Day Trips From Boston By Train – Rockport

As a City of Boston resident who does not own a car, I’ve become quite familiar with the locations outside of the city that you can visit by train. One of my favorite places to visit is Rockport, Massachusetts. If you are visiting Boston, I highly recommend taking some day trips and the train is a great way to do so.

Rockport is located 40 miles north of Boston on the tip of the Cape Ann peninsula, just east of Gloucester which many of you may have heard of from the movie Perfect Storm. Other than its border with Gloucester, the rest of the town is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, making it the quintessential New England seaside town to visit.

At first Rockport was part of neighboring Gloucester and was a major supplier of granite along the east coast of the United States due to the quarries in the area. In 1840, Rockport became its own town and continued to supply granite as well as become known for its fishing harbor and a popular vacation home due to its beaches.

Today, Rockport is still popular with tourist and there are lots of lobster fisherman in the area.

Fun Fact About Rockport – While the movie The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock was based in Alaska, did you know that they actually filmed it in Rockport? When you visit Rockport you will see the similarities with coastal communities in Alaska.

Getting to Rockport

Rockport is easily accessible by train from Boston. From North Station in downtown Boston, you can take the Rockport line of the MBTA’s commuter rail to the very last stop, Rockport. On the weekend, the train runs every couple of hours, with more frequent service on weekdays, especially during prime commute hours. Tickets cost $24.50 roundtrip during the week and on the weekends, they offer a special $10 weekend pass which gets you unlimited rides on the commuter rail all weekend long. For a ticket that normally costs almost $25, the $10 weekend pass is a great deal, you must take advantage of it. Check the mbta website for the train schedule.

Motif No. 1

One of the top things to see in Rockport is the most painted building in the United States and some even consider it the most painted building in the world.

Motif No. 1 is located on Bradley Wharf along the Rockport Harbor. The building that stands today is actually a replica of an old red fishing shack that was built in 1840 and destroyed during the blizzard of 1978. Due to the building’s popularity, the replica was built shortly after the blizzard. Over the years, the building got recognized as a popular painting subject due to the composition and lighting of the location. And I mean who wouldn’t want to paint this perfect New England seaside harbor scene!

Local painter Lester Hornby was the one who first started referring to it as Motif No. 1 after the students in his painting class all seemed to pick the building as the subject of their painting assignments. Now it’s become quite famous not just for painters but also photographers. On any given day in Rockport, you will see multiple people snapping photos of the building. While the view in the photo above is definitely the money shot, I highly recommend getting a view of it from all different angles while walking around Rockport.

Bearskin Neck

As the town of Rockport was known for its fishing industry, the harbor was the focal point of town. This commercial harbor has turned into the main tourist attraction in Rockport and is called Bearskin Neck.

You may be thinking, that’s a strange name for a harbor area and I agree with you. Of course, there are multiple theories on how this name came to be. The most popularly accepted reason is the name simply came from a bear that was caught in the tide and killed back in 1700. I personally prefer to go with the more interesting explanation. Years ago, a local man was attacked by a bear by the harbor. He ended up fighting the bear and eventually winning. He skinned the bear and left the bearskin out on the rocks. The fisherman coming into the harbor saw the bearskin and ended up giving the area the name Bearskin Neck. There is even a sign over one of the stores, The Pewter Shop, which depicts the local man and the bear. You can somewhat see this sign on the red building in the photo below.

Bearskin Neck is where you will find many shops and restaurants. The street gets busy with many pedestrians and also the occasional car driving down the street, so stay alert while walking in the street and keep an eye on the little ones. The shops range from your typical souvenir shops to a general store to one-of-a-kind shops with unique gifts to art galleries.

One of my favorite shops is the Rockport Candle Company and I always make sure to buy a new calendar each time I visit. I noticed the most recent time I was there that you can even make your own candle, which is always fun to do.

