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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 George, Francis Marion Hotel, the 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.
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.
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!
I recently ran a half marathon in Morristown, New Jersey and decided to check out the area for a few days before the race. Although I have been to New Jersey a few other times, I had never been to this particular part of the state. Morristown is about an hour to hour and a half from New York City, depending on traffic and it’s a very beautiful area full of huge houses, farmland, and trees and flowers everywhere.
We had a rental car that we picked up at Newark Airport, so we could explore the city easily. When we first arrived, we were looking for a restaurant for lunch but had wandered into a residential area and saw enormous homes with huge lawns that must have cost millions of dollars. There were rolling hills and beautiful gardens everywhere, which seemed fitting given the state nickname is “The Garden State.”
On our first day we pretty much just walked around and took in the sights and got our bearings. The following day we went to the Ellis Island Museum and Statue of Liberty, my first time to either. Between the drive to Liberty Station and back, taking the ferry, and touring the museum and statue, that was pretty much a full day for us. We returned to our hotel, Best Western Plus, which was great. They have large rooms with small kitchens, wine tastings Monday through Wednesday, a Caribbean-themed restaurant, and a good central location. We really enjoyed the made-to-order omelette station for breakfast in the mornings.
We decided to check out Fosterfields Living Historical Farm in Morris Township for something a little different. The 1920s farm sits on over 200 acres and includes the Gothic revival style home built in 1854, although it has been a working farm since 1760. Previous owners include Jonathan Ogden, followed by the grandson of Paul Revere, General Joseph Warren Revere, and later the Foster family. There are docents walking around the grounds dressed in period clothing and performing tasks similar to what would have been done when it was still a working farm.
There are pigs, cows, sheep, horses, chickens, and turkeys, some of which may have babies there if you’re lucky like we were. My daughter and husband took part in weighing the piglets using a scale that would have been used by the Foster family. I don’t know how many of you have ever been around piglets but they are really loud when they squeal! There are also cow milking demonstations and you can help grind the corn and feed the chickens, churn butter, and collect eggs. This farm is great if you have young to tween age children because of all of the hands-on experiences.
If you want to go inside the Willows, the Foster family home, you have to pay extra and take an hour-long tour. You can go inside the small cottage near the Willows, however, for no extra fee. There is a lovely flower garden in front of the cottage as well. Finally, there is a transportation exhibit full of antique automobiles.
You can easily spend a couple of hours here. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for kids ages 4-16, $2 for children 2 and 3. Children 2 and under are free. This is a fun way to spend some time with your family and let your kids see what farm life was like in the early 1900’s.
My half marathon was the following day so that took up the morning. We went to Swiss Chalet Bakery & Cafe for lunch and had some paninis followed by some dessert. My daughter got this adorable cupcake which was almost too cute to eat.
Finally we drove back to the airport to begin our next adventure- our first time to South America, beginning in Santiago, Chile.
How many of you are like me and think New Jersey gets a bad rap? The parts I’ve been to have been very nice. Sure, there are bad sections, but every state has some bad sections.
For anyone planning a trip to San Diego, California make sure you include Point Loma in your plans. This area has many things to offer and is definitely one of my favorite areas of San Diego. First off, the location is fantastic. You are within a short drive to most other parts of San Diego. More importantly, the views are amazing from a couple of spots in Point Loma. Sunset Cliffs is in a close race with Cabrillo National Monument for best view.
Point Loma Peninsula and Coronado peninsula make up San Diego Bay. Point Loma is bordered by the Pacific Ocean, the San Diego Bay, Old Town, and the San Diego River. The Point Loma surrounding area is close to the airport and has easy access to I-5 and I-8 freeways. There are many hotels in this area in all price ranges.
Cabrillo National Monument:
The Cabrillo National Monument honors Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who landed in the San Diego Bay in 1542. There are amazing views of downtown, Coronado Beach, and the surrounding areas. You can see the lighthouse that once stood guard off the coast of San Diego and learn about some history associated with it. The Fort Rosecrans national cemetery is also nearby and is a somber reminder of the many men and women who have died for our country.
Be sure to check online before you go to Cabrillo National Monument to see when low tide will be and get there as soon as it’s low tide. You can see anemones, crabs, barnacles, and other sea creatures as you wade around in the water. Just make sure you plan on leaving by 4:30 because that’s when the monument that includes the lighthouse closes. There is a $10 admission fee that is waived if you have a National Parks Pass.
