What I Learned From Every Half Marathon I Ran- Part 2

If you missed part one, you can read it here What I Learned From Every Half Marathon I Ran. TLDR? I went through the half marathons I ran in all 50 states beginning with my first one in North Carolina in 2000. I briefly state what I learned at each race, since after all, life is a learning process. In my first post, I stopped at a half marathon I ran in Mississippi in 2010 so that’s where I’ll start here.

Picking back up where I left, although I was struggling with health issues at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon in November of 2010, my health continued to deteriorate for another reason. By the time of the Arbuckles to Ardmore Half Marathon in Oklahoma in March of 2011, I had full-blown anemia. This was my 21st state (and 23rd half marathon) but my first experience with anemia. I was borderline in need of a transfusion but my doctor chose to prescribe heavy doses of iron pills along with B12 and other vitamins to help with absorption. She also told me not to run. I learned it is indeed possible to run a half marathon if you don’t mind going slowly (but I certainly don’t endorse this).

At the Missoula Half Marathon in Montana I learned to be better prepared for drastic changes in weather at races. Although it was supposed to be mid-50’s at the start of the race, a cold front had moved in the day before the race so it was predicted to drop to the low 40’s that morning. For some people, that’s shorts and short-sleeve weather but not for this southern gal. I went to a running store in search of running pants but the closest they had was capris, in a size smaller than I normally wore. I bought them anyway and while not ideal, at least my legs weren’t freezing.

I learned having elite runners at a race can have its perks for everyone else. When I ran the Kaiser Realty Coastal Half Marathon in Alabama, elite runners Deena Kastor and Johnny Gray were speakers there (they didn’t run the race) and we were treated to one of the best post-race spreads I’ve ever had at a race. At the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, I learned it’s possible to have fun and not be overwhelmed at big races as long as they’re well-organized like this one. I learned just how hot it gets in Chicago in June at the Chicago 13.1 Half Marathon.

At the Amica Half Marathon in Newport, Rhode Island, I learned just how much of an underrated state this smallest of the US states is. The Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon showed me just how insanely hilly Knoxville is (one of the hilliest races I’ve ever run). I learned how amazingly scenic the islands off the coast of Washington are when I ran the San Juan Island Half Marathon.

I learned that all-women’s races have a different vibe than coed races do when I ran the All Women & One Lucky Guy Half Marathon in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The New York City 13.1 showed me how many fun half marathons (and other distances) New York State and New York City has and you don’t have to run the bigger, better-known races to have a great race (this was in Queens). When I ran the Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon in Portland, Maine, I learned just how hot and hilly Maine is in July but since it’s so beautiful, it’s worth it.

The Roller Coaster Half Marathon in Branson, Missouri showed me it’s possible for someone who had never even finished in the top three in her age group before to finish first. After I ran the Frederick Running Festival Half Marathon in Maryland and learned the race director was my daughter’s teacher’s niece, I learned what a small world it truly is. The Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon in South Dakota showed me two things: 1) South Dakota is entirely different in many ways than North Dakota and 2) I love races that start at the top of a canyon and you run down it.

In September of 2015, I learned that some race directors were still not using timing chips at the Dixville Half Marathon in Colebrook, New Hampshire. At the McKenzie River Half Marathon in Eugene, Oregon, I learned just how intense runners are in this part of the country. I asked someone at the packet pickup about the hills and was told, “they’re not that bad,” only to find out the only flat portions were the first two miles and the last mile, with none of the hills going down, only up. The Boulder Rez Half Marathon in Colorado showed me what I already suspected, that running at altitude is no joke.

I learned sometimes race directors try to cram too many events into one race at the Silver Strand Half Marathon in California. In addition to the half marathon, there was a 5k, 10 miler, and half marathon for skaters, handcyclers, and wheelchair racers and the course was extremely crowded. I learned it can be so cold in Utah in February that despite wearing gloves, my fingers were still cold at the end of the Dogtown Half Marathon and my feet were numb for the first couple of miles. The Superhero Half Marathon in Morristown, New Jersey showed me how much fun it was to see other people’s costumes at a race (I didn’t dress up).

The Marshall University Half Marathon in Huntington, West Virginia showed me how cool it was to run with a football on a football field at the end of a race. The Famous Potato Half Marathon in Boise, Idaho showed me how life often doesn’t turn out how you think it will but that can be a good thing. For years I thought I’d run a half marathon in Coeur d’Alene for my Idaho race but the timing was never right so I signed up for this race in Boise and loved it. I learned it’s possible to have a not-so-unique race even in such a beautiful state as Alaska at the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Anchorage. The course was primarily on greenways, with little water views and overall not that scenic in my opinion.

I learned it’s possible to have a blazing fast course, plenty of amazing volunteers, boatloads of food before and after the race, huge medals, and quality shirts for finishers at small races like the White River Half Marathon in tiny little Cotter, Arkansas. At the Seashore Classic Half Marathon in Lewes, Delaware, I learned running on crushed gravel is killer on the legs and a frozen strawberry daiquiri really hits the spot after a tough race. I learned it’s possible to PR at high elevation if the race has a downhill start like the Star Valley Half Marathon in Thayne, Wyoming.

The Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha, Nebraska taught me to tie my shoelaces better before a race. I had double-knotted them but they still came untied and that 20-something seconds it took me to tie them likely cost me a third place age group finish. At the Circle of Life Half Marathon in Lake City, Minnesota, I learned that “Minnesota nice” is real. Those were some of the friendliest and nicest people I had ever chatted with at a race.