Many of the shops are family run businesses, some of which have been around for quite some time. The Pewter Shop has been in business since 1935, making it the oldest shop in Rockport. All the pewter they sell is made onsite.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I always work up quite the appetite while shopping! There are plenty of food options available in Bearskin Neck to help satisfy that appetite. From quick bites to sit down restaurants, there is plenty to choose from. Here are just a few great food options:

  • Seafood – Being a coastal town, there are many options for fresh seafood, and you can find it on the menu at most restaurants. There are also plenty of restaurants that specializes in fresh seafood. The Fish Shack and Roy Moore Lobster Company are two of the more popular spots.
  • Waterfront Dining – On a nice day, it’s always a good idea to have a great waterfront view while enjoying your meal. My Place By The Sea and 7th Wave Restaurant are two great waterfront dining options.
  • Ice Cream – On a summer visit, ice cream is a must! The Ice Cream Store is my personal favorite and judging by the line every time I’ve been there, its other people’s favorite as well.

Rockport Breakwater

If you walk thru Bearskin Neck towards the water to the very end you will come to Rockport Breakwater. The breakwater is 1/8 of a mile long and it’s a great little walk with spectacular views of Rockport, the harbor and the ocean.

While the breakwater has been rebuilt in 2015 and now features mainly flat rocks making it easy to walk to the end, you should still make sure to wear proper footwear. Make sure to hold your belongings tightly as I did see someone’s insulated water bottle fall out of their hand and thru a hole between the rocks down into the ocean. It’s definitely a fun activity for the whole family to walk out along the rocks.

Once you get to the end, you are at a great spot to sit and relax for a bit. Also, from the end you get a nice view of the Straitsmouth Island and its historic lighthouse. There have been three lighthouses on the island, the first built in 1834 and the final one built in 1896. The lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Straitsmouth Island and the lighthouse are now part of the Massachusetts Audobon Society as a wildlife Sanctuary.

Kayak and Boat Tours

If you would like to visit Straitsmouth Island, a great way to do so is by kayak. North Shore Adventures has kayaks for rent as well as many different tours available, including:

  • Island Kayak Tour – This tour will take you 1 mile out to Straitsmouth Island and additional 1.5 miles to Thatcher Island further out in the ocean with stops on the islands.
  • Seal Kayak Tour – This tour goes to a outcropping of walks 2.5 miles from Rockport to see seals and birds in the area.
  • Coastal Kayak Tour – This tour is great for beginners who want to stay a bit closer to coast.
  • Evening Kayak Tour – This tour is great for those really hot days as it will be cooler in the evening and depending on the time of year, you might catch the sunset on this tour.

If you prefer to not have to do the work of kayaking, why not take a tour on a lobster boat! Captain Jim’s Rockport Seaventure offers tours on its lobster boat, First Lady, on the weekends and holidays. Not only will you learn more about Rockport on this boat tour, but you will also learn about catching lobsters. I haven’t done this tour just yet, but it’s definitely on my bucket list, what a unique experience!

Beaches in Rockport

Being on the coast there are many beaches in Rockport including a couple within walking distance of downtown. While there are many beaches in the area that are much larger, these beaches are still a great alternative if you are looking to spend a bit of time at the beach while visiting Rockport by train.

The first beach you will come to walking from downtown Rockport is Front Beach. This is the best beach if you are looking to sit in the sand and enjoy the warm weather. The beach is staffed with a lifeguard making it a good choice if you are at the beach with young ones. Even if you don’t plan on spending time on the beach, I definitely recommend taking a walk by the beach as it’s pretty beautiful to see.

If you continue walking past Front Beach, you will come to Back Beach. This beach is much more rocky than Front Beach and not one for laying on the beach. Back Beach is actually known for its scuba diving. This is also a great beach to walk along or just sit on the larger rocks overlooking the beach and enjoy the views.

Rockport definitely has plenty to keep you busy for a day trip from Boston and all is just a quick walk from the train station. This is one of my favorite places to visit outside of the city of Boston and a must visit for anyone visiting Boston.

