Valletta Area of Malta- the Capital City

Many people that come to Malta do so on a cruise ship and as such may only see the Valletta area. The view of the water in Valletta is the photo that you see most often if you search for photos of Malta. Established in the 1500’s, Valletta is the capital city of Malta and has a population of around 6,000 people. It’s not the most populated city in Malta by any means but it does seem to be the most-visited city by tourists.

IMG_0713
Valletta, Malta

During our week-long vacation in Malta, we decided to spend a day in Valletta and take in some historical sites. We wanted to choose places we thought would interest us the most but not feel rushed and like we were trying to cram everything in, so we went to the Palace Staterooms, Palace Armory, and the National Museum of Archaeology. All of these places are part of Heritage Malta which includes 23 historical sites and museums plus the Malta National Aquarium and the Citadel Visitor Centre. My family and I bought a Multisite Family Pass that was good for everyone in my family for up to 30 days.

The Palace Armory contains arms and armour used by the Knights of St. John between 1530 -1798 and by the Ottoman Empire during the Great Siege of 1565. I especially liked seeing all of the different materials from so many different origins like Italian, German, French and Spanish. There are also a variety of Islamic and Ottoman arms and armor. Honestly, you could spend hours here if you chose to, since the collection is so extensive.

IMG_0697
The Palace Armory in Malta

The National Museum of Archaeology is a good base for learning Maltese history and information on other archaeological sites on the island. The building was built in 1571 and followed a plan by local architect Ġilormu Cassar. This building was house to the Knights of the Order of St John originating from Provence, France and thus has many French architectural characteristics. This museum has artifacts from Malta’s Neolithic period (5000 BC) up to the Phoenician Period (400 BC). Some of the more popular pieces include the ‘Sleeping Lady’ (from the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum), the ‘Venus of Malta’ (from Ħaġar Qim), bronze daggers (recovered from the Bronze Age layers at Tarxien Temples), the Horus & Anubis pendant and the anthropomorphic sarcophagus, both belonging to the Phoenician Period.

IMG_1315-2
Some artifacts on display at the National Museum of Archaeology in Malta

Finally, we visited the Palace Staterooms. The Palace itself was one of the first buildings in the new city of Valletta founded by Grand Master Jean de Valette in 1566 a few months after the successful outcome of the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. The Palace was enlarged and developed by successive Grand Masters to serve as their official residence. Later, during the British period, it served as the Governor’s Palace and was the seat of Malta’s first constitutional parliament in 1921. The palace today is the seat of the Office of the President of Malta. The 18th century French Gobelins tapestries entitled, “Les Teintures des Indes” were my favorite part of the Palace Staterooms.

IMG_0691-2
Hallway in the Palace Staterooms

It’s nice to just wander around Valletta and take in the views. At one point in the day, we found a quaint little cafe where we relaxed with some delicious pastries. There are no shortage of shopping opportunities of all sorts in Valletta either. Initially we thought we could combine Valletta with the Harbour area since they’re near each other, but we found it was just too much to take in on a single day, so we decided to come back to spend some time in the Harbour area.

IMG_0706

Tips: Parking can be a pain in Valletta and some of the busier cities in Malta as well. I suggest finding a spot to park and leaving your car there and just walking around. We found free parking and didn’t have any problems walking to everywhere we wanted to go for the day. While there is a bus service in Malta,  I had read that the buses run infrequently so we just rented a car and had no problems driving ourselves around the islands of Gozo and Malta.

In my next post, we go to the Harbour area of Malta and explore there. Join me as I continue on my adventure of this fascinating country!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Rabat/Mdina/Mġarr Area of Malta- Touring a Roman House, Temples, and Catacombs

After our short stay in Gozo, we took the ferry back to Malta and decided to dive into some of the historical sites first. The diverse history of this small independent country is fascinating to me and I was very much looking forward to seeing some of the ancient ruins and other sites first-hand. You can read more about this beautiful archipelago located off the coast of Sicily on the Wikipedia page.