I learned it’s possible to PR at your 51st half marathon at the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon in Iowa. This race also showed me that Des Moines knows how to put on a half marathon right, with so many little touches and big additions as well. The Albuquerque Half Marathon in New Mexico showed me life truly is all about the journey. Although many things went wrong or not exactly ideal before, during, and after this race and it didn’t end on such a high point as I would have liked, I learned running a half marathon in all 50 states isn’t just about state number 50, but the point is every single state along the way that adds up to all 50 states.

So that’s it- 53 half marathons in 21 years and what I learned along the way. Every single race taught me something, sometimes big things, sometimes smaller things but they were all lessons nonetheless.

If you’d like to read more in-depth about any of the half marathons I’ve run, check out my page here: https://runningtotravel.wordpress.com/half-marathons/

What lessons have you learned from half marathons or other races you’ve run?

Happy running!

Donna

Most Overrated Tourist Attractions

I saw an article by Fodor’s Travel about the most overrated tourist attractions in the world and it made me pause. For the article, see https://www.fodors.com/news/news/the-most-overrated-tourist-attractions-in-2022. For a quick summary, there were places mentioned ranging from The Grand Canyon, The FRIENDS Experience New York, cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, but apparently the most popular places listed were Disney World and Disneyland. The reasons listed shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been to Disney- too crowded and too expensive. Rounding out the poll’s top 5 most overrated tourist attractions were The Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Eiffel Tower, Times Square, and The Louvre.

I’ve never been to The Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Eiffel Tower, or The Louvre so I can’t comment on my personal feelings about those places but I have been to Disneyland and Disney World, The Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Times Square. I agree that Disney is hugely expensive and crowded so I can see where people would rank those places as overrated. There wasn’t a reason or reasons listed why people thought Times Square was overrated but I can also understand how it could be a letdown for people expecting some sort of magical experience or inflated expectations.

I started thinking about what I would list as the top 5 most overrated places I’ve traveled to. Travel can be a subjective subject so I understand that places I may have hated or just generally disliked are places that other people love. Likewise, I’ve been to places that I loved that others have hated. For example, I’ve heard people say The Grand Canyon National Park is nothing but a big hole in the ground with a bunch of rocks and trees around. I thought the Grand Canyon was an amazingly beautiful part of our country and loved hiking there. Not everyone likes being out in nature, though.

Does this look like just a big hole in the ground? Not to me!

Probably my number one place that I would list as overrated is Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m not a gambler and both times I went there I didn’t gamble even once, not even to play the slot machines. I really could care less about gambling. The first time I went to Las Vegas I was in nearby Laughlin, Nevada for a half marathon and thought I should see what all the fuss was about in Vegas. Needless to say, I was not impressed. Sure, the enormous themed casino hotels (The Venetian, Paris, Bellagio, etc.) are cool but I wouldn’t go there just for the hotels. I’m also not a big drinker or partier so you could see where Las Vegas would not be a great choice for a person like me.

Las Vegas Strip at night

The second time I was in Las Vegas was when I was running a half marathon outside St. George, Utah and it was cheaper to fly into Las Vegas and drive from there. Since we landed in the evening I thought we should at least walk through some of the hotel lobbies and watch the fountain displays with our teenage daughter to show her the sights. Would I ever purposely go back? Maybe to watch a Cirque du Soleil show but that’s the only reason (I’m a big fan of their shows).

Next on my list of overrated tourist spots is Gatlinburg, Tennessee (not including Great Smoky Mountains National Park). Like Las Vegas, I’ve been here twice, once as a teenager with a friend of mine and her family and more recently to go hiking in the park with my daughter last summer. On my more recent visit, we skipped all of the super-touristy places like Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Guinness World Records Museum, and the Salt and Pepper Museum. I didn’t hate it here and there were some shops and restaurants I enjoyed but it’s definitely not a place I would go out of my way to go to. See my post: Gatlinburg, Tennessee “Myrtle Beach in the Sky”

Main strip of Gatlinburg, Tennessee

If you read my post on Gatlinburg, Tennessee, it may come to no surprise that next on my list here is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Like Gatlinburg and Las Vegas, this is a place I’ve been to more than once, the first time as a child and later as an adult. This is also a place I personally know many people go to every summer with their friends and/or families and love it here. I find it crowded with people and traffic and touristy shops and restaurants full of fried seafood (which I don’t like). The water is murky and there is often trash littered around the hotels and beach areas. I would hands-down rather go a little further south to Charleston, South Carolina, which in my opinion is about 1000 times better in every way imaginable than Myrtle Beach.

Next on my list is a place I’ve only been to once: Los Angeles, California. I went here during my trip to Long Beach, California, when I ran a marathon and explored the area afterwards. Personally, I found the Hollywood Walk of Fame to be a complete waste of time (it’s exactly what you think it will be, a bunch of famous people’s names on gold stars on the sidewalk) and the tour of celebrity homes was also a waste. What I remember from that tour is driving around in a van, going by a bunch of huge fences and shrubbery while the host talked about the celebrity who lived in each of the homes we couldn’t even see. Maybe I just chose a bad tour or maybe they’re better now since that was several years ago. Sunset Strip, the Hollywood Sign, and every single other thing I saw or went past was entirely a waste of time to me.

