I Almost Missed a Bucket List Item in Malta- Gozo Salt Pans

Before going to Malta, one of the things I knew I absolutely positively wanted to do was go to the salt pans in Gozo. It was on my bucket list because the photos looked so beautiful and I had never to been anywhere like it. We only had two nights in Gozo, and the first day included flying into Malta, taking the ferry to Gozo, checking into our apartment, and getting settled, which didn’t leave a whole lot of time.

On our second day in Gozo, we went to three historical sites, The Old Prison, Ggantija Temples, and the Ta’ Kola Windmill. The prison and windmill were my favorites of the three places. I especially liked learning the historical significance behind bread-making in Malta, which was powered by the windmill. The prisons were pretty extensive and included areas for men and women which you could see into, along with background information for the prison.

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We were ready go on a walk along the beach by our apartment and call it a day as far as things to do when I suddenly remembered the salt pans. Luckily they were within walking distance of our apartment and even more importantly it was still daylight.

Like so much of Malta, the salt pans were even better than I thought they would be. They reminded me a bit of Sunset Cliffs in San Diego, but were even better. When I first told my husband I wanted to see the salt pans in Gozo I could tell he was thinking, really? How interesting can salt pans be? But when we got there and he saw them, he understood and he was as much in awe as I was.

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These salt pans are a big reason why I wanted to go to Malta in the first place
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Trust me when I say it’s even more beautiful here than a camera can capture

So when you hear people like me go on about the salt pans in Gozo, just take our advice and go there to see them yourself if you’re ever in Malta. They’re one thing in life that’s completely free to see but is absolutely priceless to enjoy.

Has anyone else been to Malta? If so did you get a chance to go to Gozo?

Happy travels!

Donna

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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

 

 

My Revised Bucket List- More In-Depth this Time

The first bucket list I posted really just skimmed the surface. Basically I wrote about my burning desire to go to Malta, the Canary Islands, and the Republic of Georgia with several other honorable mentions. For the full post, you can go here. Since then, I’ve come up with a more extensive bucket list with specific experiences listed instead of just listing places. I did want to keep it reasonable, though, since I fully plan on actually doing these things eventually!

These are in no particular order, either (that would be nearly-impossible for me to rank them).

Hike in the Caucasus Mountains in the Republic of Georgia

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Republic of Georgia. Image credit YourAmazingPlaces.com

Enjoy the parades and music at the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria carnival

Visit the Xwejni Salt Pans in Gozo (Malta)

Climb Mount Fuji

Explore Croatia’s national parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites

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Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, image credit TripAdvisor

Tour the Postojna Cave system and Škocjan Caves in Slovenia

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Škocjan Cave in Slovenia; Image credit: samo_wi/Flickr

Visit the South Island in New Zealand and see if I like it better than the North Island

Road trip around the Isle of Skye

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Isle of Skye, photo credit unusual places.org

Hike up the trail to Machu Picchu peak

Trek through levadas and look for the Madeiran long-toed pigeon

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Madeira levada

Admire the Magellanic penguins in Chilean Patagonia

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Magellanic penguins, image credit aquariumofpacific.org

Watch a sunset at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur, California

Sample Uruguayan wine at a bodega

Visit all of the Provencal markets I possibly can in France

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Take Harry Potter tours in England

Climb up Lovcen National Park and Njegos Mausoleum in Montenegro

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Montenegro, image credit getbybus.com

Enjoy a Guinness in the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland

Play with rescue puppies at Potcake Place in Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands

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Rescue puppies in Providenciales, image credit Top13.net

I think that about covers it for me- lots of hiking, mountains with stunning views, good food and drink, beautiful water, and puppies! If you know me, you know this list sums up what I love most in the world (besides running of course, which I can do almost anywhere).

Now to see about actually making some of these places a reality for me!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

 

Photos of My Running Route

Other than a couple of random shots here and there, I’ve never really posted many photos of where I run. I feel fortunate to live in an area full of running/walking/biking trails that are along areas with trees for some shade but are close enough that I don’t have to drive to get to the trails. Honestly, there’s something for everyone with the diversity of trails in my “neck of the woods,” and I thought I’d share some of them with you all. I know Paula from Neveradullbling and Slowrunnergirl often have photos of their running routes, so the inspiration for this post comes from those ladies. Check out their blogs sometime if you don’t already!

Without further ado, I’ll show some of the places where I get to run and some of what I see along the way. I hope you enjoy!

