Rediscovering Abundance in Atlanta: Some of My Favorite Places in Atlanta, Georgia

Over the years Atlanta has been one of those cities that has a certain draw for me and I can’t stay away forever. Unlike most other cities I go to, once just wasn’t enough when it came to Atlanta. I first went to Atlanta when I was in college in the late 90’s and I’ve been back a few times since then. I almost moved there straight after graduate school and most likely would have if I would have gotten a job offer there.

Still, when I go back (as I recently did) I’m always amazed at how much the area has grown since my previous visit. I read a projection that they expect the population of Atlanta to grow to 8.6 million people by 2050 (it’s currently just over half a million). Traffic is insane and you’d be well-advised to take the MARTA public transportation system https://www.itsmarta.com/, primarily the train system although there are buses and streetcars as well. Besides, even if you don’t mind sitting in endless traffic, parking is expensive and hard to find especially in the popular Midtown and Downtown areas.

The MARTA trains are abundant, clean, and safe for the most part. Just learn which line your stop is on and if you need to transfer stations and know which direction you need to go. It’s easy to figure out but I’ve always found friendly and helpful people to ask if I was confused about something or forgot something.

Where to Stay

There is an abundance of hotels, Airbnbs, Bed and Breakfasts, and even an Alpaca Treehouse with llamas, alpacas, bunnies, and chickens (https://www.alpacatreehouse.com/alpaca-treehouse). The most convenient and safest place to stay is in the Midtown or Downtown area although I’ve also stayed just north of Atlanta and that was fine albeit not quite as convenient. Prices range from the super-expensive Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott Marquis, and St. Regis to the moderately-priced Doubletree by Hilton, Sonesta, Hotel Indigo, Radisson to the budget-friendly options like Econo Lodge, Days Inn, Motel 6 and so many more. Often the more expensive places to stay are located close to an array of shops and restaurants so the downside if you stay at a budget-friendly hotel you may have to drive or take public transportation for a bit longer than otherwise. Even more important than saving a few dollars, first and foremost make sure your hotel is in a safe area.

Favorite Places

Likewise, there is an abundance of things to do in Atlanta. Here are some of my favorites with a couple of others thrown in that are popular with other people but just aren’t my thing.

Atlanta Botanical Garden- I’ve been here a couple of times and on my most recent visit I discovered places that I hadn’t seen the first time. It’s funny because they even state on their website: “As the Garden evolves, it’s never the same place twice.” I can attest to that so even if you’ve been before, it’s worth going again. I love the “Garden Guide” feature that you can click, choosing specific things like Family Adventure, Flying Solo, Fresh Art and Music, and more, then click which garden (there’s another in Gainesville), how much time you have, and so forth. https://atlantabg.org/garden-guide/

This is definitely one of the best botanical gardens I’ve been to anywhere in the world and also one of the largest and most comprehensive. Tickets are on the pricey side, starting at $22.95 and up for adults but if you enjoy flowers and nature, I feel like it’s worth it. Most people spend a couple of hours here, especially if you don’t stop to have lunch or dinner at the cafe (which is good but also on the pricey side if you get table service).

Fernbank Museum– the tagline is “Where Science, Nature, and Fun Make History” and this is a perfect description of the museum. There are indoor exhibits such as Fantastic Forces, A Walk Through Time in Georgia, Curator’s Corner; outdoor exhibits such as WildWoods, Fernbank Forest, Rain Garden; and temporary as well as permanent special exhibits such as Sky High focusing on birds, Habitat where you can see sculptures and explore four different biomes. Plus you can watch a movie on a giant screen for a bit extra. As a scientist and nature- and history-lover, this place is just heaven to me and worth every penny for the $20 admission. https://fernbankmuseum.org/

The Fernbank Museum

Georgia Aquarium– this is the largest aquarium in the world, whether you’re measuring by number of fish or volume of water. I really like how their exhibits are laid out, for example take the Aquanaut Adventure: A Discovery Zone. This has 49 kid adventures, more than 15 species, and one rope bridge. Here you can learn about aquatic life in extreme environments. In other words, you don’t just walk by tanks filled with fish and other animals, you learn about the animals and gain an appreciation for aquatic animals and the research marine scientists do.