The final place on my list of overrated places is a city I was surprised I didn’t like it as much as I did and I found it disappointing overall- Athens, Greece. For all of the details, you can read my post: I’m Sorry but I Just Didn’t Love Athens. In short, I found it to be hot, crowded, and dirty and many of the ruins were in such a poor state you could barely even see anything there. That being said, it might be more pleasant during the spring or fall when it’s not so crowded or hot. It’s also a place despite the fact I found it overrated, I would still recommend everyone go there just once to experience it for themselves.

Recognize this ruin? Me niether but I know it was in Athens

In fact, I don’t want to imply that I think no one should go to any of these overrated places. Like I said earlier, I know many people who go to some of these places year after year and love them. Also, with the exception of Myrtle Beach and Gatlinburg, these are unique places that I encourage everyone to see for themselves for the experience. There truly is no other place (at least not that I’ve been to or heard of) like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, or Athens, each of which has unique qualities that some people are drawn to.

What about you? Do you love any of the places I listed as overrated? Do you have your own list of overrated places that you’ve been to?

Happy travels!

Donna

What I Learned From Every Half Marathon I Ran

Life is really just a learning process, right? If you don’t learn as you go along, you don’t make progress and grow as a person. Looking back at the half marathons I’ve run, I realized I learned something at each and every race. Sometimes the things I learned were life-changing and with others it was just minor things I probably knew already but they were re-emphasized to me.

Let’s take a look back at the half marathons I’ve run over the years, going back to the very first half marathon I ever ran, way back in 2000, up to the present day. For most of these, I’ll keep it brief but for the truly life-changing races, I may dig a bit deeper. Hopefully this will be fun, so let’s see!

My very first half marathon, the Battleship Half Marathon in Wilmington, North Carolina in November 2000 was quite a learning experience for me. The weather was crazy, with freezing rain and even snow, which is almost unheard of in this southern coastal city. By the time I finished, my arms and shoulders were so tired I could barely lift them to take my sports bra and running shirt off. I learned several things after this race but the top ones were: 1) I needed to start lifting weights, concentrating on upper body exercises, 2) I learned what a huge factor the weather can be and I knew I could run this race faster under more ideal weather conditions, and 3) I learned I was hooked on running half marathons and wanted to do more.

When I ran the 2001 Battleship Half Marathon, sure enough, I cut several minutes off my finish time and the weather was a beautiful day for a race! I learned the importance of being prepared for a half marathon with strength training and a training plan. The Gold Rush Half Marathon in Concord, North Carolina taught me that heat, hills, and humidity is a nasty combination when it comes to races and to avoid the possibility of the 3H’s at all costs when signing up for a race!

Philadelphia Distance Run (can you find me?)

The Kona Half Marathon in Hawaii (at least when I ran it) was on the same course as the Ironman running portion. It was hot and hilly (but not humid) and beautiful. I loved every second of it and I learned having great views along a course goes a long way! When I ran the Philadelphia Distance Run, I learned big races can be fun as long as they’re well-organized, which this one was.

Kiawah Island Half Marathon in South Carolina is very flat but also tends to have strong headwinds. I learned races along the beach can be difficult despite being flat because of the winds. When I ran the Valley of the Sun Half Marathon in Phoenix, I learned it’s possible to run a half marathon when pregnant as long as you follow your doctor’s recommendations and advice.

The Columbus Distance Run was a race I never should have run. I had been suffering from Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) before this race and had pain in my knee after running only a couple of miles at a time but I ran it anyway. I couldn’t run for months after the race and I learned sometimes you should DNS (did not start) a race if you’re injured.

After running the Louisville Half Marathon in Kentucky, I learned to research my races better because like the race in Columbus, Ohio, this race was just OK with nothing exceptional about it. The Naples Daily News Half Marathon in Florida taught me there are plenty of fun races in Florida besides Disney and they don’t have to cost a fortune and you don’t have to get up at 3 in the morning on race day either! Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Woodstock, Vermont taught me how much I love Vermont and left me wanting to see the rest of the New England states.

I was surprised at how stifling hot it was at the half marathon in Connecticut!

When I ran the Marathon of the Americas and Half Marathon in San Antonio, Texas, I learned the importance of working in some vacation days after a race; San Antonio is a fun city to explore. The Laughlin Half Marathon in Nevada showed me you can’t always trust the website descriptions for a race (I didn’t find it scenic at all) and packed dirt with gravel on top is horrible to try to run on. Stratton Faxon Half Marathon in Fairfield, Connecticut showed me that even the New England states can get extremely hot during the summer.

The Evansville Half Marathon in Indiana showed me that sometimes taking that leap of faith to run in small towns you’ve never heard of can be worth it (it was my fastest half marathon to date and I loved every minute of the race). Run the Reagan in Snellville, Georgia taught me it’s not fun at all to run along a freeway and even more miserable when it’s raining and cold. The Bayshore Half Marathon in Traverse City, Michigan showed me popular races are popular for a reason (this one sold out quickly when I signed up) and I loved the scenic course.

Finishing on a track was fun at the half in Traverse City, Michigan!

Kroll’s Diner Half Marathon in Bismarck, North Dakota showed me it can be tough to find a half marathon that fits in with your schedule in some states, with North Dakota being one. When I was looking for a half marathon there, I could only find a few races and to this day there are only a handful. Ole Man River Half Marathon in New Orleans showed me even a fun, quirky city like New Orleans can have plain and ordinary races like this one. The Olathe Half Marathon in Kansas showed me some race directors aren’t thoughtful at all when planning a race course and will take you through industrial areas and past neighborhoods with just ordinary houses (or maybe that was just the best they had to offer for a safe course).