First we decided to explore the northwest corner of Malta which includes Rabat, Mdina, and Mgarr. Like so much of Malta, this area is rich with historical sites so we wanted to spend our day here visiting several historical sites that were part of the Heritage Malta Pass. The Heritage Malta multisite pass includes access to 22 sites and museums plus the Malta National Aquarium and the Citadel Visitor Center and is good for 30 days. If you plan on seeing multiple sites rather than one or two it’s worth the 50 Euro per adult or family pass for 110 Euro good for 2 adults and up to 2 children.

We began at the Domvs Romana, a wealthy aristocratic Roman house built in the first century B.C. and discovered in 1881.  A museum was built around the remains and opened in 1882. Although most of the house has been destroyed over the years, beautiful mosaics remain along with marble statues of Emperor Claudius and his family. I think it’s worth going to this site, just don’t plan on spending more than 30 minutes max here.

IMG_1279
Domvs Romana

The Skorba Temples are small but of great historical significance. There are two remaining monoliths, one dating to before the Temple Period before 3600 B.C. and these structures are among the oldest constructed structures on the Maltese islands. We only spent about 15 minutes here because there simply isn’t that much to see but it’s still impressive.

IMG_0660
Skorba Temples
IMG_0664
Ta’Hagrat Temples

Ta’Hagrat Temples are comprised of two structures, the oldest of which dates back to 3600-3200 B.C. The temple has a well-preserved doorway and facade and is the only temple built entirely of local upper corralline limestone. Ta’Hagrat Temples are bigger in scope than the Skorba Temples and we spent a bit more time here to be able to take it all in.

St. Paul’s Catacombs was our final stop on our historical tour of the Rabat Area and it is the best in my opinion at least of the sites we saw on this day. We chose to only go to St. Paul’s Catacombs even though Ta’ Bistra Catacombs are also in the area because it seemed like St. Paul’s would be more interesting. You can actually walk into over 20 different burial sites at St. Paul’s and although I don’t know for sure since I didn’t go, it doesn’t look like you can do that at Ta’Bistra.

IMG_20171118_135706516_HDR
If you’re claustrophobic, you’d hate going in the catacombs!

St. Paul’s Catacombs consist of over 30 hypogea or burial grounds that were in use until the 4th century A.D. They are the earliest and largest evidence of Christianity in Malta. Roman law prohibited burials within the capital at the time so the burial grounds were chosen just outside the city of what is now Mdina.

I really liked being able to go inside so many hypogea and explore the catacombs completely on my own (versus with a guide or workers there standing guard). Some were bigger than others but typically you would go down anywhere from a few to several stairs and you could walk around and see areas where the people would have been buried. If you’re claustrophobic this would not be a good place for you, though, since it was very tight, confined spaces. In case anyone is wondering there were no skeletal remains left in any of the catacombs.

IMG_20171118_135345222_HDR
The lighting in the catacombs made it really hard to get a decent photo!

As much as I enjoyed these historical sites, the ones we went to later during our vacation only got better (for the most part), although we had no way of knowing that at the time. Join me as we explore the capital city of Malta, Valletta in my next post!

Have any of you been to the catacombs anywhere else in the world, like Italy? What do you think of catacombs? Creepy or cool?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

10 Things Travel Taught Me in 2017

In 2017 my travels took me to Las Vegas,Washington, Utah, where I ran a half marathonZion National ParkBryce Canyon National ParkAntelope CanyonBest Friends Animal Sanctuary in February, and Grand Canyon National Park in March. That’s a lot right there, so what did I learn in the first few months of 2017 from these places?

1). I learned I love visiting national parks even in the winter months (and I don’t like cold weather and snow). Bryce Canyon has a special feeling when you’re admiring partially snow-covered hoodoos and you’re surrounded by utter stillness and beauty.

IMG_20170227_124831916
Snow-dusted Bryce Canyon

2). It’s possible and fun even to have a short stay in Las Vegas  with children and not spend much money. We had fun just wandering around, going through the massive casino hotels, taking in the views.

IMG_0009
Vegas, baby!

3). Volunteering when you’re on vacation rocks! One of the highlights of our time in Utah was our time at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. I’d love to do more things like this in the future.