For Shopping and Dining:
Liberty Station is a converted military station full of unique shops, restaurants, breweries, and the awesome Liberty Public Market. I was surprised at how big both Liberty Station and Liberty Public Market are. We went thinking we would have lunch then check out a store or two but ended up going through several shops and bought some really cute things. Our lunch at the Fig Tree Cafe was excellent and I recommend it. There are also many art galleries and studios at Liberty Station.
Walk Along Sunset Cliffs for the Views:
Last but not least there is the stunning Sunset Cliffs neighborhood in Point Loma. There is a small walking path along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, with sheer cliffs going down to the beach or ocean on the other side. Although it is safe for the most part, the cliffs are unstable in areas and people have fallen to their death or been seriously injured so caution is warranted. You can also explore Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, a 68-acre city park on the western edge of Point Loma. I loved Sunset Cliffs so much I wrote an entire post just on the area. You can read about it here: A Must Do in San Diego, Sunset Cliffs.
Other Things to Do and Seasonal Activities:
Harbor Island is a small strip of land in Point Loma where you can check out the boat parade of lights in December, fireworks on the 4th of July, and America’s Cup boat race. During the rest of the year it’s a nice spot for a picnic, a walk along the shoreline path, or to view the skyline at night. If it’s a fishing trip that interests you, Shelter Island is a good place to leave for that. Many whale watching excursions also depart from here in the summer and fall.
No matter what your interest may be from shopping to viewing nature to playing in the ocean or just having a relaxing picnic with a gorgeous view, there’s something for everyone at Point Loma.
On a recent vacation to San Diego I found myself in an unusual predicament: what do you do if it’s raining? With so many activities geared towards the outdoors, what are your options if the weather actually isn’t its usual perfect?
Balboa Park seems to be the most obvious choice, with its collection of 15 museums, you could easily spend a rainy day at one or two of them. We started out at Fleet Science Center and even though it was a Tuesday, the place was packed. Apparently everyone else had the same idea. Finding a parking spot took about 20 minutes and a lot of circling around.
First Stop: Fleet Science Center
Fleet Science Center is a hands-on science museum with more than 100 exhibits. There are two floors and while the main floor was a mad house with kids running everywhere, there was an area we found to be much quieter, “Cellular Journey.” Here you could learn about human cells and cellular research. My daughter enjoyed the virtual reality exhibit “Journey inside a Cell.” She enjoyed the main exhibit area as well despite how crowded it was. There are the usual displays such as using marbles to teach about physics and spinning discs on a moving surface. You can also learn about San Diego’s water sources or build structures with blocks.
We spent 2 and a half hours here with the basic admission which costs $19.95 for adults and $16.95 for children ages 3 -12 at the gate. If your child has received an “A” in science or math in the past 3 months, bring in their report card for free admission. For an extra $10 per person you can see the special exhibit, “The Art of the Brick,” with more than 100 sculptures made from Legos. This is at Fleet Science Center through January 2017 but we did not go. We also did not go to the Fit-a-Brick Build Zone, Tinkering Studio, or Kid City (for kids 5 and under), all of which would have extended our time there.
Second Stop (after lunch): Museum of Man
After a delicious lunch at the nearby cafe Panama 66, we decided to go to the Museum of Man. We added on the special exhibit “Cannibals: Myth and Reality” for a total of $20 for adults and $12.50 for children up to age 12. The Museum of Man is unlike any other museum I have been to and I really enjoyed it. There was a touring exhibit, Beerology, on the history of beer around the world that was fun and interesting. Race: Are We So Different is a unique perspective about the human race. Monsters is a display about real and make-believe monsters around the world. There are also pretty extensive Mayan and Egyptian galleries. Plus there is an anthropology exhibit “Footsteps through Time” that was nicely done.
“Cannibals: Myth and Reality” were worth the extra price for tickets. The exhibit covered everything from cannibals in popular media such as movies and books to evidence of cannibalism in English royalty. There is information on how they used body parts for medicine and how the definition of cannibalism became misconstrued. We played the “Donner Trail” game to see what we would have done if we were one of the early travelers to Oregon and conditions became so poor we were stranded and starving.
We spent about 3 hours at the Museum of Man. You can also go up in the tower for an additional $22.50 for adults and $16 for children ages 6 to 12. If you take the California Tower Tour at the Museum of Man be prepared to climb 125 stairs in 40 minutes. In return you will have views of the rest of Balboa Park including the zoo, downtown San Diego and the bay, Coronado Peninsula, and as far as Baja California and Mexico.