The Madison Mini-Marathon in Wisconsin showed me when you run a half marathon in August, even in a state as far north as Wisconsin, it’s going to be HOT so you’d better be prepared for slower race times. I learned a couple of things when I ran the Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon: 1) just because you’re running in a cool place like a space center doesn’t mean you’ll see actual rockets and 2) it sometimes gets cold in Mississippi in late November (I was not expecting it to be in the 30’s).

I’m going to stop here since I still have several half marathons to go and this post is already pretty lengthy. I’ll continue with the rest of the half marathon lessons in another post.

What about you? What lessons have you learned from half marathons or other races you’ve ran?

Happy running!

Donna

Duolingo 2.0

I first wrote a post about my experience with the language-learning website and app Duolingo in Review of Duolingo, which I published in 2017. Since I hadn’t been to any Spanish-speaking countries in quite some time, and I didn’t feel the need to learn Portuguese other than some important words and phrases before my trip to Portugal, I hadn’t used Duolingo in a few years. However, I had a trip planned to Costa Rica and I wanted to start brushing up on my Spanish again before I went there.

Let me just say, the Duolingo that exists now is much better in my opinion than the version I used a few years ago. But first, let me give a little background info before I go any further. Duolingo launched in November of 2011 and now has 106 courses in 41 languages and has around 42 million users. Duolingo is free (with ads) but there is a premium service called Super Duolingo (previously called Duolingo Plus) which is ad-free, lets you accumulate unlimited hearts, and lets you review your mistakes for $6.99/month.

In my first review of Duolingo, I wrote that because of so many multiple choice options, I felt it was too easy and could give users a false sense of security that they were “fluent” in the language they were learning. Now, I’m not seeing nearly as many multiple choice options, although there are still some. There seems to be more speaking required now and definitely more listening options. Now, you can listen to a short story in the language you’re learning and answer questions afterwards. I don’t remember having that option before so I believe it’s relatively new.

I have the free version and it seems like there are many more ads now than before. I won’t lie, the ads are annoying. I’ve learned to just put my phone down and walk away for a minute and come back when the ad is over, although some of the ads are shorter than others. I’m not sure there was a pay version in 2017 but if not that could explain why they’re playing so many ads now, in a hope to get people to pay to skip the ads. The ads I’m seeing are mostly for gaming apps but there are plenty of others as well.

While we’re on the subject of annoying things, another annoying feature is the reminder about the daily streak. Some people might be drawn to this idea of practicing a language on Duolingo every day without missing a day but it’s just annoying to me. I feel like I’ll use the app when I have time and I don’t need reminders that I’m about to lose my daily streak. I don’t care if I’ll lose my streak, Duolingo. I did eventually learn how to turn these reminders off, so at least that’s an option.

I also don’t like how you can’t “test out” if you’re already relatively fluent at your current level, at least not at the free level. Before, you could take a proficiency test and if you passed, you could skip ahead to the next level quickly. Now, as far as I can tell, that option is only if you have the paid version. Well, supposedly. My daughter did the free trial of the paid option and said she took the test to skip to the next level and it wouldn’t let her do it even though she didn’t miss any of the questions.

Back to some of the basic features. There are many sections broken down into units. For example, unit 1 has intro, phrases, travel, restaurant, family, shopping, present tense 1, school, and people. Then there is a checkpoint before you can move on to unit 2. Unit 2 has some of the same sections as unit 1 including family, travel, and people but some new sections like emotions, preference, and describe, for example.

One area I didn’t discover until I had used the app for a while was under the profile icon. There’s an Achievements area and until I clicked on the achievements I had earned, I didn’t actually get the gems and other achievements I had earned on earlier days. You also have the option to follow other friends who also use the app in the profile section. If you’re competitive, there’s a shield icon that will show you what league you’re currently ranked in, based on points. There’s another icon that looks like a gem where you can buy gems (using real money) to be used in the app or you can bump yourself up to Duolingo Plus.

Overall, I find the Duolingo that exists now to be a useful tool for learning another language. The ads are annoying but I’m just not willing to pay for the app so I guess that falls on me; the option is always there to skip the ads if you’re willing to pay for that. I guess the real question was how well did it prepare me for my trip to Costa Rica? Pretty well! I didn’t have any trouble speaking to anyone (and more importantly getting them to understand me) and I could follow along when they spoke as long as they knew I only knew a little Spanish so they could slow down and use more basic words.

Have you used Duolingo either when it first came out the end of 2011 or more recently? If so, what do you think of the app? Do you use another learning app or tool to learn or refresh a foreign language?

Happy travels!

Donna

Ask Me Anything

I realize this could go one of two ways, either fun and interesting or poorly, so I’m depending on all of you who read this (no pressure) for it to go the former way. My idea is this: everyone who regularly follows my blog knows I just finished my quest of running a half marathon in all 50 states, with my last race in Albuquerque, New Mexico in November of 2021. If anyone is new to my blog, now you know too. Many of you regulars, especially the long-timers (and a HUGE thank you if that’s you) probably already know or think you know many other things about my quest. However, I’m guessing there are still some unanswered questions out there that you may be curious about.

This is your chance to ask me absolutely anything and everything you ever wondered about what it was like for me to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Really, nothing is off-limits, too nosy, too trivial, or too silly. If you’re wondering something, someone else may also be wondering the same thing, and even if you’re the only person in the world with the question, it’s still a valid question.