IMG_0149
Hiking with our little overnight buddy at Best Friends

After some time at home, we were back out on our next travel adventure, beginning with New Jersey in May. I ran the Superhero Half Marathon  in Morristown, and I finally got to visit the Statue of Liberty in person. From New Jersey we were off to our first visit to South America, beginning in Santiago, Chile. After spending the night in Santiago, we spent a few days in Vina del Mar, which we fell in love with, and spent a week in the Las Cabras Region of Chile. This final place in Chile is where I learned so much about myself in relation to travel.

4). Sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone. Not being fluent in Spanish, not having wi-fi (mostly for maps and things to do), and not knowing the area well will force you to interact more with local people and figure things out on your own. I found I was more resilient than I thought I was.

IMG_20170528_165949917_HDR
Chile in all of its splendor!

5). I learned so much during my time in Chile, I made a list of 15 lessons I learned there. Probably the biggest thing I learned was to learn as much Spanish as possible before visiting the country. Don’t expect others to speak English, especially in more remote and smaller towns. This is a lesson for many other non-English-speaking countries as well.

IMG_20170529_142944189_HDR
I loved hiking on this trail in Chile

6). I also learned Chileans are some of the warmest, friendliest, most helpful people I’ve encountered on my travels. We were blessed with the kindness of strangers on several occasions in Chile.

IMG_20170529_151229556_HDR
Our little fox friend in Chile

In August, my family and I headed back to one of my favorite cities, Charleston, South Carolina. We were fortunate enough to experience the total eclipse and that was definitely the highlight of our time there. Even though we were only there for five days, I learned something.

7). Sometimes your family will get on your nerves when you’re traveling. My daughter hadn’t been sleeping well for many days before we even went on this vacation. That on top of not sleeping well because she was in a strange bed in a strange house resulted in one cranky eleven-year-old. She whined, complained, and I lost my cool on more than one occasion. I didn’t let it ruin my vacation, however. I know there will be days like this, even on vacation, when everything’s not all rosy.

IMG_0515
Morris Island near Charleston

In November, we had a little mini-vacation in Huntington, West Virginia when I ran the Marshall University Half Marathon. While we were only here for the weekend, I did manage to learn something.

8). Weekend or long-weekend getaways are a great way to explore small towns. You don’t always have to go away for a week or more and you don’t always have to go to exotic places to have fun. My family and I had more weekend getaways last year than this year and I had forgotten how nice they can be.

20171104_130941
Huntington, West Virginia

For our final vacation of 2017, we headed first to Malta then to Miami. I was very much looking forward to going to Malta since visiting the Gozo Salt Pans was on my bucket list. Malta exceeded my expectations as far as natural beauty of the islands (Malta is an archipelago of three islands), food, and just about every thing we saw and did. I have a series of posts about our time in Malta and there is one thing I learned during that vacation.

9). Mobile WiFi or MiFi can be a relatively inexpensive (roughly $10/day) but truly invaluable way to find your way around and stay connected when traveling internationally, especially if you’re driving a rental car. I have a post coming on this, so stay tuned!

Our time in Miami was spent a bit differently than many people would choose to vacation there since we were there to visit a dear friend of mine who lives there. We didn’t go to a single club or party at South Beach like many people would. Instead my friend took care of all of the planning for us and graciously took us to some of her favorite restaurants, on a tour of the Everglades, and to South Beach for the day to enjoy the ocean, play in the sand, soak in the sun, and thoroughly relax and enjoy ourselves. This brings me to the final thing I learned about travel this year.

10). Sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do all of the planning for you and just sit back and relax. You don’t always have to try to cram in a dozen “must-do” restaurants or things to do.

What about you all? Where has travel taken you in 2017 and what have you learned from it?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

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.

IMG_0594

IMG_0568

IMG_0572

IMG_0586

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.

IMG_0619
These salt pans are a big reason why I wanted to go to Malta in the first place
IMG_20171117_154401793
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

Where in the World is Malta?