The Georgia Aquarium is heavily invested in research and conservation, a fact that I love. There are also several behind-the-scenes encounters you can pay extra for, which is great if you especially love, say, penguins, seals, or sea lions. Plus, there are many educational programs, both online and in-person, in addition to volunteer programs, programs for military and veterans, and even virtual yoga. Tickets for adults are $36.95 and includes access to all the Aquarium galleries, 4D Theater shows, general-seating Dolphin Presentation, Sea Lion Presentation and supports ocean conservation. https://www.georgiaaquarium.org/

Atlanta History Center– not only is there historical information on events that specifically took place in Atlanta, like the 1996 Olympics, but there are also displays on national events like the 19th Amendment, the American Civil War, and so much more. In my opinion, this is one of the best history centers in the United States and ranks up there with the Smithsonian museums as far as quality and quantity. The outside grounds are also worth checking out, with 33 acres of gardens, woodlands, and trails. You can also have lunch at the Swan Coach House on the grounds of the Swan Mansion and try some quintessential Southern fare like pimento cheese grit fritters, chicken salad tea sandwiches, mint juleps, and homemade pecan pie. https://www.atlantahistorycenter.com/visit

Stone Mountain Park- located in Stone Mountain, Georgia, about 30 minutes from Atlanta is Georgia’s most-visited attraction. Located on 3200 acres of land, you can find trails that range from short and easy to longer and more difficult. One of the toughest trails is also one of the most popular, the Walk Up Trail; even though it’s only a mile, it goes straight up the mountain, much of it on stone, with the steepest parts near the pinnacle. If you’re not able or just don’t want to hike that steep of a trail, you can take a cable car to the top (Summit Skyride) for a fee.

Cherokeee Trail is one of the longer trails, at 5 miles and it meanders along past water views and through the woods. You can also see a 100-year-old Grist Mill (although you can’t go inside) and the Quarry Exhibit to see how the park was made with photos and outdoor displays plus there are extra activities for children that require a ticket. If you plan to just hike around the park for the day, entry is free except for the parking fee. There are a few options for staying inside the park, ranging from a campground with over 400 sites, Stone Mountain Inn, and a Marriott hotel. The MARTA public transportation stops about 1/2 mile from the park’s West Gate or you can take an Uber from Atlanta if you don’t have a car. https://www.stonemountainpark.com/

The bottom right photo is the very last section of the Walk Up Trail, straight up a rock face!

World of Coca-Cola– as you might imagine this museum showcases all things about the Coca-Cola Company. I’ll admit, I’ve never been here, as I’ve never been a big fan of Coca-Cola or any soda for that matter, but I know it’s popular. There are artifacts, a bottling display, a tasting experience (that’s been altered for COVID safety), and more. Most people spend a couple of hours here. Tickets for adults are $18. https://www.worldofcoca-cola.com/plan-your-visit/

Zoo Atlanta- with over 1000 animal species and the only twin giant pandas in the United States, this is a nice way to spend a morning, especially if you have young children but even if you don’t. You can find the usual zoo offerings like behind-the-scenes encounters, giraffe feedings, train rides, and wildlife presentations. The zoo is also actively involved in research and conservation programs around the world. Tickets start at $26.99 for adults and $20.99 for children. https://zooatlanta.org/visit/

Money-saving Tip: If you plan on doing a few of these activities, you should consider buying an Atlanta CityPass. For $77 for adults and $63 for children you will get entry to 5 attractions including Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, and Zoo Atlanta plus 2 more attractions that you can choose from Fernbank of Natural History, College Football Hall of Fame, and National Center for Civil and Human Rights. It could potentially save you 45% off ticket prices if you purchased them separately. You have nine consecutive days to use the pass beginning on the first day of use. https://www.citypass.com/atlanta

Favorite Foods and Restaurants

I would be remiss to not include some of my favorite restaurants in Atlanta. Again, there is an abundance of truly over-the-top restaurants scattered all around the Atlanta area. The ones I’m going to list here also rank high on lists like Yelp (because I know food choices can be subjective).

