. In early November it was beautiful with all of the trees in full display of yellows, reds, and greens. There are eight museums, a blacksmith shop where you can see a blacksmith in action, an artisan center full of skilled tradespeople such as a quilter and a potter, Maker Space is full of hands-on activities and pop culture trivia displays through the years, a homestead site, a hands-on outdoor play space where kids can learn about simple machines, a cafe, church, gift shop, and petting zoo. Being a huge animal lover, the animals were my daughter’s favorite part of the farm. She especially loved the bunny who had a rooster friend with her. Apparently this rabbit and rooster were best friends and the rooster watched out for the rabbit. We also took a wagon ride around the farm and saw lots of unique animals. Although we didn’t stay overnight at the farm, you can stay overnight in one of a few log cabins or even a train caboose.

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Llamas
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Vittles anyone?

Besides finding things to do that didn’t involve tons of time on my feet, finding a hotel was a bit difficult as well simply because of the limited options. I wanted to find a pet-friendly place but the only one I could find was Towne Place Suites with a $100 non-refundable pet fee. For just a weekend, I could board my dog with a sitter near my home for less than that and she already knew the people who would be watching her. My new puppy was going to be watched by her foster mom who rescued her. Still, this seemed like pretty much the only “decent” hotel in the area, so I made reservations at Towne Place  Suites. When I looked on Airbnb, there weren’t great options near Marshall University, where the race was, but if you’re not limited by that, there are definitely more options. Towne Place Suites turned out to be quiet and in a good location, not more than about 10 minutes from most things in the area, so it was a good choice for us.

Unless you’re driving into the area, it’s not very easy to fly into Huntington. There aren’t many direct flights into/out of Huntington Tri-State Airport. Unless you’re coming from Charlotte, North Carolina, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Orlando, Florida, or St. Petersburg, Florida, you’ll have to make multiple stops to get to Huntington. In some ways it’s easier to just fly into Yeager Airport in Charleston, which has considerably more flights than those into Huntington, get a rental car, and drive one hour to Huntington. I would venture flights into Yeager are cheaper than flights into Huntington as well but I haven’t priced them. This is of course no different from transportation to/from any small town in the US. Any time you can fly into a bigger city and drive to your destination, it’s cheaper and Huntington is no different.

Dining options are about what you might expect in a small town in West Virginia. There are tons of fast-food and chain restaurants, but it is possible to find local places to eat. We had lunch at River and Rail Bakery, where we planned on having lunch and getting something from the bakery to take with us for later. While our lunches weren’t bad but nothing great, the options for dessert were flat-out disappointing. My daughter and I didn’t get anything for dessert and we were given our money back for the cheesecake my husband bought because it was so bad. We later had dinner at La Famiglia, which was by far the best meal of our weekend in Huntington. My daughter and I had handmade pasta and meatballs and it was delicious and the perfect pre-race dinner. After the half marathon, we had lunch at Surin of Thailand, which I later found out is a small chain in the south with six other locations. It was standard Thai fare so it was good but not the best Thai food I’ve ever had.

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After our lunch, it was time to head back home. For others looking to extend their stay a bit in West Virginia, there are several places within a relatively short drive from Huntington. If you want a bigger city with more options, Lexington, Kentucky is only two hours away and is filled with fun things to do. This would also be an option for flights into the area, but you would have a bit longer of a drive than from Charleston. There are also many state parks around the Huntington and Charleston area great for hiking and camping.

When is the best time to visit West Virginia? Really anytime, depending on what you’d like to do. You can go skiing in the winter, hiking and camping in the spring, fall, and summer (of course you could go in the winter as well; that’s just not my thing personally), and whitewater rafting and zip lining in the summer. Another interesting place to visit is The Greenbrier, a resort in White Sulphur Springs, about three hours from Huntington. You can just go here for the day but really there’s so much to do here it would be better to spend the night if it’s in your budget. There’s everything from a golf course, spa, casino, tree-top canopy tours, fishing, afternoon tea and other fine dining options, bowling, off-road tours, and even a declassified bunker tour, just to name a few. If you’re interested in planning your next vacation to West Virginia, this website is a good tool to help you get started. I’d also be happy to answer any questions any of you might have.

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

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I’m Sorry but I Just Didn’t Love Athens

I had high expectations when I visited Athens, Greece on my way to Crete. I had seen photos of the Acropolis and many other ruins. As a kid, I had read about the Greek gods and Greek mythology. As an adult, I had heard other travelers rave about Greece. Athens had been touted as a thriving city full of history and good food. I couldn’t wait to see it for myself, so of course I planned on spending a few days in Athens en route to Crete, where I would be spending a week.