When I told some people I was going to Malta, the first thing they asked is “Where is Malta?” The truth is many Americans haven’t even heard of Malta let alone know where it is, but I realize for some Europeans Malta is a popular destination for relaxation and sun. When I first heard about Malta, I was fascinated by the independent nation’s rich history. Over the centuries, Malta has been ruled by the Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, and Arabs, just to name a few and these have all influenced Malta in one way or another. The wikipedia page has way more info than I’m going to go over here, but I truly found it fascinating.

So where is Malta? Malta is an archipelago of three islands off the coast of Sicily; the main island is simply called Malta, and two smaller ones are Gozo and Comino. For this vacation, we were going to spend a couple of days in Gozo then a week in Malta. Upon arrival at the Malta airport, we picked up a rental car and drove to the ferry terminal to take a ferry to Gozo. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the greatest for sightseeing on our first day. It was chilly, very breezy, and kept spitting rain off and on. We braved the cold and took our positions on the top deck of the ferry, snapping dozens of photos and thoroughly enjoying the ride despite the less than ideal weather.

The ferry from Malta to Gozo was extremely easy logistically. We just parked our rental car in a queue, went inside the terminal to get some sandwiches, and by then it was time to pull the car up onto the ferry. You are only charged upon return from Gozo so we didn’t even have to buy tickets. After the 30 minute incredibly scenic ferry ride, we pulled the car off the ferry and were on our way!

IMG_0540
First views of Gozo from the ferry

After getting settled into the apartment we rented through hotels.com (they don’t just have ordinary hotel rooms; you can also find apartments, condos, farm houses, and other less conventional accommodations sometimes) we went out to get our bearings, pick up some groceries for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning, and get a snack from a local bakery. The buildings in Malta are mostly beige or tan in color and the landscape is very different from anywhere I’ve ever been. It reminded me in some ways of Crete but it seemed much greener in Gozo.

IMG_0552
Approaching the ferry terminal in Gozo

Since there wasn’t time to go to any historical sites (they all close at 5 pm) that would have to wait until the next day. We took a walk and popped in a couple of cute shops while we were out then went back to the apartment to cook dinner, take some much-needed showers, and just relax for the rest of the evening.

IMG_20171116_161723803_HDR
Would you go down this ladder into the water?
IMG_20171117_152454302
View from our balcony in Gozo

We mapped out our plans for the following day and watched the beautiful deep blue water from the living room. The best part about where we were staying was the view. You could see water from both of the bedrooms and the living room. There was also a balcony that wrapped around from the living room and both bedrooms. We discovered there was access to the rooftop but it was disappointing in that it was designed as purely utilitarian for drying clothes rather than for enjoying the view since it was blocked by parts of the roof.

My first impression of Malta was a positive one. I liked the landscape and scenery a lot, the people seemed friendly and helpful, and the food options were good. I was excited to spend the next week here exploring the islands.

IMG_20171116_161550835_HDR

Next up- historical sites and one of my bucket list places! Have any of you been to Malta? Did you love it as much as I did? Or do you want to go now after reading about it?

Happy travels!

Donna

What’s in my Racing (Running) Bag?

Similar to “What’s in my Family’s Luggage” post, I thought I’d write one up on what I pack for a race. Since I’m currently on my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, and am up to 41 states, I have been packing a bag for a race for many years now. The contents of my pre-race bag have certainly changed as I’ve learned what works and doesn’t work for me.

To begin with, let me just re-iterate how much I love my packing cubes from ebags. I have the 3 piece set and love them so much I bought more for my daughter. If you are new to my blog, you may not be aware that my family and I never check a bag with an airline. Also, since I’m down to the last 9 states, there will be no more driving to a half marathon for me. I’ve already driven to all of ones that are within driving distance from my house and I’m not into cross-country driving before a half marathon.

I’ve always been able to condense all of my running gear except for my shoes, which I always wear on the airplane to the race, into a medium-sized packing cube. Almost always I’ll be running once or twice before the race as well, so I’ll also pack another running shirt, sports bra, socks, and shorts or other weather-appropriate bottoms in the cube.

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What exactly is in my running packing cube specifically for a half marathon?