Let’s play “Find the item that doesn’t belong here”

South City Kitchen– Southern food at its best: shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, collard greens, Carolina trout are some of my favorites.

Local Expedition Wood Fired Grill– technically not in Atlanta but two locations on the outskirts, Sandy Springs and Alpharetta. Fresh, made-to-order at the counter with choice of protein, sides, rice or salad, or you can get wraps or salads. Great if you’re in a hurry but want something healthy.

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken– besides Atlanta, locations in Nashville, Memphis, Birmingham, and Las Vegas. I ate at one of the Nashville locations first and have since tried the Atlanta location. The chicken is tender and juicy and hot but not too much spice to be enjoyable.

Aviva by Kameel– Mediterranean food. Excellent shawarma, hummus, and falafel.

Atlanta Breakfast Club– need I say more?

Ice Cream Places- we seemed to get on an ice cream kick when we were in Minnesota prior to going to Atlanta recently. Some places we enjoyed include: Amorino Gelato (in Lenox Square), Morelli’s Gourmet Ice Cream (so creamy), and Frosty Caboose in a converted train caboose in nearby Chamblee (the green tea ice cream sundae with crystallized ginger and a fortune cookie on top is genius).

Atlanta is definitely a city where you can pop in for a long weekend or you could stay a week and there would still be plenty to do. Another thing of note is it does get hot and humid during the summer, as does the rest of the Southeast in the US. If you’re not used to sticky hot summer weather, the fall or spring would be more comfortable, or even the winter. The lows in the winter hovers around the mid-30’s and the highs are around the mid-50’s so it’s still not too cold to walk around outside.

Have you been to Atlanta, Georgia? If so, tell me about it- what did you do and what were some of your favorite things?

Happy travels!

Donna

Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta- My First 10k in 19 Years!

When I saw that in-person races were going to happen for 2021, I began to register for half marathons in my remaining three states from my quest to run a half in all 50 states. On a whim and in the spirit of being more spontaneous, as part of my Running Resolutions for 2021, I decided to enter the lottery for the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, Georgia. Much to my surprise and delight, not only did I get in the race but my teenage daughter also got in.

The Peachtree Road Race first began in 1970 and has grown to the largest 10k in the world. It was cancelled for the first time ever in 2020 because of COVID-19. The Atlanta Track Club helps put on the race and they decided to divide the race into two days for 2021, with half of the runners on July 3 and the other half including elite runners on July 4. When the lottery was open for applicants, I could choose which day I wanted to run as my first choice and which day was my second choice. Thinking I might have a better chance of getting in if I chose July 3, that was my plan, and apparently it worked.

I received what seemed like a dozen emails with race logistics such as how to get to the expo, course maps, links to the MARTA light rail system, COVID-19 information, and more. Going into the race, I felt extremely prepared and comfortable thanks to all of the information I had in advance. Although I had been to Atlanta a few times before, I still would have felt prepared going into the race because of the excellent communication from the race staff.

The Expo

The Expo was held June 26 and 27 and July 1 and 2 at the Georgia World Congress Center Exhibit Hall C2 in Atlanta starting in the morning and going to the afternoon each day. You had to register for a time slot in advance online. Since I was driving in from North Carolina on July 2, I chose the 2-3 pm time that day and decided to take the MARTA from my hotel. This all turned out to be wise decisions because I ran into traffic getting into Atlanta and by the time I got to the Expo, it was 2:45. I could have driven to the Expo but parking was $20 or $17 if you paid in advance through the race website and I knew traffic in that part of Atlanta would be a nightmare, especially on a holiday weekend. For those of you that may be interested, the closest MARTA stop to Hall C of the GWCC is Vine City, not the Dome-GWCC-Philips Arena-CNN Station, as one might think.

When I arrived at the Expo, I first picked up my race bib as well as my daughter’s race bib, then someone checked both of our vaccination cards and put a sticker of an orange on both of our bibs (signifying we were vaccinated, which came into play on race day), and finally I walked around to see what else was being offered. There were shirts from previous Peachtree Road Races being sold for $5 as well as shirts for the 2021 race at a higher price, Mizuno was selling shoes, the airline Delta was there (they were a sponsor), representatives from the Atlanta Track Club were there, there was a stand set up to sell reloadable Breeze cards for the MARTA and answer questions about that, and there were people walking around answering questions about the race in general. I was surprised there wasn’t a single sample being given out, but I believe that was because of COVID.