Beyond the Miles Travel would love to help you plan a trip to Boston with Rockport as part of your itinerary, contact us today.

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Speedy Visit to Indianapolis

I recently took a very quick 2-day trip to Indianapolis. Being that Indianapolis is known as the Racing Capital of the World, it probably makes sense that it was such a speedy trip!

Before planning my visit, I did not know much about the city of Indianapolis, and I was definitely pleasantly surprised that there was so much more to do there than I originally thought, I kept thinking that maybe my trip shouldn’t have been such a speedy one. Indianapolis is the capital and largest city of the state of Indiana. It’s the third most populous city in the Midwest behind Chicago, Illinois and Columbus, Ohio and it’s also the fourth most populous state capital in the US. It’s higher than my city of Boston, which comes in sixth, I found this very surprising! Being such a large and populous capital city, the downtown area was full of energy, with plenty to see and do.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

As the Racing Capital of the World, no trip to Indianapolis is complete without a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which is located in a suburb of Indianapolis, conveniently called Speedway, Indiana. As someone who has never watched a car race in my life, I can honestly say it is worth visiting even if you are not a race car fan. Located inside the speedway is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. Open daily, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the museum is the spot for race fans and a great place for the non-race fans to learn a little about racing.

There are a number of exhibits located in the museum, one can’t miss exhibit is a film about the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 2.5-mile-long oval racetrack was built in 1909 after Indianapolis businessman, Carl G. Fisher wanted to build a facility for car racing after seeing that racing was very popular in Europe. The speedway was met with tragedy from the very first race series in August 1909 with a driver, 2 mechanics and 2 spectators suffering fatal injuries at the event. It was determined that the original gravel track was unsafe, so it was then paved with over 3 million bricks which is how the speedway earned its nickname of “The Brickyard”. Racing was back and much safer starting in 1910.

In 1911, the famous Indianapolis 500 took place for the first time. This premier racing event is held annually at the end of May during Memorial Day weekend. There are several qualifying events the week leading up the big race. Thirty-three cars compete in the main event for 200 laps on the 2.5-mile-long track to win the 500-mile race.

For the car lovers, there is an exhibit featuring the Winning Cars of the Indianapolis 500 in the Winner’s Gallery. It was really interesting to see the older cars from the early 1900s compared to the cars from more recent years.

Across from the Winner’s Gallery is the Second exhibit, featuring the stories of the second-place drivers. It was crazy to read just how close some of the races were. Every time I would read a second-place finish time being just fractions of a second behind the first-place driver, I would end up seeing one that was even closer. The record for the closest finish was held by Scott Goodyear in 1992, when he came in just .043 seconds behind winner Al Unser, Jr.

One of the most fun exhibits is definitely the Traditions exhibit. In this exhibit, you can see the Borg-Warner Trophy which each winner has their face and name engraved on.

This exhibit has stories about some of the speedway traditions. One such tradition is the winner drinking milk after they finish. This tradition started when the 1933 winner requested a glass of milk after winning the race. When he won again in 1936, he requested it once again and the American Dairy Association took notice and decided this should be an annual tradition.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Well, you are in luck, they have simulators available for you to get your chance to race the Indy 500. This was a lot of fun, but it made me realize, that I would probably crash right into the wall very quickly, guess I won’t be quitting my day job to become a race car driver! lol

When you look at the Indy cars, you can see just how low to the ground they are, but have you ever wondered just how low the drivers are sitting? Here you have your chance, there is a car available for a photo op that you can get into. I just kneeled down in fear I wouldn’t be able to stand up if I actually sat in the low seat. I really wasn’t meant to be a race car driver! Definitely a fun photo op though.

You can tour the museum on your own or if you would like you can book a guided tour of the museum. They also have a Basement Collection Tour where you can see rare artifacts.