What I would like is for everyone to ask some questions below and if all goes well, I’ll write up a post to answer the questions, rather than just answer them below; that way I can expand on anything that might need more than just a sentence or two to answer. If someone else has already asked your question but yours has a slightly different spin on it, ask it again in your words. That will also clue me in on the more popular questions that need more explanation than others.

Your questions can be broad such as running-related or more specific like half marathon-related, or they can be travel-related, logistics questions, race bling questions, traveling with kids or family, state-related, specific race-related, etc. These are just some examples but certainly not meant to limit you just to these. Questions like favorite/best/worst/most scenic are all fine as well. Creative questions are highly encouraged.

OK. Let’s see how this goes! Thank you to everyone who asks questions! If you never see a follow-up post with the answers, well, we all know what that means, but I’m confident that won’t happen.

Happy running!

Donna

WOW- Iowa! Des Moines, Iowa- It’s Not What You Might Think

I believe many people have a preconceived notion of what a place will be like before they ever step foot there. Many people think of three things when they think of Iowa: football, farmland, and corn. What I discovered when I visited Iowa for my first time was these things are definitely huge here but what’s missing is pride and family. Iowans are fiercely proud of their state and for them family comes before anything else.

For my first trip to Iowa, I chose to go to Des Moines, the capital of Iowa. The population is relatively small at only around 215,000 people or just over 700,000 if you include the suburbs. Des Moines is the most populated city in the state too so this is most definitely considered the “big city” in these parts.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of things to do in Des Moines, especially in the downtown area. Just don’t expect a big city vibe when you come here or anything even close to that. I highly recommend staying in the downtown area. Most things are within a mile of downtown and it’s a very walkable city plus there are multiple places where you can rent a bicycle. I chose not to rent a car when I was here and it turned out to be a wise decision, saving me on parking fees not only at the hotel but also the metered spaces all over the downtown area. There’s also a free bus called Des Moines Regional Transit Authority (DART) that runs every 10 minutes between the East Village and Western Gateway Park Monday through Friday.

Photo to back up my attempt of a witty title

What’s There to do in Des Moines?

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to visit botanical gardens. The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden was the first place I visited here. For $10 admission, I saw the Conservatory, Bonsai Gallery, Wells Fargo Rose Garden, Dorothy and Max Rutledge Conifer Garden, Koehn Garden with reflecting pool, Ruan Allee walkway, Water Garden, Lauridsen Savannah, and my favorite part of the garden, the Hillside Garden and Waterfall. Inside the conservatory there was a Desert Garden, Rainforest, and Horticultural Exhibits area. There is also the Trellis Cafe but I didn’t eat there. Multiple seating areas are all around the outdoor spaces in addition to inside the conservatory. I walked through every garden and it took me about an hour. It is one of the smaller botanical gardens I’ve been to but worth coming here if you enjoy gardens. https://www.dmbotanicalgarden.com/

Close to the botanical garden is the small but free Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens. It’s a peaceful spot beside the Des Moines River. You can easily see the entire area in 10 minutes or less if you’re just passing through.

Also nearby both gardens is the Lauridsen Skatepark, the largest skatepark in the United States. The park has five skating areas and runs adjacent to Principal Riverwalk Park. A unique part of the park is a bright red “WOW” sculpture (seen in the first photo above) 80 feet long and 12 feet high that was designed to be skated on but has become an Instagram hotspot for people just walking through.

If you have children or are a child at heart, there’s the Blank Park Zoo with the typical zoo animals like lions, tigers, giraffes, rhinos, and penguins. There are also behind the scenes tours, which are quite pricey for non-members but half the price for members. The zoo is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm and admission is $14 for adults and $8 for children. https://www.blankparkzoo.com/ The Science Center of Iowa and Blank IMAX Dome Theater is also a fun place for families. SCI has numerous hands-on exhibits designed to spur interest in science and learning along with live science demonstrations, a planetarium, and IMAX theater. SCI is open Thursday-Sunday and admission is $11 for adults and children. https://www.sciowa.org/visit/

Salisbury House and Gardens is a 42-room mansion built in the 1920’s modeled after the King’s House in Salisbury, England in the style of Gothic, Tudor, and Carolean Architecture. The house is filled with original art, tapestries, and antique furniture from around the world. One of my favorite things was learning all of the background information about the Weeks family that lived there. Carl Weeks made his fortune by combining cold cream with face powder and began his own makeup company, The Armand Company. Salisbury House is open for tours Wednesday through Sunday from 12 to 5 pm. Self-guided tours do not require reservations and are $10; guided tours at 1 and 3 pm are $15 and reservations are recommended. https://salisburyhouse.org/

Salisbury House and Gardens

If you enjoy history, the Iowa Hall of Pride is a fun way to learn about Iowa. There are displays about some sports legends from Iowa like gymnast Shawn Johnson, track and field Olympian Lolo Jones, professional football player Kurt Warner, plus many others. There are also displays and information about musicians, farming, wind farms, bike trails, just to name a few. Most of the displays are touch-screen with multiple videos to watch. There’s also a game area where you can play arcade-type games for a fee. It is open Monday through Friday and costs $10 for admission. https://www.iowahallofpride.com/

The Farmer’s Market is a fun place to stroll around if you’re in Des Moines on a Saturday from May 1 through October 30 in the mornings until noon. Several blocks downtown are closed off to cars so you can leisurely browse from over 150 vendors. I saw everything from meats, cheeses, breads and other bakery products, tea, artwork, handmade jewelry, fresh flowers, and a wide variety of produce. There were also some bands and musicians scattered throughout the area. https://www.dsmpartnership.com/desmoinesfarmersmarket/saturday-market