Race Day

Runners were asked to submit proof of a recent 5k or 10k in order to be placed in an earlier wave and coinciding earlier start time. Since I hadn’t run an official 5k or 10k in nearly 20 years, I submitted a time from a virtual 5k from Strava that I ran last summer and a time for my daughter from a cross country race she ran last fall. Much to my surprise, both were accepted and she was put in Wave B, while I was put in Wave C (as you probably surmise, it started with Wave A and ran through the alphabet, going to I on July 3 and L on July 4). That meant she had a start time of 6:30 and mine was 6:40. Perfect.

We decided to head to the MARTA station near our hotel at 6:00, which gave us plenty of time to get to the Lenox station, even with a transfer from the red line to the gold line. The weather at 6:30 was fantastic especially given it was in a city sometimes affectionately called “Hotlanta,” with temperatures in the low to mid 60’s and relatively low humidity. When we got close to the start corrals, there was a barrier set up with volunteers checking for the sticker of an orange on bibs. Since we had them on ours, we were allowed to go straight to the start waves but unvaccinated people had to go the other direction to get screened, which I believe meant temperature checks and the usual COVID-related questions.

Each wave was separated by 10 minutes to help with social distancing and we were told to spread out within our wave. The race course was along Peachtree Road, starting at Phipps Plaza and going to Piedmont Park. All roads were closed to traffic for the race, a feat I can’t imagine in a city of that size.

There were five water stations and several places on the course where there was music of some sort. A priest from a local church was throwing holy water on runners who wanted it at one point and I saw a couple of places where people were giving out water or other things like cut-up watermelon and handing it out to runners. Because of COVID, the water at the water stations was in single-use plastic bottles, meaning you had to unscrew the top to open it, something I didn’t really want to do so I skipped water on the course.

There is a hill that’s nicknamed “Cardiac Hill,” and I was aware of it going into the race but I wasn’t aware there would also be a couple of other hills on the course. Normally hills aren’t my strong spot but I was able to power through every hill in this race, which I was proud of, especially when I saw so many other runners walking up the hills. Maybe my hilly half marathon in Minnesota the week before helped.

I should also say I felt really good going into this race, even though it was only my second 10k ever with my first 10k in 2002 and a finish time of 56:49. For this race, my split times were 8:36, 8:02, 7:42, 8:41 (uphill), 8:39 (uphill), 8:14 (partial hill), and my final 0.2 was at 7:40 so I had a good kick left in me at the end. My final time was 52:27 (an average 8:27 pace), which put me at 3441 out of 24,228 overall, 771 out of 11,417 females, and 67 out of 1240 in my age group. I couldn’t have been happier.

My daughter had been struggling with a niggling Achilles problem she’s had for a couple of years so she had to slow down a bit during the race and I actually passed her towards the end, which made it easier to get together at the finish. There were a couple of family meeting places set up at the finish that we had agreed to meet at had I not caught up with her on the course. We received cotton/polyester blend t-shirts that were bundled up with a Clif Nut Butter Bar and a Publix Apple Fruit Squeeze inside. There was also water, Gatorade, and Coca Cola products. You had the option of purchasing a medal in advance, which I chose not to do but had a bit of FOMO when I saw someone with one.

The one thing I really wished they had at the finish was chairs and I heard other runners saying the same thing. There was plenty of grass since we were at a park but it was all wet with dew so we found an asphalt path and sat there until we felt like heading out for the long walk to the MARTA station (there was one close by but because of the race finish, it was closed so we had to walk what felt like 20 minutes but I didn’t time it so I can’t be sure to get to the next-closest station). Before we left though, we stopped by the medical station to get some ice for my daughter, which a volunteer taped to her calf and that helped relieve some of the pain.