If you plan on spending shorter periods of time in museums, you can buy the Balboa Park One Day Explorer pass for $45 for adults and $26 for children up to age 12. This gives you admission for up to 5 museums in one single day. Another alternative if you plan on going to several museums in Balboa Park is to buy the Multi-Day Explorer for $55 for adults and $29 for children up to age 12. This is good for one admission to each of the 17 museums for 7 days, and can save a considerable amount of money. Balboa Park Explorer Pass
According to this Wikipedia page, there are 85 neighborhoods and communities in San Diego. That’s a lot to try to sort through if you’re planning a vacation to San Diego and don’t know where to start. At least for me, it was a bit overwhelming at first.
Most first-timers usually plan on going to the usual spots: Downtown San Diego (Centre City), Old Town, Pacific Beach, Balboa Park, possibly La Jolla, Ocean Beach, and Mission Valley depending on how much time you have. I’m certainly not saying to just go to these places. They just seem to be the more common places for first-timers to San Diego. Here’s a brief description of each of these areas.
Downtown San Diego
This area includes 7 districts, the most popular ones with tourists are Gaslamp Quarter, Horton Plaza, and Little Italy. The 16 1/2 blocks of Gaslamp Quarter mostly contain night clubs, shops, and restaurants. 94 historic buildings, built mostly around 1870, in Gaslamp Quarter put it on the National Register of Historic Places and make it San Diego Historic Landmark #127. Many events and festivals are held here. Horton Plaza is a small city park that is also a historical landmark, designated by the city of San Diego in 1971. Little Italy is full of (not surprisingly) Italian restaurants, Italian shops, art galleries, and apartments. There are many events and festivals throughout the year in Little Italy.
Old Town is the oldest settled area in San Diego and is the site of the first European settlement in present-day California. It contains Old Town San Diego State Historic Park and Presidio Park, both of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Old Town is also huge, with 230 acres of land. There are many restaurants, shops, art galleries, and historic buildings and sites. Old Town State Historic Park is free to tour the buildings which include 5 original adobes, San Diego’s first newspaper office, a schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, and many others.
Pacific Beach runs from Mission Bay to La Jolla and has a very long boardwalk (3 miles) that goes along the beach into Mission Beach, ending at Mission Bay. You’ll usually find PB pretty crowded with people shopping, rollerblading, cycling, and walking. This area is also a popular spot for nightclubs and bars. I found it interesting that Eddie Vedder, the musician most famous as the lead singer for Pearl Jam is originally from Pacific Beach.
This is an interesting area in San Diego. It is home to the longest concrete pier in the West, Ocean Beach Municipal Pier, coming in at 1,971 feet (why they chose that distance is beyond me). You won’t find many chain stores here because the residents have led several protests of chain companies through the years. You will find many bars and a thriving nightlife scene here however. Fun fact: Ocean Beach and Point Loma are home to a large population of feral parrots that are mostly active at sunrise and sunset.
In 1835, 1,400 acres of land in San Diego were set aside for the public’s recreational purposes, making it one of the oldest places in the United States dedicated to public recreational usage. Balboa Park has an incredibly detailed history, much of which you can read on the Wikipedia page here if you’re interested. In my opinion, Balboa Park is beautiful and I enjoyed just walking around here taking in the scenery. In addition to several museums, there are 10 gardens, multiple theaters, the San Diego Zoo, the Naval Medical Center San Diego, playgrounds, walking trails, and an enormous sports complex with a golf course, baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, swimming pool and more. You could spend weeks at Balboa Park and still not see and do everything, it’s that enormous and that complex.
This community in the northern part of San Diego is perhaps best known for its beautiful views and beaches. Surrounded on three sides by ocean bluffs and beaches, people aren’t the only ones to have taken up residence in La Jolla. Hundreds of seals have made Children’s Pool Beach and Seal Rock their home, making the area a popular tourist hangout. La Jolla is an expensive resort area full of art museums, high-end shopping, and some of the most expensive homes in the country, with a median home price of close to $2 million. The Torrey Pines Golf Course, Torrey Pines State Reserve with some great hiking, and the famous Black’s Beach (a nude beach) are also in La Jolla. Finally, La Jolla is also home to University of California, San Diego and numerous scientific research facilities.