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This part is nice going down, not so much going back up!
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Another hill, but at least this part is usually shady
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#spottedthebunny
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One of my water views
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One of several bridges I run over
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One of the creeks I run over on a bridge. The water is really low right now!
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I love this strip of trail with all of the yellow flowers
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An early morning water shot

There’s more of course but you get the gist of it. I have some lovely greenways to run along and feel fortunate to live in an area with miles and miles of greenways to run, bike, and walk on. I could literally choose a different route for every one of my long runs for months, only I would have to drive a short distance to some of them.

I think the thing I like best about my running routes is the trees. We have a nice variety of different trees around here so the scenery changes along with the seasons. In the next few weeks or so the trees will be lovely shades of yellow, orange, and red, mixed in with the evergreens. Hmmm, maybe I should have waited to have taken these photos. Well, I still think the green leaves are still beautiful!

What’s your favorite thing about your running routes?

Happy running,

Donna

How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina, Part 2

In ““How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina-Part 1” I went over how to decide when’s the best time of year to visit, based on your interests. I also went over some of the best places to stay, also based on your interests. Now I’m going to dive into some of the best places to eat and things to do.

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To say there are no shortage of top-notch restaurants in Charleston would be an understatement. Charleston must have some kind of record for most “foodie-friendly” restaurants per capita or something. If you want southern classics like fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits, Hominy Grill is a popular choice. I personally had some of the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had at High Cotton. There’s also the ever-popular Fig, Husk, Poogan’s, Magnolia’s, and I could go on and on. For something a little different on our last vacation to Charleston, we went to Leyla and had some truly delicious Lebanese food.

Many of the restaurants in Charleston are upscale but there are also some great casual restaurants. The Grocery is great for brunch and lunch, with a wide array of meals to choose from. Brown Dog Deli  has great chili, hot dogs and sandwiches, and you can try She Crab soup here if you’ve never had it before. If you want to try chicken and waffles go to The Early Bird Diner.  This is just a sampling of some casual fare in Charleston. On our last visit to Charleston, we had milkshakes at Kaminsky’s and they were some of the richest, creamiest milkshakes we had in a long time.

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I’m a big fan of staying in Mt. Pleasant when I go to the Charleston area, so I would be remiss to not mention some of my favorite restaurants in Mt. Pleasant. It seems like every year there are more and more great restaurants in Mt. Pleasant. One of my favorites on my last visit there was The Obstinate Daughter. We also had some great BBQ at Home Team BBQ, which has locations in Sullivan’s Island, downtown Charleston, and West Ashley but we ate at the one in Sullivan’s Island.

Just like there is a long list of great restaurants to choose from, there is a long list of activities in Charleston. If you enjoy history, Patriot’s Point is home to the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier, USS Laffey Destroyer, USS Clamagore Submarine, Vietnam Experience Exhibit, aircraft, and a museum. You can even sleep on the USS Yorktown, like my daughter’s Girl Scout troop did one year.

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USS Yorktown

The Old Exchange is another great historical site to visit. My daughter enjoyed being able to handle replicas of historical money thanks to a volunteer who gave us a bit of information about each piece.  She also got to sign a replica of The Declaration of Independence. We all thoroughly enjoyed our guided tour of the dungeon and learned quite a bit about the area. If you have younger kids (around 4-6), the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry might be a better fit for your family. America’s first museum (from 1773) is also in Charleston, The Charleston Museum, with a focus on the Lowcountry’s cultural and natural history.

Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie are great options for families as well.  Although Fort Sumter does not charge a fee for entrance to the national monument, it is only accessible by boat and there is a fee for that.  Fort Moultrie is accessible by car at 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan’s Island and you can buy a family pass that covers up to 4 adults for $5, with free admission for children 15 and younger.  See more information here National Parks Service.

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If you’re interested in seeing a historical plantation, Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens is a fun way to spend an afternoon. Included in one fee ($24 for adults, $12 for children), you get a presentation about the Gullah culture, a house tour, plantation coach tour, black history exhibit, slave history presentation, butterfly pavilion, and garden tour. There are also special events throughout the year such as for Christmas, a strawberry festival, and oyster festival to name a few. There are several historical homes you can tour, such as Nathaniel Russell House and Edmondston-Alston House.

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There are also many different tours to choose, from carriage rides, walking food and/or drink tours, ghost tours, and general walking tours. One of my personal favorites is a nature boat tour offered by the company Sandlapper. We took their guided nature tour and cruise of Charleston harbor recently and it was a highlight of our vacation other than the total eclipse. You can read more about our nature boat tour here if you’re interested in more details.