Final Thoughts

Would I recommend this race? Absolutely, without hesitation. I loved the race and loved to be a part of the largest 10k in the world. It was well-organized from pre-race to post-race, had amazing volunteers everywhere, and had a fun vibe. When I was running this race, I had so much fun the miles flew by. It felt good to run fast and to run with a crowd again and I realized how much I had missed in-person racing.

Even though I had just run the Circle of Life Half Marathon, Lake City, Minnesota- 48th state literally one week before this race, the one in Minnesota couldn’t have been more different from this race. That race had less than 100 people running the half marathon, while this one had over 24,000 runners spread over two days (I believe there were around 11,000 on July 3 when I ran it). I ran the vast majority of the race in Minnesota by myself, with farmland for scenery and the occasional aid station with a few volunteers handing out water. The Peachtree was full of people everywhere going through a big city, although the crowd thinned out pretty quickly after the first mile so I had plenty of room to run, hundreds of volunteers, multiple aid stations, music on the course, and a definite party vibe. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the half marathon but it was nothing like this race.

Here is a link to the race website: https://www.atlantatrackclub.org/peachtree

Have you run the Peachtree Road Race? If so, what was your experience like? Do you want to run it but haven’t been able to get in the lottery?

Happy running!

Donna

Dreaming of Travel- If You Could Travel Anywhere, Where Would You Go?

Even before the pandemic and wasn’t able to travel, I would sometimes daydream about travel. Do any of you do that (perhaps more so now than before)? Something I was reading recently prompted me to think about the following questions. If you could travel to any state in the United States that you’ve never been to, where would it be? Let’s pretend we don’t have COVID-19 to worry about. Of course all expenses would be paid for and you’d have plenty of vacation time to take from work (plus all other logistics would be taken care of). On the flip side, if you could travel to any state in the United States that you’ve already been to, where would it be?

For me, I’ve been to 47 states in the US already so that leaves only 3 that I haven’t been to, so my options for states I haven’t been to are pretty slim. Still, I would choose New Mexico, which I have plans to go to in November. My other options are Iowa and Minnesota, by the way, and I am excited about going to them too (yes, even Iowa that doesn’t get much travel love). I really enjoy hiking in the mountains and New Mexico has plenty of great hiking plus I hear the food there is fantastic.

So now what state would I go to that I’ve already been to? That’s a really tough question for me. I absolutely love California and would happily go back there given any opportunity. I still haven’t been to Monterrey or Big Sur and am dying to go to that part of California. I would love to go back to Yosemite, Napa Valley, San Francisco, or San Diego as well. Oregon is another state that I loved and am dying to go back to spend some time in Portland and the coast. Or there’s Washington, where I’d love to go to some of the islands off the coast like Whidbey or Bainbridge Islands. I’ve been to San Juan Island in addition to Seattle and loved both of those parts of Washington. I’m also dying to go to Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. I was going to run a half marathon there until I found out how hilly it is and then I decided to run a race in Boise instead, and we spent some time there after the race. Oh, then there’s Utah with its many national parks. I’ve been to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks but really want to go to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Do I have to pick just one state? Yes, I know, rules are rules.

bixby bridge
Big Sur- Photo by Kelsey Johnson on Pexels.com

OK. I pick Monterrey and Big Sur in California for my state to go back to that I’ve already been to. That was a tough one. California is one state that I’ve visited the most number of times (tied with Florida) and like I said, I’m always happy to return there. A few years back, my family and I spent three weeks in San Diego, checking out the area to see if it’s a place where my husband and I might want to retire to. If it wasn’t so expensive, the answer would be a resounding yes but we’re looking to cut back our expenses when we retire, not increase them, so I just couldn’t justify retiring there.

Now what about other countries? If you could go to one country that you’ve never been to, which would it be? For me, that’s also a pretty tough question. Since I first heard about the country of Georgia, I’ve wanted to go there. I’ve heard the mountains there are amazing, the food is delicious, and the people are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. What’s not to like about that? Flights there aren’t the cheapest, as you might imagine, but if all expenses are paid for, then that doesn’t matter, right?

georgia
Republic of Georgia

Georgia isn’t the only country I want to go to, as you might imagine. I also badly want to go to Slovenia, Croatia, Vancouver in Canada (although I’ve been to Canada a couple of times so that’s not a new country for me), Thailand, Panama, Ecuador, and Montenegro for starters. Portugal has always been high on my list of places I want to go to, and I may be able to go there this year if all of the stars align but like everything else right now, I’ll have to wait and see how things go. Back to my question, though, or more accurately, back to my answer for what country would I choose if I could go anywhere that I haven’t been? I have to say Georgia.