One of the most historical places in San Diego, Mission Valley was the first Spanish settlement in California, in 1769. Today Mission Valley uses its prime location in the middle of San Diego for the placement of apartments, hotels, and retail shops. Although the Presidio of San Diego and Mission of San Diego de Alcalá were established in 1769 in present day Old Town, the Mission was moved in 1774 to its present location in Mission Valley. The general boundaries of Mission Valley are Interstates 5 and 15, making for easy access to other parts of San Diego. The green line of the public trolley system also runs through Mission Valley and the main hub for buses is at the Fashion Valley Transit Center and Mall.
Of course these are just some of the most-visited areas in San Diego for first-time vacationers. Depending on your situation, you may choose to go to other areas. You may only have time to visit one or two areas. I know someone who went to San Diego for a work conference and only saw the Gaslamp Quarter downtown. She greatly missed out on other areas of San Diego obviously, but her conference was downtown and she only had time for that brief glimpse of San Diego.
What if you only have time to see one or two areas of San Diego?
I personally would recommend going to Balboa Park, La Jolla, and Point Loma. OK. That’s three areas. It’s really hard to limit it less than that. If I was hard-pressed to choose just one place I think I would say go to Point Loma. The views from Sunset Cliffs in Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument are stunning. That’s what I think of when I think of San Diego- ocean bluffs with views like nowhere else in the world.
For those of you that live in San Diego or have been there before, where would you recommend?
This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Maryland was my 33rd state.
Frederick, Maryland is located about an hour north of Washington, D.C. and about the same distance from Baltimore, Maryland. There are over 30 half marathons to choose from in Maryland throughout the year with the majority of them in Annapolis. However, I needed a half marathon in May and the Frederick Running Festival was a perfect choice. My daughter had commitments at school for surrounding weekends before and after this race. Since she and my husband have always gone to my races with me, I was lucky enough to find this race on a weekend that worked for us.
My daughter’s teacher at the time was always asking me when she would see me about my races and what race I had next. When I told her I was running this one she told me her niece was the race director. What a small world! This race was one of the best organized races I have ever ran from packet pickup and expo to the course and volunteers to the finish. The Frederick Running Festival has many options for races, such as the Nut Job Challenge if you run the 5k and the half marathon.
The weather that day was perfect for racing- mid 40’s at the start and 60’s by the end so it was in the 50’s for the majority of the time of the race. People in the neighborhoods through which we ran were fantastic supporters. Many of them were out cheering us on and handing out water, oranges, candy, and one guy was handing out cups of beer! The volunteers on the course were plentiful and actually seemed like they knew what they were doing (not to bash volunteers at other races; I love them, even if they don’t know what to do).
At the finish, there was the usual bananas, bagels, water, etc. but also runners were treated to up to two beers each. Often after a race I don’t have the energy to hang out and just want to get back to my room to take a shower and relax, but for this one I actually had my two beers and relaxed. The weather was perfect and it was a nice sunny spring day. The shirt we received was a long-sleeve technical one with thumb holes- perfect for chilly spring or fall runs.
When I was looking at things to do in and around Frederick, the riots had just started going on in Baltimore. See background info here: Baltimore riots. We were going for a long weekend the first weekend of May. The state of emergency wasn’t lifted until May 6 so we would have been there during the chaos had we chosen to go to Baltimore. We decided to go to Annapolis instead and spent one night there after the race. Given the circumstances it was definitely a smart move. It turned out we had a great time in Annapolis and possibly enjoyed it more than we would have enjoyed Baltimore anyway. We visited the United States Naval Academy Museum and found it even more interesting than we initially thought it would be. Honestly, we just enjoyed walking around Annapolis and taking in the scenery. There are many historical buildings and unique local shops. May is a perfect time to visit as well since it’s before the heat and humidity of the area really kick in.
From my post-race notes: “Frederick Half Marathon was a very scenic and mostly flat course, with the only significant hill being at mile 12. Was perfect weather at the start (44 degrees) but got warm quickly and was pretty warm at the end (mid to upper 60’s). Course was through nice neighborhoods with flowering trees and many people were out cheering from their front yards; some people had fruit, water, or other snacks for runners and one guy even had cups of beer for runners. Volunteers were plentiful and exceptional. Course was very well done as was the race in general; very well-organized. Good quality long-sleeve men’s or women’s fitted technical shirts and nice medals. Usual food at finish but also included 2 beers. We hung out for a bit afterwards. Felt strong at end and passed many people last 3 miles. Finished in 1:59:48, which is my best finish time in quite a while. I really enjoyed this race!”