20171031_204532

1. I always pack at least one sports bra and pair of socks, regardless of the weather and time of year. I learned the hard way at my half marathon in Missoula, Montana to pack a long-sleeve shirt and capris or pants even if it’s July and you think there’s no way you’ll need to wear anything but shorts and short-sleeves if you’re headed somewhere north of where you live. I consider these things my basics. I’ve been buying Zensah sports bras lately and really like them so I’m packing one of those for my next race. For socks, I’m packing Zensah Grit socks. My shirt is a short-sleeve from Arctic Cool that I reviewed and you can read that here if you’d like. My shorts are from Under Armour. The shorts and shirt obviously would be different if I was headed to a cooler race.

2. I always pack my running watch and charger. I’ve had multiple Garmins and more recently a TomTom over the years, but this is one piece of gear that’s always gone with me to my races.

3. I always pack sunglasses and a running hat. I’ll decide on the morning of the race if I actually wear the sunglasses and hat, depending on how sunny/hot/cold it is going to be.

20171101_175732
All my running gear neatly packed in a medium-sized packing cube

4. In more recent years I’ve started running races with my Nathan running belt. It’s got holders for two bottles, which I like better than ones that have a spot for one big bottle. I run all my races fueled by Nuun carried by me and have found that just works better for me. No surprises on what you’re going to get at aid stations, and if it’s going to settle well with you, and even better, no slowing down at aid stations to grab a cup and try to not slosh it all over yourself while still swallowing a few drops. Speaking of fuel, I also like Honey Stinger waffles. I have a finicky stomach on race day but I usually don’t have a hard time getting these down.

5. Also in more recent years, I’ve been running races with my phone and armband. After one race where the finish was an absolute mad house and I had trouble finding my husband and daughter because there were so many people (even though we agreed to meet in a specific spot ahead of time), I started just running with my phone for all races.

6. I always wear my running shoes to races where I have to fly to, so those don’t go in my packing cubes. My latest pair for long runs is the Newton Fate II, which you can buy directly from Newton here and I see currently they’re on sale. It looks like the Fate III’s are out now. Not sure if I’ll stick with Newton or switch brands. I’m debating switching brands just to mix things up.

7. I also have two things for after a race. The first one is compression socks. These are fantastic for long flights, whether or not you’re running a race. When you’re on a long flight, the blood in your legs tends to pool unless you get up and walk around the plane a lot, so compression socks help with circulation in your legs. I personally like ones from Zensah and you can buy them here. The rule of thumb when it comes to compression products is if they’re easy to put on and pull off, they’re not tight enough. These things should be difficult to put on and feel like a bit of a struggle, but in the end it’s worth it.

The second thing I have for after a race is new to me, but one I’m very excited about. I’ve just discovered Oofos sandals (thank you, Paula!) and couldn’t be more excited about a pair of sandals. If you haven’t discovered Oofos yet, they’re supposed to be great for recovery after running or just being on your feet all day. You can tell they’re supremely different than most other flip-flop type sandals the second you put them on. The support they give to your feet is incredible. I can see why they’re so popular with runners.

20171031_075214
I’m normally not a big fan of photos of people’s feet but I felt like my new Oofos deserved a photo!

So that’s everything. I feel like I’ve packed a bag for a half marathon so many times by now I barely even have to think about what I need to bring. It does make it a bit less stressful when packing at least.

Also, I have an affiliate link through ebags for $30 off your next order if you sign up for emails here.  I don’t often pass along links for ebags on my blog, but if you follow me on twitter @runningtotravel, I’ll sometimes post links there for discounts when they come along. I love their stuff, but I don’t want to seem like I’m too pushy (I wouldn’t be a very good salesperson).

What running gear or clothes do you all really like for half marathons or marathons? Any recommendations?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

Spending Major Holidays on Holiday

Although I’m American, I thought the title sounded a bit more clever written that way. Are Americans the only group of people who use the term “vacation?” Anyway, last year I spent Thanksgiving in beautiful San Diego, which you can read about herehere, and here. Even though I wasn’t visiting family in San Diego, my husband and daughter were with me, so I wasn’t spending the American holiday by myself. We found a restaurant that was serving a traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Honestly, spending our holiday in San Diego was even better than I thought it would be, but then again I absolutely love San Diego.

dsc03959
Not a bad way to spend Thanksgiving with views like this!