If you would like to get out on the racetrack, there are a number of tours you can book:

  • Kiss The Bricks Tour – This 30-minute tour will take you on a bus ride around the 2.5-mile racetrack with a stop at the finish line where you an kiss the historic bricks just like the winners do.
  • View From the Top Tour – This 30-minute tour will take you to the victory podium and the top of the 153-foot-tall Pagoda for an ariel view of the racetrack.
  • Golf Cart Tour – This 90-minute tour combines the experiences in the other two tours with more behind the scenes experiences like Gasoline Alley and the Snake Pit

If you’re a runner, a really fun way to experience the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is to run the Indy Mini Half Marathon which is held the first Saturday of May each year. Starting and finishing in Downtown Indianapolis, this race includes a lap around the racetrack and was definitely one of my favorite half marathons that I have run.

White River State Park

From the suburb of Speedway, I headed back downtown to begin exploring Indianapolis. My first stop was White River State Park. This urban park covers 267 acres and is home to plenty of outdoor and indoor attractions, including:

  • Greenspaces – White River State Park includes many different greenspaces for all to enjoy. Military Park is a 12-acre park in the shape of a military badge that is home to festivals, charity events, races and farmers markets. TCU Amphitheater is home to concerts, fundraisers, graduations and conference events. Celebration Plaza and Amphitheater is a great open space featuring beautiful views of downtown and even a waterfall.
  • Canal Walk – Located in White River State Park is a 3-mile loop canal. This is the perfect place to go for a walk or run along the canal. You can also rent bikes and surreys. If you would like to get on the water, there are also gondolas and swan paddle boats to rent.
  • Museums – While I personally did not have time to visit any museums while in Indianapolis, there are a few museums located right in White River State Park. If you are a fan of college sports, the NCAA Hall of Champions is located in the park as part of a three-building complex that also includes the NCAA corporate headquarters. The Hall of Champions features two floors of interactive exhibits. For the history lovers, there is the Indiana State Museum cover the history of the state from the Ice Age to the 21st Century. The museum covers the science, art and culture of the state. As a lover of history, I really wish I had time to visit this one! The Eiteljorg Museum features Native American art, culture and history. As one of the few museums east of the Mississippi that celebrates the art and culture of indigenous people in America, it’s a must visit. This museum sounds very similiar to alot of the museums you can visit in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
  • Indianapolis Zoo – Also located in White River State Park is the Indianapolis Zoo. This is the perfect spot for a family to spend the day. Not only is this a 64-acre zoo, but they also offer some really great experiences where you can get up close to animals like dolphins, elephants, sloths, rhinos and aardvarks.
  • Art – Aside from the art that you can see at the Indiana State and Eiteljorg Museums, there is also plenty of free art to see throughout the park. Along the canal walk, there are numerous murals under the overpasses that you definitely must check out if you are a street art lover. Also scattered throughout the park are numerous sculptures. Swipe below to see some of the gorgeous art in White River State Park.

Indiana State Capitol Building

Being that Indianapolis is the capital of the state of Indiana, a visit to the Indiana State Capitol Building is a great idea. Located in downtown Indianapolis, the capitol building is open Monday – Saturday, see their website for the most up to date hours and information. The building can be viewed as part of a guided tour or if the hours of the tours aren’t convenient, you can pick up a brochure and take a self-guided tour on your own.

Even if you do not have time to see the inside of the building, I recommend at least taking a walk around the capitol grounds. I loved seeing the details in the architecture of the building and there were numerous sculptures and monuments outside the building as well. There was even a sign to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train which went thru Indianapolis on its way from Washington DC to his hometown of Springfield, Illinois.

Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Monument

I love seeing monuments around the world and there are many cities that have Soldiers and Sailors Monuments to honor those that served. The Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Monument was incredibly impressive to me. The monument recognizes Indiana residents that served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War and the Spanish American War.

The monument was built in 1902 and stands 284 feet tall. The details on the monument were stunning, including the statues located at the four corners of the monument which represent Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery and Navy.