For art lovers, the Des Moines Art Center is a wonderful place to explore for about an hour or so, plus admission is free. There’s mostly modern and contemporary art, which I’m usually not a huge fan of but I enjoyed many of these pieces of modern art and could appreciate them. One of my favorites was a temporary display by Justin Favela and is running through January 2022. Using only tissue paper and cardboard, he designed enormous food-related pieces of art that I found intriguing. There were also some paintings by famous artists like Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, Salvadore Dali, and Renoir. https://desmoinesartcenter.org/visit/

One of the Justin Favela displays at the Des Moines Art Center

An outdoor art exhibit that’s also free, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park includes artwork by more than 25 artists on 1330 Grand Avenue in downtown Des Moines. There are walkways around most of the sculptures and grassy areas in others. The park is open from sunrise to midnight daily. https://desmoinesartcenter.org/visit/pappajohn-sculpture-park/

Where to Eat

There is no shortage of bars in downtown Des Moines, some of which also serve pub-style food. There isn’t a huge selection of restaurants in the small downtown area, but there are still quite a few including The Spaghetti Works (affordable especially for what you get), Court Avenue Brewing Company, Buzzard Billy’s (cajun), Exile Brewing Company, Hessen Haus (German food), Pho Real Kitchen and Bar (really good Vietnamese food), Royal Mile (British Pub-style food), and one of my favorites, Fong’s Pizza which has Asian-inspired toppings like Crab Rangoon or ramen noodles if you’re adventurous plus more traditional toppings. There are of course more restaurants in the area if you have a car or aren’t staying in the heart of downtown. All of the above restaurants are within a mile of one another if you are staying downtown and are easily walkable, however.

Where to Stay

I stayed at the Hampton Inn Downtown and found the location to be perfect for me. Since I could walk to most places I wanted to go to with the exception of a couple of places I didn’t even need to rent a car. However, the hotel walls are thin and the doors so heavy they slam loudly when closed so be advised and bring earplugs. There’s also a Residence Inn right beside the Hampton Inn; both are on Water Street. For a non-chain hotel in the downtown area, there’s the Des Lux Hotel and the Surety Hotel. If you want to stay closer to the Wells Fargo Arena and Iowa Events Center, there’s a Comfort Inn and Fairfield Inn and Suites nearby.

Final Thoughts

You may be wondering how many days would be the right amount for Des Moines. I stayed five nights and thought that was a day too many; four nights would have been plenty or even three nights. A long weekend would actually be just about right and give you plenty of time to explore the major sights. Since I was running the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon on a Sunday morning, I decided to stretch out my time a bit more in case I needed to take it a bit easy after the race, plus I wanted to give myself a buffer in case of flight delays before the race since there aren’t many flights from where I live to Des Moines.

I realize Des Moines, Iowa isn’t on most people’s list of places they want to visit, but honestly, it’s a nice city with friendly people and some unique offerings. If you ever find yourself in the area, try to forego any preconceived notions you may have and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Have you been to Des Moines? If so, what did you do? I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on the area!

Happy travels!

Donna

An Interview with my Daughter About Travel

My 12-year-old daughter is by no means a “world traveler” but by most American standards for children who travel, she’s seen her fair share of the world, especially the United States. She’s been to all but 9 states in the United States and outside the US to 9 countries on 4 continents. Her first flight was when she was about a year and a half and by the time she turned two years old she had flown to three states including from the east coast to Hawaii . While there are of course American children who flew at an earlier age and have flown further and to more countries, it’s fair to say she’s a pretty well-seasoned traveled for her age.

When she first mentioned to me that I should interview her for my blog, I dismissed it. But then I started thinking about it and realized it could be really useful, especially for parents with young children who might be on the fence about traveling with their children. This is actually my second time interviewing her; the first interview was about her experience with Girls on the Run, which you can find here.

Q1. What are some of your favorite places you’ve been and why did you like them?

A1. Niagara Falls because it was so amazing to see falls that went over two countries, and I really liked when they were lit up at night. I liked Greece because the culture was so different and it was interesting to see the ruins and try their food. New Zealand was cool going to the Hobbiton movie set plus so much more there. I also liked Arizona because of Antelope Canyon.

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Boat ride in New Zealand, one of the highlights of our trip

Q2. What are some places you’re dying to go to?

A2. I want to go to France, Italy, and the Caribbean.

Q3. What are some things you’ve done because of traveling that you otherwise would have never done?

A3. I probably wouldn’t have tried some of the foods I had in Greece if I hadn’t gone there. I also got a camera because of all of the traveling I’ve done. Now I like that I can take my own pictures.

Q4. What are some places you’ve been to that you didn’t care for?

A4. None that I can remember.

Q5. What are some ways you’ve learned to occupy yourself during long flights, car rides, etc.?

A5. By listening to music, doing puzzles and games on paper and on my tablet or phone, playing games, audio books.

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Italy, one of the places on my daughter’s travel wish list that I went to before she was born

Q6. What are some travel tips for kids you’d like to share?

A6. If you’re in a foreign country, give the food a chance. It may not be what you’re used to, but it’s usually pretty good. Bring things to occupy yourself. Pack for the weather, so bring pants if it’s going to be cold where you’re going. I only brought shorts once and froze even though I was told before the trip to pack pants.