We’ve spent a few Thanksgivings away from home and extended family, so this wasn’t the first year for that, not to travel to see family but to travel for half marathons. This year, I spent my Thanksgiving in Malta. That was the first time I was in another country during an American holiday. We had Chinese food for dinner on Thanksgiving although we could have had just about anything we wanted other than a traditional turkey dinner.

My husband, daughter, and I have also traveled during Easter. I was running a half marathon in Eugene, Oregon the weekend of Easter recently, so my daughter joined an Easter egg hunt in Eugene. The Easter bunny also brought along her treats and placed them in the container for the ice machine from the hotel. We had loads of fun hiking around Bend, Oregon after we left Eugene.

IMG_20160326_101327576
Easter egg hunt in Eugene

We’ve also been on vacation during more minor holidays like the 4th of July. We were in Montana during Independence Day one year and just completely missed all fireworks and everything. It wasn’t a big deal, though. One year we spent Valentine’s Day in Atlanta, Georgia when I ran the utterly miserable Run the Reagan Half Marathon. It wasn’t exactly a romantic way to spend the day but my husband and I made the most of it. We were in Virginia Beach, Virginia during St. Patrick’s Day when I ran the half marathon portion of the Shamrock Marathon, which was pretty fun. We didn’t drink green beer or party since the race was the following morning after St. Patrick’s Day, but it was still a fun atmosphere to be in.

There are of course some downsides to traveling during major holidays. Hotels in the Caribbean and airfare to/from there will be more expensive during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s. In fact, travel to many destinations costs more during Christmas and New Year’s. I’ve found for many other destinations, however, prices even in the United States aren’t any higher during Thanksgiving or Easter. There may be less places open or less availability, though (i.e. restaurants may be closed, hotels may be fully booked).

Many people also look at being away from extended family during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter as a down-side. My extended family is so far away and in colder climates, my husband, daughter, and I usually only see them during the warmer months anyway. For us, it’s not worth risking our lives getting in a car accident on slippery snowy or icy roads to see them on Christmas day. We hope they understand.

Overall, I have enjoyed traveling during holidays and think it’s been a good thing. It’s fun to experience how people from different parts of the country celebrate the holidays. For instance, I really enjoyed the Christmas decorations all over San Diego and Malta. Seeing Christmas decorations in beach areas is very different from seeing the same ones every year where I live.

dsc03889

If I were a solo traveler, I’m not sure if I would feel the same way about traveling during holidays and being away from my family. That’s hard to say, though without going through it first-hand.

How do you all feel about traveling and being away from extended family members during major holidays? Do you always spend the holidays with family and couldn’t imagine not being with them for the holidays? I’d love to hear what you all think about this!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

What I’m Thankful for in 2017

Normally I don’t do this kind of post, but this year, I was feeling especially thankful, and with it being Thanksgiving in the US, it seemed appropriate. I feel like so much happened in 2017 that helped me grow as a person. I’ve always felt like we Americans often take our privileged lives for granted and I have tried to not fall into that trap. My mother was a single mother who raised my brother and me by herself once my parents divorced when I was 8 years old and my brother was 12. We were poor by most people’s standards in the US, but once I was older and visited countries outside the US, I saw how lucky we really had it. At least we had a roof over our heads and running water, which is more than many people especially in less developed countries can say.

Now my husband, daughter, and myself are able to travel considerably, especially by American standards and I appreciate this deeply. This year we began our travels for the year in Utah, where I ran the Dogtown Half Marathon, my 39th state for a half marathon. I feel extremely fortunate I’m not only healthy and strong enough to run half marathons, but also that I’ve been able to continue this journey of running a half marathon in all 50 states as long as I have. I ran the Superhero Half Marathon in New Jersey for my 40th state in May and honestly I was thankful just to finish that one because it was so tough!