If it’s shopping that interests you, you can shop for everything from jewelry at Crogham’s Jewel Box, shop for unique gifts and sign up for a candle-making class at Candlefish, or browse fine books and gifts relating to Charleston’s history at the Preservation Society Shop.  To meet with locals and shop their wares, stop by Charleston City Market, which is busy day and night.

Finally, the Charleston area has some beautiful beaches. Two of my family’s favorite beaches are Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island. They are completely free and open to the public.  Another option for a beach near Charleston is Folly Beach. Lifeguards are on duty mostly during the peak summer months of May through part of September. Check out more info at Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission.  A word of warning about the waves, as they can be quite rough.  We found the water to be considerably calmer at an inlet we were able to walk to at Sullivan’s Island going through neighborhoods to the far end of the beach.

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There are also some options for side trips if you have several days in Charleston. If you’re a runner like I am, the Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon is a great race that I’ve personally ran (read more about that here if you’d like) and I have friends that have ran it multiple times. It’s only about a 45 minute drive to Kiawah Island from Charleston. Another fun city full of fantastic restaurants and southern charm is Savannah, Georgia and it is about a 2 hour drive from Charleston.

Well, I think that about covers the highlights anyway!  I once heard a podcaster talking about Charleston and she said to allow two days to spend in Charleston, and I couldn’t believe it.  There’s so much to see and do in Charleston, there’s no way you could even scratch the surface in two days. I would recommend spending 4 or 5 nights in Charleston, adding another day if you do a day trip. You wouldn’t have to have a rental car especially if you’re staying in the historical area, but if you want to be able to get out of downtown Charleston and explore on your own, a car is highly recommended.

Hopefully I’ve piqued some of your interests about Charleston and you’ll see for yourself why so many people voted it number one city in the United States by Travel and Leisure.

How many of you readers have been to Charleston?  Do you love it as much as I do? How many people have never been but would like to go now?

Nature Boat Tour in Charleston, South Carolina

Despite spending several vacations in Charleston, South Carolina over the years, I had never been on a boat tour here, that is until now. My family and I recently chose to go on a 2-hour boat tour with a certified naturalist, which pretty much just means she could talk about all things related to plants and animals in the area. The boat left the Charleston Maritime Center, 10 Wharfside Street and took us to the uninhabited barrier island, Morris Island.

Along the way to Morris Island, we stopped to check a crab trap that the tour company, Sandlapper Water Tours, had previously left. The bad news is the trap didn’t have a single blue crab in it so there was nothing to add to the touch tank. The good news is since there were no crabs, that meant more time for us to explore on Morris Island.

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We also saw some dolphins on the boat tour, both around the harbor shortly after leaving, and out by Morris Island when we were leaving. Apparently there are pods of dolphins that live in the waters here year-round. Our guide also told us there are many (I think she said five but I kind of didn’t want to hear this part) different kinds of sharks in the Charleston area. I prefer to not think about that little tidbit of information, so moving on.

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We landed at Morris Island and were given 45 minutes to explore the island, either on our own, or with the naturalist. My family and I decided to explore on our own. We found a blue crab, the molted shell of a crab, a partial sand dollar, a partial conch shell, and many clam and oyster shells and other shells in general. We were told there are poisonous snakes in the central part of the island so we just stuck to the sandy perimeter.

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We found our own blue crab on Morris Island

There were several areas where there were huge trees that had been uprooted and they looked so cool against the beach back-drop. The views from Morris Island are also pretty impressive. From Morris Island, you can see Ravenel Bridge and Charleston harbor off in the distance, not surprising since it’s only about a 20 minute boat ride away. It feels miles away, though because the island is uninhabited so you can wander off by yourself and it seems like you’re the only person on the beach. There is a lighthouse off the coast of Morris Island that you can see from Folly Beach, a very popular beach in the Charleston area.

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Fort Sumter National Monument
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You feel like you’re the only person on Morris Island with views like this

I really liked this boat tour and other than the total eclipse , it was definitely a highlight of our time in Charleston. The captain was great and the naturalist, who did most of the talking, was informative and explained a ton along the way about the flora and fauna in the area. If you’re ever in Charleston, book a tour with Sandlapper Tours and you’re sure to have a good time (they didn’t sponsor this post, I just really enjoyed the tour)!