Q7. Is there a place you think is more special to go to as a child versus if an adult were to go for the first time?

A7. Disney because the rides are more meant for kids and they can meet the characters like Mickey Mouse, which wouldn’t be as special for adults.

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Hobbiton in New Zealand

Q8. Are there any life lessons travel has taught you?

A8. Give everything a chance because a lot of times it can end up being worth it.

Q9. What would you say to parents who say their child is too young to appreciate a place?

A9. That’s not true. Even if they don’t remember it later, they’ll still enjoy it in their own way when they visit it.

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Antelope Canyon

Q10. Do you think you’ll still travel as much as an adult as what you do now?

A10. If I have the money to, yes. If I can get a job that pays enough I could make traveling my life.

That’s it, for the interview. It looks like we have a world traveler in the making!

How do you all feel about traveling with kids? As a parent, I’d say it’s much easier in many ways to just leave them behind with a trusted family member or sitter but the experiences they gain from travel is priceless. I realize not everyone can afford to travel with their children, especially people with 3 or 4 children, but I encourage you to consider it if it’s feasible, even if it’s only for every other vacation you take.

I’ve seen how traveling as a family has brought my family together. We’ve seen and done things that have permanently bonded us, in ways that every day life would never have done.

Happy travels!

Donna

History, Science, and Wine in Gran Canaria and Tenerife, Canary Islands- Some Rainy Day Ideas

The Canary Islands are full of places for outdoor enthusiasts like me. If you want to read about some beautiful beaches in Gran Canaria and Tenerife, I have a post here. My family and I wanted to go beyond exploring the beaches, though. We wanted to go to the Canary Islands and go hiking as much as possible. When there was a high chance of rain several days in a row I started exploring some indoor activities.

Being big history buffs, my family and I decided to visit La Cueva Pintada. The Painted Cave, in the historical center of Gáldar, is in the north of Gran Canaria (Calle Audiencia 2) and is well-marked with signposts. Cueva Pintada Museum and Archaeological Park is a site from the Paleolithic era and includes part of a village with over 50 houses and caves. For more information regarding hours, admission, and tours, see the website here.

Before we went to La Cueva Pintada, I didn’t expect the area to be that large, but the archaeological area was big enough that we spent quite a while here. The actual painted cave is only open to guided tours but you don’t have to spend the entire time on a guided tour. We pretty much just went with a group inside the painted cave and spent the rest of our time here exploring on our own. All of the areas have information in multiple languages, including English, French, German, and Spanish.

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La Cueva Pintada Museum and Archaeological Park

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Inside one of the homes from La Cueva Pintada

Later during our vacation on the island of Tenerife, we also needed a rain contingency plan. There was an almost 100% chance of rain and strong winds all day during one of our vacation days so we decided to go to a museum rather than sit around in our hotel room all day.

The Science and Cosmos Museum is a great rainy-day activity especially if you have children, even older kids, or if you love science and technology and don’t have kids. I saw plenty of adults at the museum without a child in sight, so this isn’t just for kids! Admission is a reasonable €5 for adults and €3 for residents. The website is here.

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The Science and Cosmos Museum

There are tons of hands-on activities at La Ciencia y el Cosmos as well as a planetarium. All of the signs for each activity area are in Spanish so if you’re not at least somewhat fluent, you probably won’t get as much out of the museum. Also part of Los Museos de Tenerife are La Naturaleza y el Hombre (Nature and Man) and Historia y Anthropología (History and Anthropology). We spent a couple of hours at the science museum playing before we went to a nearby winery, Casa Museo del Vino.

Casa Museo del Vino is much more than just a winery and I was lucky to have stumbled across it because honestly it didn’t come up in the usual searches. Located in Santa Brígida in Gran Canaria, the wine house museum combines the tasting and marketing of Gran Canaria Denomination of Origin wines along with a museum. While my husband and I were tasting red wines, our daughter was walking around in an adjacent room learning all about the history of the winery and the area and trying to pet the resident cat.

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Museum part of Casa Museo del Vino. Credit holaislascanarias.com

At Casa Museo del Vino, food is also available during busier months, with a speciality in Canary cuisine, an assortment of cheeses, and traditional sweets. Although entry is free, wine tastings and food are of course not free. We tried four different red wines for one euro each, and these were generous pours so there was enough of each for both my husband and myself. There are also a wide variety of bottles you can buy inside the store and we left with one bottle from the four that we had tried. More information with hours and location can be found on the website here.

Science, history, and wine are always a good combination in my book! This coming from a scientist, history-buff, and wine-lover. I was glad to see Gran Canaria and Tenerife didn’t disappoint on any of those fronts. I know Gran Canaria also has a science museum and many wineries, so there are lots of options on both Gran Canaria and Tenerife.

Do any of you like checking out local science museums, historical sites, and wineries when you travel like I do? What are some of your favorites in or out of the United States? In the United States, San Diego, Chicago and Washington, D.C. has some fantastic museums.

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

Hiking Roque Nublo and Caldera de Bandama in Gran Canaria, Canary Islands

While on vacation in the Canary Islands recently, one of our main goals was to hike as much as possible. We weren’t there to enjoy leisurely days on the beaches, although that’s certainly a popular option with tourists as you can read here.. There’s so much more to the Canary Islands than the beaches, however, and we found some gorgeous day hikes while in Gran Canaria, two of which we combined in one day.