The monument is open Fridays-Sunday from 10:30am – 5:30pm. It’s free to walk the 330 steps to the observation level at 230 feet. Or for a couple of dollars, you can take an elevator the majority of the way up but will still need to walk the final 49 steps. There are also 37 steps outside to get to the elevator.

Even if you are unable to go up the tower to the observation level, seeing the outside of the monument is definitely worth it. The monument also seemed to be somewhat of a meeting spot downtown, there were many people sitting outside meeting up with friends and family when I visited.

This was just a fraction of the things to do in Indianapolis. If I had more time, I’m sure I would have found even more to do in this beautiful and lively city.

Time to plan your trip to the Racing Capital of the World!

Moab Utah – Gateway to the Outdoors

Located in the southeastern part of the state of Utah, Moab is the perfect town to stay in to experience all of the nearby outdoor adventures. From national and state parks to hiking and water activities, the Moab area has it all.

Arches National Park

The biggest draw to the Moab area is definitely Arches National Park. As one of the “Mighty 5” National Parks in Utah, it’s a must visit. Covering 76,680 acres, Arches National Park features more than 2,000 arch formations and officially became a National Park in 1971.

Arches National Park has many different areas to visit including:

  • Park Avenue – featuring towering red rock walls and a canyon.
  • Balanced Rock – featuring a 3,600-ton boulder balancing 128 feet on an eroding pedestal shaped rock.
  • Windows Section – one of the more popular areas in the park featuring multiple different arches.
  • Delicate Arch – the most well-known arch in the park is also the largest free-standing arch at 46 feet high and 32 feet wide.
  • Devil’s Garden – featuring multiple long and short trails along the almost 8-mile round trip Devil’s Garden Trail. These trails will lead you to multiple arches.

One of the main activities in Arches National Park is hiking. From the popular hike to the most well-known arch in the park, Delicate Arch to the long or short hikes along the Devil’s Garden Trail, there are many different hikes for all abilities.

It’s not just hiking that will bring you to Arches National Park, there are many other outdoor activities including rock climbing, camping, sunset/sunrise viewing and star gazing.

Check out my post on Arches National Park to learn more about this highlight of your visit to Moab.

Canyonlands National Park

Another one of the “Mighty 5” National Parks in Utah is located just 30 miles from Moab. Canyonlands National Park is one huge park, consisting of 337,598 acres and the majority of us only see a small portion of this expansive national park. The park is split into three sections: Island in the Sky, The Needles and The Maze. The most accessible section of the park and the one that is closest to Moab is Island in the Sky.

In the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park, there are many different hikes available for a wide range of abilities. From short walks to backpacking trails, there is something for everyone. Some of the more popular hikes include:

  • Mesa Arch Trail – At just 0.6 miles roundtrip, this easy trail will bring you to Mesa Arch which is a popular spot to catch the sunrise.
  • Upheaval Dome Trail – Although this trail is also just 0.6 miles roundtrip, it’s quite steep making it a moderate trail. You can add on another mile onto the trail if you go to the second overlook. The story of Upheaval Dome remains a mystery, some think it was caused by a geological feature called a Salt Dome, while others believe it to be a crater from a meteorite that hit Earth millions of years ago. There is some more recent research supporting the crater from a meteorite, but nothing definitive. I unfortunately did not get a chance to take this hike, I’ll just have to go back and decide for myself which theory I think is correct.
  • Grand View Point – This easy trail is 1.8 miles roundtrip and will take you along the edge of the canyon with many different spots to stop and take in the panoramic views. I really loved this trail and it took me quite a while since I kept stopping and admiring the view.

If you are looking to get down into the canyon, take a ride 1,500 feet down along the Shafer Trail. Make sure to drive it in a high clearance 4WD vehicle. If you want a bit more of a backcountry experience, you can drive or bike into the canyon along the 100 mile White Rim Trail. This trail will take several days and there are campsites along the way. Plan ahead as backcountry permits are required for the White Rim Trail.