IMG_20170225_101501176
After the Dogtown Half Marathon in Utah

In June of this year, my family and I was fortunate enough to visit the beautiful country of Chile. This was our first visit to South America, and we thought we would be fine with our limited knowledge of Spanish. Although we struggled to communicate with the people many times, we did figure things out and we found out we were resilient. In the end, we were thankful we were able to visit Chile and see all of the amazing things we saw including the Andes Mountains, which are even more beautiful in person than I thought they would be.

IMG_20170529_151229556_HDR
This little fox in Chile was so friendly!

I’m also thankful that I’ve been able to change my running gait, and get back to the stride I used to have years ago. You can read about my journey for that here. It was difficult and took many months to do the exercises necessary to strengthen my glutes and hips, along with just the focused effort of not hyperextending my right leg when I was running, but I was able to do it.

I think my change in running gait is part of the reason I had such a fun race at the Marshall University Half Marathon in Huntington, West Virginia in November. After difficult races in Utah and New Jersey, I needed the mental boost I got from the race in West Virginia. I realize not every race will be a PR, especially when you’re in your 40’s like I am, so you take all the “wins” you can get when you’re my age!

20171105_090833
After the Marshall University Half Marathon in West Virginia

I’m also thankful for all of the friends I’ve made from the blogging community. I’ve learned so much from reading other blogs and from the comments I’ve gotten from others. If I would have known blogging can be so much fun, I would have started a blog years ago!

Most of all, I’m thankful for my husband and daughter. They’re my travel companions, my hill-running companion (my daughter), my friends, and most of all my family. They love and support me unconditionally even when they’re not too happy with me. I know I can always depend on them no matter what and honestly I can’t say that about anyone else in the world.

IMG_0149

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the US (I know no one else cares)! Even if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving you can still be thankful. What are you all most thankful for?

Donna

 

Packing List- What’s in my Family’s Luggage

If you follow my blog, you probably know that I’m a huge advocate of traveling light so I don’t have to check a bag with airlines. As a family of three, we haven’t checked a bag since our daughter was old enough to carry her own luggage, many years ago. We’ve gone on multiple 3-week vacations around the world without checking a bag. I’ve gotten asked many times how we manage to do this. The key is to only bring a week’s worth of clothes at the most and do a load of laundry mid-way on your vacation.

There are several advantages to not checking luggage with airlines, the most obvious being the money it saves you from not having to pay a baggage fee with airlines but there are other advantages as well. I’m in the process of running a half marathon in all 50 states, and over the years we’ve flown 3 or 4 times a year for races (in addition to flying to other places purely for vacations vs. racecations). By having all of my running clothes and gear on the plane with me, I don’t ever have to worry about my suitcase getting lost and not having those things for the race. The first time I flew to a race without checking luggage, I remember what peace of mind it gave me to know I would have all of my running things with me and there was no way my things were getting lost before the race.

20171102_191735
My family’s main carry-ons

 

Having your carry-on luggage on the plane with you also has other perks. I remember being on a flight that was the absolute coldest I’ve ever been on in my life. It felt like I was at a ski resort instead of sitting on an airplane. I was able to pull out several articles of clothing to layer-on and keep me warm, and I was so thankful to be able to do that. I’ve also pulled out sweaters from my carry-on in freezing airports on more than one occasion.

But I don’t want to lug around all of my stuff, you say! Trust me, you get used to it. I always tell myself I really just have to carry my bag through the airport and from the airport to the rental car once I get to my destination. It’s really not that bad. Besides, with the size and weight limitations on carry-ons from airlines, it’s not like you’re going to be lugging around 100 pounds or anything crazy anyway. Speaking of carry-on rules, many airlines limit carry-on luggage to 9 inches by 14 inches by 22 inches ((22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels. Some airlines do allow slightly bigger but some have even greater restrictions, so you should always check the airline you’re flying with in advance.