What about choosing a country to return to that I’ve been to before? Without any hesitation, my answer is New Zealand. It’s got to be the most biodiverse country that I’ve ever seen. You want beaches? You can choose from black, tan, or white sandy beaches. Want geothermal areas? They’ve got that. Glaciers? Check. Giant Redwood trees? Yep, that too. Mountains? Of course. Rainforests? You’ve got it. Swamp forests, Grasslands, multiple types of wetlands? Yes, yes, and yes. And all of the diversity I saw was just in the North Island of New Zealand! I’d really like to go back and visit the South Island. If someone else was paying my way there, I wouldn’t have to worry about forking out for that expensive flight either!

DSC02692
The North Island, New Zealand

Now it’s your turn:

  1. What state would you go to that you’ve never been to and why?
  2. What state would you choose to return to?
  3. What country that you’ve never been to would you choose?
  4. What country would you choose to return to?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Itinerary Ideas for First-Timers to the United States- East Coast

As an American who has visited all but 8 of the states in the United States, take it from me, the US is a huge country. The entire continent of Europe is roughly the same size as the United States, to put things into perspective. Imagine driving from one end of Europe to the other end or even half of Europe in a week or two. That’s crazy, right? But yet some people come to the United States for the first time with the intention to drive across the United States, only to wind up spending most of their time in the car. There’s got to be a better way.

Here are some of my recommendations for a week-long itinerary in the United States, east coast only. If you have more than a week, add on days to either or both destination, according to your interests.

1) For the city-lover:  begin in New York City. With a population of over 8.6 million people, New York City is definitely a city with a lot to do and see. I’m not going to give recommendations for things to do and see in New York City, but I recommend staying here 4 or 5 days, depending on what you want to see and do. The noise and traffic can be a bit much for some people, so if you know you prefer to move on to a smaller area, I’d cut the time spent in New York to 3 days but wouldn’t go any less than that.

IMG_0260
Statue of Liberty- book your ticket several months in advance if you want to go to the top!

If you are a history buff, you can fly, drive a rental car, or take a train to Washington, D.C. There is an Amtrak train that will get you there in an hour less than it takes to drive (3 hours via train vs. 4 hours driving) and flying isn’t any faster, so I would recommend taking the train. Parking in both New York City and Washington, D.C. is expensive and difficult to find, not to mention the headache of simply driving in these hugely congested areas.

I suggest spending 2 or 3 days in Washington, D.C. As in New York City, public transportation is the best way to get around. The metro in Washington, D.C. can take you to the Smithsonian museums quickly and easily. I highly recommend spending time at the Smithsonian Museums, which are made up of 19 museums, galleries, gardens, and a zoo, all of which offer free admission. There are of course also the monuments and memorials you can admire on the National Mall. Most of the monuments and memorials are free or have a nominal fee. Check online to see if you need a ticket and if so buy it in advance.

2) For the history and nature-lover:  begin in Boston, Massachusetts. Boston is considerably smaller both in land mass and population than New York City and may be an easier transition for some people, especially those that don’t like large crowds. Boston has around 700,000 people but still has plenty to do and is also a great choice if you enjoy history. Again, I would recommend just using public transportation and walking to get around Boston. Although you could easily spend more time in Boston, 3 days would be a good amount to see the highlights.

From Boston, rent a car and drive up the coast to Maine. It’s a pretty long drive, at about 4 hours, 45 minutes. If you want to break up the drive, stop at Portland and spend the night here. Portland is full of great restaurants and nice places to stay. Your ultimate destination will be Bar Harbor, home to Acadia National Park. You could easily spend a week just in Acadia National Park, but if you’re only spending a week total in the US, you’ll have about 4 days here if you spend 3 days in Boston. You could also fly from Boston to Bar Harbor in about an hour, but honestly, the drive along the coast from Boston is worth it in my opinion.