We started off in the center of Gran Canaria at Caldera de Bandama. If you’re staying in Las Palmas, it’s only a 20 minute drive from there. The crater was formed by a volcano Pico de Bandama many years ago and is 216 meters (709 feet) deep, 574 meters (1883 feet) high and 1,000 meters (3281 feet) wide. We picked up our lunch from a market on the way, with the intention of enjoying our lunch with a view along the hike. The first thing we noticed when we arrived was all of the flowers and shrubs in bloom. The contrast between all of the flora with the black lava rocks was stunning.

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About an hour away from Caldera de Bandama is Roque Nublo, a natural monument 67 meters (220 feet) tall with the top 1813 meters (5948 feet) above sea level. This is an easy hike and not far from the nearby parking lot. Only the first portion is paved with cobblestones, but most of the trail is well-cleared dirt and easy to navigate. From the main road it’s about 1.5 kilometers to the proximity of Roque Nublo and Roque de la Rana. Before getting there, you go past another natural monument, el Roque de El Fraile. When we were there it was foggy when we reached the monuments but fortunately the fog cleared enough to get this photo:

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The person on the far right shows the scale of this monument.

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A foggy shot of the Roque Nublo area.

This was only one of many days full of hiking that my family and I did while in the Canary Islands but this was probably the best hiking we did during our stay in Gran Canaria.  I’ll have another post later about hiking in Tenerife.

Two things to remember if you’re hiking in the Canary Islands that we discovered:  1) caldera means it was formed by a volcano collapsing onto itself but more importantly for hikers it means there will be great scenery for hiking and 2) barranco means ravine. Wherever you see barranco on a map, chances are there will be great hiking in this area.

How many of you enjoy hiking while on vacation? What are some of your favorite places you’ve hiked?

Happy travels!

Donna

Running in Gran Canaria and Tenerife in the Canary Islands

The Canary Islands aren’t exactly runner-friendly at first glance, at least not the two islands I visited, Gran Canaria and Tenerife. There are pretty much no sidewalks and not even much of a shoulder along the roadways to run on. On my first day running on Gran Canaria, I had to run along a highway facing traffic with a tiny shoulder when I was lucky. I had to cross the road and jump over a guardrail at a couple of points. It wasn’t exactly my idea of running safely. However, I should state that I was staying at an apartment in a residential area, not in a hotel in a more touristy section; this is an important point I’ll get into later.

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Running after my aha! moment because I didn’t want my first photo to be of a sidewalk!

On my second day of running in Gran Canaria, I decided to go a different route and run along the walkway near the beach, namely Playa de Las Canteras. While this was safer, it wasn’t necessarily easier. I had to constantly dodge people and swerve around people when I was running. At least I wasn’t dodging cars, though. I do have to say the drivers in the Canary Islands are extremely pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly. Every single time when I was running along the roadside and a car would come, they would change lanes to give me more space. I saw this happen to cyclists and other runners all the time as well.

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A typical sidewalk in Gran Canaria. Not exactly my idea of runner-friendly, although fine for walking!

Not one to give up easily, I decided to try a different strategy for my third day of running in Gran Canaria. When we were driving, I watched for any signs of places where I could run that would be close-by the apartment where we were staying. I happened to see a bunch of people walking along an area that curved along the beach and it seemed to be a designated walkway (not a sidewalk because as I mentioned earlier there are no sidewalks of any real substance in Gran Canaria Island).

I ventured out the next morning running the direction of the walkers I had seen the previous day, and it was my aha! moment. This was what I had been looking for. This was the perfect running route for the rest of my time in Gran Canaria. I only had to go a short distance alongside a road to get to this runners’ oasis so it was perfect.

After staying for a week in Gran Canaria, we took a ferry to Tenerife and stayed there for another week. I found Tenerife to be even more hilly than Gran Canaria (the Canary Islands were formed by volcanos so they are all very mountainous with sometimes very steep hills). We stayed at a resort in Tenerife a little less than a mile from a beach so I would just run down the hill to the beach on the tiny sidewalks and run along the broad walkways there. It was great until I had to run back up the hills, but I have to say it did get easier by the end of the week so I think it was great training for me.

Tenerife also has many walkways along the beach with shops and restaurants like Gran Canaria so as along as you can find one of these, you at least have a mostly flat area to run and it will keep you off the roads. I also noticed some wider sidewalks in Tenerife so if you had to, you could run on the sidewalks at least until you came to a beach area. I did run on the sand once in Tenerife for about 5 or 10 minutes, but I’m just not a fan of running on the sand, and Tenerife is no exception. For me, the sand is either too soft or too hard. In Tenerife I came across many rocks so there’s another reason to not run on the beach.

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Running in Tenerife

Over the course of two weeks, I ran 10 times and never missed a training run. I adjusted my running schedule so that on travel days I would have a day off. Honestly, I’m surprised I was able to run that much and not miss a day. It rained once or twice but never anything too bad. The worst was the wind on one day where it felt like it was pushing me backwards.

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My daughter and running partner for many runs in the Canary Islands

I think the scenery was my biggest motivator in getting me out the door for my runs. I would go out every morning looking forward to my run and what I would get to see that time along my running route. Now that I’m back home, I have to say I miss running in the Canary Islands and am envious of people who live along a coast and get to run with ocean views all the time!

How many of you are lucky enough to run along a coastal area? Does it get routine or do you still love it?

Also, if any of you are fans of Honey Stinger or would like to try some, I have three one-use codes for 37% off for anyone not already part of the #HSHive. Email or message me if you’d like one of these codes and I’ll happily send one to you.

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

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