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Just try to ignore all of the construction and scaffolding all around

Alas, Athens seemed dirty, overly-crowded, and noisy upon first impression. Yes, I understand that Athens is a large urban city, but I don’t think other cities of comparable size are all like this. Some parts of Athens didn’t seem safe and were definitely sketchy. It was also unrelentingly hot, which didn’t help any.

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One of the not-so-great ruins sites in Athens

Some of the ruins were a bit disappointing, too. The Parthenon was covered in scaffolding and the ruins of the Ancient Agora were a bit difficult to find because they were so nondescript. The Acropolis was pretty cool but had crazy-long lines, which isn’t cool when the sun is beating down on you.

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Crowds and scaffolding in Athens- check and check!

We did stay at a nice hotel with a rooftop pool and bar, Melia Athens, so it wasn’t all bad. The food was really good as well and we especially enjoyed the light and flaky pastries from the abundant bakeries around Athens.

Overall, I’d say Greece has much more to offer than what you find in Athens. I felt like when we reached Crete after leaving Athens, it was like being in another country. Crete was full of beautiful scenery, well-maintained historical sites and ruins, and the food was delicious everywhere we went. My daughter fell in love with the yogurt with fresh honey drizzled on top while we were there and still talks about how great that was. Probably my favorite part of Crete, though, was the beaches. We went to several beaches in Crete and loved Elafonissi the best.

Although we didn’t go to any other islands in Greece, I’d happily go back to explore them. I think I’d skip Athens, though!

What about you guys? Have any of you been disappointed in a place you’ve visited?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Travel Meltdowns

Similar to my Racing (Running) Mishaps post, I started looking back to travel meltdowns I have had over the years. One of my biggest travel meltdowns happened many years ago, before all of the security that happened as a result of 9/11. I was flying to the small Bahamian island, Harbour Island, and missed my flight, completely unaware of a time change by the airline until I showed up at the ticket counter.

So let’s go way back to the early 90’s when this travel meltdown happened. This was before smart phones or even cell phones, before everyone checked in online before their flight, when you were issued a paper ticket then just showed up at the airport to check in and check your bags. Continental Airlines, which doesn’t even exist any longer, changed my flight time, moving it up an hour earlier, unbeknownst to me. When I cheerfully told the ticket agent I’d like to check in for my flight to Harbour Island, and she said they just closed the gate and no one could board, I started to panic. “What do you mean I can’t board?” I asked, tears starting to form. I knew flights to this small island were extremely limited so it’s not like I could just wait an hour and board another flight there. In the end, the extremely nice gate agent booked me on a flight on a different airline entirely, which meant I would get to Harbour Island, but instead of arriving around 11 in the morning, I would arrive around 9 pm that evening. It meant I would pretty much miss an entire day on the island, and I was only going there for 3 nights, but still, it was better than waiting until the next day, so I took it.

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Harbour Island; photo credit meteoweb.eu

Many years later, my husband and I had a destination wedding on the island of St. Kitts and we were on the ferry to the island of Nevis for our honeymoon. We had just received a very nice camera as a wedding present from my mother-in-law, which we had used while were at St. Kitts. Pretty early in our ferry ride, my husband was going to take a picture of me when a nice man offered to take a picture of my husband and me together. Just as my husband was handing the camera to the man, the camera slipped, hit the boat, bounced, and never turned on again. It was broken. We wouldn’t have our camera for honeymoon pictures and we didn’t know if the memory card was still intact. I couldn’t help but give the man on the ferry dirty looks the rest of the ferry ride even though I knew it was an accident. When we reached Nisbet Plantation, where we were staying on the island, one of the workers offered to go into town and buy us a disposable camera. So yes, all of our honeymoon pictures were taken with a disposable camera, but at least we have photos!

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Beautiful St. Kitts

Not long after my wedding, I was planning a trip to Italy and realized my passport was still in my maiden name so I would need to change my name on my passport. There was no way I would have time to get it updated and there were no regional passport agencies near where I lived. Again, this was before 9/11 so you didn’t have to put in your passport number when you purchased an airline ticket, like you do now. I had already bought our airline tickets and it was only a couple weeks before our departure when I realized this about my passport. I started to panic, but then I remembered something. Lucky for me, we just so happened to be going to Philadelphia for a half marathon, The Philadelphia Distance Run, and Philadelphia also just so happened to have a regional passport agency. I went there and updated my passport on the spot, and breathed a sigh of relief.

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Beautiful Italy

Over the years, my family and I have also gotten hurt or injured (nothing life-threatening), forgotten items in hotel rooms (we discovered this after getting home), had to run through airports multiple times to get to the gate on time because of delayed connecting flights, gotten stuck at airports because of bad weather, gotten lost driving in strange places more times than I can count, gotten swindled by a taxi driver in Italy, and probably swindled by others more than I realize, and I’m sure there are more incidents that I can’t remember. We’ve been in countries where we barely (and pretty incoherently sometimes) spoke the language and have had to muddle our way through. While none of these experiences were exactly pleasant, they didn’t cause a meltdown either.