20140718_111401-2
The beautiful coastline of Maine

3) For a beach experience and party scene:  fly into Miami, Florida. Miami is famous for its beautiful beaches, great food, and bar scene. If you like to hang out at the beach all day and party all night, Miami is the spot for you. Everglades National Park is also nearby if you want to take a ride through the Everglades in an airboat for a unique experience. Spend 5 days in Miami before heading to your next destination, Key West.

Key West is about 3 1/2 hours by car from Miami, although it could take longer if you stop at the many other little “keys” along the way. You can fly from Miami to Key West in 45 minutes if you are in a hurry, but if you want a memorable road trip, drive the Overseas Highway across a 113-mile chain of coral and limestone islands connected by 42 bridges, one of them seven miles long. Key West has a laid-back kind of feel, which may be a relief after the more upbeat party scene of Miami. Chill at the beaches and bars in Key West for 2 days before heading back home.

IMG_3945
One of many gorgeous sunsets we saw while in the keys!

4) To skip the bigger cities for a smaller-town feel:  fly into Atlanta, Georgia. Although Atlanta is a fun town and you could spend a few days here, for your first time to the United States, I suggest renting a car and driving the roughly 4 1/2 hours to Charleston, South Carolina. You could also fly into Charleston but flights from Europe will be cheaper if you fly into Atlanta. If you don’t have a driver’s license or can’t rent a car, by all means fly into Charleston instead. Charleston has consistently ranked number one city by Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, and for good reason. Charleston is a foodie destination, has beautiful beaches with soft, powder-fine sand, is full of historical sites, and has quaint bed & breakfasts as well as the usual hotels and Airbnb offerings. Spend 5 days in Charleston before moving on to your next destination, Savannah, Georgia.

DSC03766
Powder white, soft sandy beach in the Charleston area

It’s about a 2 hour drive from Charleston to Savannah. To me, Savannah is like the little sister to Charleston, in many ways. Savannah is a foodie destination, has beautiful beaches at Tybee Island, has many fun historical sites, all of which Charleston has, but Savannah hasn’t quite reached the level of “stardom” that Charleston has, for some reason. I suggest spending 2 days in Savannah before heading back and flying back out of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, about 3 1/2 hours away by car.

Those are my top east-coast destinations for first-timers to the United States. There are of course many more but I had to draw the line somewhere!

What about my American east-coasters? What east coast travel destinations would you recommend to first-timers coming to the US?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

The Top of My Travel Bucket List

I feel like I’ve traveled a lot in the United States but not nearly as much throughout the rest of the world. Sometimes I envy people in Europe because they have so many other countries at their fingertips. I’ve only recently been to Chile, my first adventure in South America and I’ve never been to Asia, Africa, or Antarctica, which means I’ve been to four continents. This also means there are a whole lot of places I’d like to go to. I’m only going to give details here about the top three places on my bucket list, otherwise this post would be way too long!

One place I’m extremely curious about is the Canary Islands. It’s kind of funny because I’ve never been to Spain but I want to go to the Canary Islands, which are a Spanish archipelago off the coast of Africa. Some people might ask, “Why aren’t you going to Spain? Why the Canary Islands instead?” I guess my family and I just don’t travel like most Americans. We don’t go to Disney every summer or the same beach house every summer. We don’t always go to the usual hot spots (although we have been to many of the more popular places too including Disney); we like to veer off the beaten path a bit, however. I have no doubt I will eventually go to mainland Spain, but it’s just not a priority on my travel bucket list right now.

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 12.43.06 PM
Canary Islands- photo credit theculturetrip.com

So why the Canary Islands? The weather for starters. The Canary Islands have near-perfect weather year-round, perfect for spending time outdoors. Each of the islands are also diverse from one another, with subtropical greenery on one island, another has mountains and waterfalls, another has lava fields, and still another has plains and cacti. There are of course the beaches but I’m looking way beyond lying on the sand all day. I’m looking forward to hiking and exploring all day, then maybe relaxing by the water with a cocktail in the evening. Now that’s my idea of a perfect day.