 

Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, Chile

Other than our self-guided walking tour of Santiago, the only other thing we wanted to do during our short stay in the city was to go up Costanera Tower in Santiago, the tallest building in Latin America. However, because the fog was so bad that day the women at the desk selling tickets advised us not to go up because we wouldn’t be able to see the mountains, we decided to save our money and skip it.

We said adiós to Santiago and set off in our rental car for Viña del Mar. For the 2 1/2 hour drive we opted to skip the toll roads, and boy what an adventure that was! The roads were some of the most curvy, winding mountainous roads I’ve seen since driving around in Greece but they were all paved and in good condition. There was almost nothing in sight for miles and miles other than beautiful countryside. We also almost ran out of gas too but with fumes left in the tank we made it to a gas station in the nick of time.

I had reserved a condo through Airbnb and the place was even better than I expected. For much less than we would have paid for a comparable condo overlooking the beach back in the United States, we had four bedrooms, a full kitchen, dining room, living room, washer and dryer, swimming pool, huge balcony spanning the length of the condo, all in a safe, gated community. Check out the view from our balcony:

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When I was planning our vacation I was trying to decide whether we should stay in Valparaiso or Viña del Mar. I read that Valparaíso has more charm than its neighbor but Viña del Mar is safer and more of a beach getaway. After seeing Valparaíso I could see what people mean. Valparaíso has more of an edge to it that some people prefer, while Viña del Mar is full of high rises and shopping centers. That being  said, the view from our condo was stunning whether it was day or night (see above photo and last photo) and I felt completely safe at all times.

Before leaving our hotel in Santiago, we had been warned not to leave a single thing in our rental car while in Valparaiso or thieves would break the window to steal it. We took this to heart and didn’t leave anything in the car when we parked in Valparaíso. However, we walked and drove all over Viña del Mar, even after it was dark and never once did we feel like we were in an unsafe area.

One thing I do feel the need to mention is the huge amount of stray dogs in Chile. As an animal-lover, it’s heart-breaking. This sad-looking little dog followed us steadfastly one evening for a couple of miles, hoping to join our pack. We called her “Chile.” She ultimately left us just before we entered the gate to go up the funicular to our apartment.

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“Chile”

Of course one of the first things we wanted to do when we arrived in Viña del Mar was go to the beach. Although it was a bit chilly for lying on the sand in a bathing suit and the water was far too cold to swim in, it was perfect weather for walking along the beach, which we did on multiple occasions. There are a few restaurants along the beach but since it was off-season it was pretty quiet when we were there. We also took advantage of the workout equipment along the beach to have the best workout at the most scenic “gym” I’ve ever been to!

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The most fun I’ve ever had doing leg press!

Of course a must-do while in Valparaíso is to take a tour of the famous poet and Chilean diplomat Pablo Neruda’s former house, “La Sebastiana.” Neruda had three houses, one in Santiago, one in Isla Negra, and this one in Valparaíso. It seemed to me that La Sebastiana had the most character of the three houses, so we chose this one to tour. This was definitely one of the most unique homes I’ve ever been in, from the design to the furnishings and choice of decor. The bar area with the unique knick knacks and bathroom with the clear glass door by the bar particularly come to mind. It’s definitely a place you have to experience in-person to fully appreciate.

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Pablo Neruda’s former home
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View from inside Pablo Neruda’s former home

The website is here for La Sebastiana. Entrance fees are 7,000 Chilean pesos per person or about $10.50 US with discounts for Chilean students and Chilean adults over 60. The self-guided tour takes roughly an hour, includes an audio guide for each floor and is available in English, Italian, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish.

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Some colorful houses in Valparaiso

We also visited Palacio Rioja, a beautiful historic home in Viña del Mar built in 1907 where you can take a self-guided tour for free. Palacio Rioja has been declared a National Monument and later a Museum of Decorative Arts. Guided tours can be arranged (although not in English) and more information can be found here. I highly recommend visiting here if you’re ever in the area.

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Palacio Rioja
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Inside Palacio Rioja

On subsequent days in Viña del Mar we walked along the beach, walked to nearby restaurants and shops and relaxed thoroughly. The sunsets here were spectacular and many evenings we would find ourselves just gazing out the window at the fading sun and lights from the cars and stores below. This is a place I could definitely see myself returning to. The people here are friendly, traffic isn’t bad, and there are plenty of shops and restaurants and other things to do in the area.

Alas, our time in Viña del Mar was coming to a close, and we packed up and headed off to the next part of our adventure in Chile- to a more remote section called Las Cabras in the O’Higgins Region. This would prove to be the most challenging portion of our vacation yet but we had no idea of that at the time!

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