My daughter has had so many meltdowns on vacations, I could write a whole book about just that. I remember once when we were standing in a TSA line to go through security at an airport, my daughter was crying (I don’t remember about what) and a nice agent gestured to me to come through another area she just opened up, so we essentially got to go to the front of the line. Sometimes traveling with children can have its upsides even when things look down!

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One of my daughter’s not-so-happy moments. Just look at that face!

In the end, even with all of our travel mishaps and meltdowns, things have always worked out although not exactly what we had in mind originally. We certainly haven’t been deterred by all of this. On the contrary, the more we travel, the more we want to travel. We’ve been shown over and over again, we are resilient and people are generally helpful and honest.

What about you all?  What travel mishaps or meltdowns have you had that stand out in your mind? Please share them!

Happy traveling!

Donna

How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina-Part 1

Once again Charleston, South Carolina was chosen best city to visit in the United States by Travel and Leisure for 2017. In fact, Charleston often makes the top ten list for many travel companies, whether chosen by the editors or readers. However, to make the most of your visit to Charleston, some planning is involved. Hopefully that’s where I come in.

While I don’t claim to be an expert on all things Charleston, I have been there many times through the years, both before kids and with my daughter so I do have the perspective of what young couples and families might be interested in. When it comes to planning a vacation anywhere you first have to ask yourself what are you interested in doing or seeing there. For Charleston, what you do may be dictated by what time of year you go.

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The walk along Battery Park is lovely no matter what time of year it is!

If you’re not familiar with the weather of Charleston, the summers get quite hot and humid. The average highs in July and August are 91 and 89 F and the lows are 73 and 72 F. For someone coming from a much cooler climate, this might be a bit much, even for relaxing by the beach. You might want to wait until October when the average high is 77 and the low is 57. The water would still be warm enough to swim in the ocean this time of year as well. The average highs in December and January are still quite comfortable, at 62 and 59, respectively, with average lows then 40 and 38 F. This is definitely too cold for most people to swim in the ocean and even relax at the beach in a swimsuit, however.  All that being said, my family and I have taken our annual beach trip to Charleston in August several times and we’ve always had a great time but we are from the south, so we’re used to heat and humidity.

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The beaches are very clean with soft sand and dunes scattered about
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Morris Island, an uninhabited island accessible by boat

What if you’re more of a foodie and are primarily interested in partaking in some of the fabulous restaurants that Charleston has to offer and have zero interest in going to the beaches? In that case, November would be lovely, or alternatively you’ll find near identical temperatures in March (70 for the high, 47 for the low). These times of year would also be great if you’re a history buff and are interested in seeing historical sites in the area.

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USS Yorktown at Patriot’s Point

Now that we’ve got time of year down, we can move on to specifics, like where you’ll stay. There are no shortage of hotels and inns, such as the number one rated hotel in 2017 by Travel & Leisure The Vendue. Other highly rated accommodations are Zero GeorgeFrancis Marion Hotelthe Meeting Street Inn, and Governor’s House Inn. There are literally dozens of inns and bed and breakfasts in the area, so if this is where you’d like to stay, there are no shortage of this type of accommodation. Many of the inns are in the heart of the historical district of Charleston, so as you may guess, they are not exactly for the frugal traveler. The advantage of staying in the historical district is you can walk to many restaurants, shops, and art galleries so you don’t  have to worry about parking which can be difficult to find and/or expensive.

If you’re traveling as a family with young children, be advised, some bed and breakfasts do no allow children to stay at their establishments, so a hotel would be a better option. Basically, the further you get from downtown Charleston, the more affordable your accommodations are. However, I do not recommend staying in North Charleston, which is also where the airport and convention center are. North Charleston is very residential (which that alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing) and the stores and restaurants there are generally not independently-owned so you would be spending much of your time in your car to get to places of interest and the better (in my opinion) independently-owned restaurants. Unless you enjoy eating at chain restaurants and shopping at chain stores, in which case, you’d be very happy here.

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City Market

Personally, I like staying in Mount Pleasant, which is located in-between downtown Charleston and the beaches of the area. I’ve stayed in both hotels and Airbnb lodging and was always happy with my choice. No matter if you’re going to historic Charleston, Sullivan’s Island, or Isle of Palm, you won’t be any further than a 20 minute car ride there, and often it’s only about 15 minutes. However, if you have no interest in going to the beaches in the area, I would stay closer to downtown Charleston. Again, there’s no shortage of hotels or Airbnb properties.

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Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge connects Mt. Pleasant and Charleston

Now that we’ve worked out the when to go and where to stay, we’ll move on to where to eat and what to do in my next post.

How many of you have been to Charleston or would like to go there someday? If you have any questions or comments about Charleston, I’d love to hear them!