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 12.51.50 PM
Photo credit thomson.co.uk

I’d also love to go to the country Georgia. I’ve heard other people rave about how beautiful it is, how friendly the people are, how delicious the food is, and how affordable it is. It’s no secret I love mountains, and the bigger the better. The highest mountain range in Europe is actually in Georgia (not the Alps). The Caucasus Mountains, which separate Georgia from Russia, look stunning.

georgia
Georgia- photo by David Jafaridze

Gergeti-Trinity-Georgia.-620x465
Photo credit:  YourAmazingPlaces.com

Another place that most Americans probably aren’t dying to go to but I am is Malta. This is another place similar to the Canary Islands where the weather is (almost) perfect year-round. The lows in the winter are only around 55 F and the highs in the summer average around 90 F, so the summers are a bit hot, but nothing too terrible, this coming from someone who hates winter but loves summer. Malta is an archipelago off the coast of Sicily full of diverse history, great food, gorgeous beaches, and beautiful architecture. An advantage of going to Malta is the majority of people speak English, so other than a few key words and phrases, I won’t need to learn Maltese.

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 1.03.47 PM
Malta- photo credit davidsbeenhere.com

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 1.06.58 PM
Photo credit slh.com

There are so many other places in the world I’d love to go to and I have no doubt I will eventually go there. Some of those places include Uruguay, Montenegro, Croatia, South Island of New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, England, France, Ireland, Thailand, and Japan, for starters. I’m always discovering new places and/or hearing about places I’ve never been and my interest will be piqued.

What about you all? What’s at the top of your bucket list? Have any of you been to the Canary Islands, Malta, or Georgia and have tips or suggestions for me?

A Total Solar Eclipse is Coming- Plan Your Road Trip Now!

Something is going to happen in parts of the United States on August 21, 2017 that hasn’t happened since 1918. A total eclipse is going to occur when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, resulting in a 170 mile arc of darkness from parts of Oregon to parts of South Carolina. For several minutes, the sky will be dark enough to see stars and the sun will be completely covered by the moon.

For something so rare, it’s a perfect occasion for a road-trip, like my family is planning. It seems many others are also planning on visiting these places at the center of totality, as places are filling up fast. You will be able to see a partial eclipse from many other points of the US, but if you want to be in the center of all of the excitement, here are some places where you can spend a long weekend and join in the fun.

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 4.02.10 PM

Here are the states and cities with the best viewing spots:  Oregon has several cities; Driggs, Mud Lake, Rexburg, and Stanley, Idaho; several cities in Wyoming; several cities in Nebraska; Highland, Troy, and Wathena, Kansas; several cities in Missouri; several places in Illinois; several cities in Kentucky; several cities that are close but not at the center in Tennessee; Dillard and Sky Valley in Georgia; Andrews in North Carolina; and many places in South Carolina. The full listing is on this extensive web page. Some cities are close to the edge of the path but you’ll see more if you drive 30-50 miles north or south. In this case, close won’t be good enough. You really have to be in the center of the path to see the total eclipse.

One of the best places to find exactly where the path will go is on Xavier Jubier’s 2017 Total Eclipse Interactive Google Map. This very detailed web page also has basic information describing the eclipse and why this one is so special. There are also viewing times listed, many maps, and information on how to prepare for the eclipse.

The highlight of the eclipse when the sun is completely blocked by the moon will be quick, so make sure you get to your spot early. For most cities, totality will only last around 2 or 3 minutes. The complete event going from one end of the United States to the other is only expected to last less than 15 minutes. It should be a once in a lifetime experience, however.

Don’t forget to get some eclipse glasses, but you don’t need to invest huge amounts of money for them. They shouldn’t cost more than a few dollars for a pair. Regular sunglasses or homemade eclipse glasses won’t protect your eyes, so definitely buy a pair made specifically for an eclipse.

The next eclipse of this magnitude in the United States isn’t predicted to occur until 2045, so don’t wait around for the next one to happen. Make your plans now while you still can!

 

 

Run the Reagan Half Marathon, Georgia-14th state

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4028

Run the Reagan Half Marathon