Since most airlines allow one carry-on bag and one personal bag, I always have my Patagonia backpack with handles and a cross-body strap for my carry-on bag and a backpack for my personal bag. I use the cross-body strap so I can still have a backpack on my back. Since my carry-on is a soft (i.e. flexible) material instead of hard-shell, I’ve always been able to stuff it on the plane, even small planes. My daughter recently asked for her own Patagonia carry-on like mine to replace her small roller bag, so she also has that plus sometimes a backpack but sometimes she’s been able to pack everything in her carry-on and didn’t need a backpack. You can buy the Patagonia Headway MLC from eBags here.

My husband recently down-sized from an already small carry-on bag to an even smaller roller carry-on bag. He also has a backpack for his laptop and other electronics, but he’s debated several times if he should leave his laptop at home so he wouldn’t have to lug it around (I doubt he’d ever leave it behind, though).

20171115_065718
My husband’s little roller bag

 

One of my husband’s new favorite things for travel has been a 100% Merino wool shirt I got him from Amazon. Wool is great for travel because it absorbs odor from sweat so you can literally wear it for days without it stinking. He even wore it on multiple days in Charleston, South Carolina in August when it was hot and humid with no smell. That was definitely a test for this shirt! Find the shirt here on Amazon.

I also am a huge advocate of rolling my clothes and using packing cubes. I like the 3-piece set of packing cubes from eBags, which you can buy here.

20171114_171316
The large packing cube unzipped

OK. So you have your carry-on bag and your packing cubes. Now you just need to fill the packing cubes. The great thing about the 3-piece set is you can use the bigger one for shirts, pants, undies, socks, and a small pair of shoes. The medium-sized one is great for when I’m traveling to a half-marathon and I can fit all of my running clothes and gear in that cube. If I’m not going to a race, I’ll use it for my swim suit and a couple of pair of athletic clothes for runs or working out in, or I’ve used it for things like warm hats, gloves, and a fleece jacket for layering if we’re going somewhere cold. The small cube can be used for beauty products or snacks for travel days or undies and swim wear if you don’t have enough room in your larger cube. The point is, you can categorize your clothes and things so that when you reach your destination, it makes unpacking and finding things much easier.

That covers the larger carry-on. As I mentioned, my husband and I also carry a backpack, and our daughter sometimes carries one. In my backpack, I have my tablet, my camera, cell phone, a paperback book (I’m old-school), medications, my baggie of liquids each 100 ml or less, headphones, snacks, and water bottle. My husband has his laptop, cell phone, sometimes a couple of paperback books, earbuds, snacks, baggie of liquids 100 ml or less, and water bottle.

And that’s it! Nothing complicated, just your basics really with some specifics but nothing crazy.

20171115_075218

Here’s a simple break-down:

  1. Patagonia Headway MLC carry-on for me and one for my daughter, roller carry-on for my husband
  2. 3-piece set of packing cubes typically containing:
    1. 5-6 shirts
    2. 1 pair of pants (if cold) or 2 pair of shorts (if warm)
    3. 6 pair of undies and socks
    4. 2-3 athletic shirts, 1-2 athletic shorts, 1-2 pair athletic socks
    5. Bathing suit
    6. Tank top and shorts for sleeping
    7. Eye mask
    8. Water bottle holder & bottles, running watch & charger, cell phone arm band, Nuun, snacks for race if running a half marathon
    9. Snacks (usually nuts, dried fruit, crackers, sometimes jerky, cereal bars)
    10. Small pair of shoes (slip-ons or flip-flops)
  3. quart-size ziplock bag with liquid toiletries, each 100 ml or less
  4. hair brush
  5. camera
  6. tablet
  7. cell phone
  8. 1 or 2 paperback books
  9. medications
  10. headphones
  11. water bottle

On the plane, I’ll wear a shirt with a lightweight cardigan-type sweater or hoodie, my most comfortable jeans, and my running shoes. If I’m going somewhere cold, I’ll also wear my winter coat and have my scarf, hat, and gloves in the pockets or stuffed in my backpack. I always wear my most bulky clothes and shoes on the plane, to save room for smaller items in my bag.

What about you guys? What do you like to travel with? Anything you’d never travel without?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

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.

20171104_130941
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.

20171104_131816
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.

20171104_141259
Llamas
20171104_141905
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.

20171105_135712

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