Dead Horse Point State Park

So many people visit the National Parks in Utah and don’t realize there are also some really beautiful state parks to visit as well. I was visiting Moab to run the Thelma and Louise half marathon, so I just had to visit the park where the iconic final scene of them driving off the cliff was filmed – Dead Horse Point State Park.

I am so glad that I decided to visit this park, it was absolutely stunning, my only wish was that I had spent more time there.

There are many stories as to how the park received its name. One of the more widely believed stories is pretty interesting but also very sad. Over a 100 years ago, the area was used as a corral for wild horses. The corral was located on the point with the cliffs below. At this point in the story, you probably think that the horses fell off the cliffs to their death, but no that is not what happened. The horses were actually left in the corral for some time without water and ended up dying of thirst just in view of the Colorado River below. A very sad and preventable story!

At Dead Horse Point State Park, there are 8 miles of hiking trails, 17 miles of mountain bike trails and campgrounds to feed your love of the outdoors. The park is a great spot to view the sunset and for star gazing. I highly recommend arriving a couple of hours before sunset to enjoy a hike in the park and then settle down and watch the rocks changing to different shades of red and orange as the sun sets.

Activities Along the Colorado River

Who doesn’t love getting out on the water? When in Moab, you must get out on the river for some water activities. At different spots along the river, there is plenty for everyone, from exhilarating activities to the tamer activities. Below is a list of water activities you can experience on the Colorado River while staying in Moab:

  • Whitewater Rafting Trips
  • Scenic Rafting Trips
  • Scenic Boat Trips
  • Kayaking
  • Paddleboarding

As I am not a big fan of cold water, I tend to avoid the whitewater rafting trips, so when I was in Moab, I opted for a Sunset Scenic Boat Trip. And even though this was not as adventurous as a whitewater rafting trip, it was so worth it!

The views from the river are stunning. You really get a better idea of just how massive the red rock in the area is when you are viewing them from the water. Seeing the reflections of the large rocks towering over the Colorado River in the water was absolutely beautiful.

While on the boat, the tour guide gave us some information and history on the area and even pointed out some arches that are not part of Arches National Park that you can see from the water. One such arch was Jug Handle Arch (pictured below). I love how they name these arches; it definitely looks like a jug handle to me!

While the boat trip did not take place during the actual sunset, it was close enough to sunset time to see the changing of the shades of reds and oranges on the rocks as we were on the Colorado River. After the boat trip down the Colorado River, we received an included dinner and were able to see the sunset from the banks of the river, which was nice.

Other Outdoor Activities Near Moab

I’ve shared with you many places to hike, camp, watch the sunset, star gaze, and enjoy the water. There are so many other outdoor activities you can explore while visiting Moab, including:

  • 4×4 off roading tours
  • Horseback riding
  • Zip lining
  • Hot Air Balloon Rides
  • Canyoneering
  • Rock Climbing

Moab Lodging and Restaurants

Not only can you camp in the National and State parks in the area, but there are also many other campgrounds in and near Moab, including a glamping location. If you aren’t up for roughing it out camping, there are many hotels and vacation rentals in the area. I stayed at the Homewood Suites in Moab. The location could not be beat, just 5 miles to Arches National Park and within walking distance of restaurants and shops in Moab. The rooms come with a fully equipped kitchen and the hotel also offers a great free breakfast.

There are so many restaurants to choose from when in Moab, some of my favorites while I was there:

  • Moab Garage Co – Cafe open for breakfast and lunch, great spot for coffee.
  • Miguel’s Baja Grill – Mexican restaurant featuring delicious fresh food.
  • Moab Brewery – Local craft brewery with full menu of food available.
  • Moab Food Truck Park – If you love food trucks you must have a meal or two at the Moab Food Truck Park, featuring 14 different food trucks serving a variety of foods.

If you are looking for a summer vacation full of outdoor activities, you can’t go wrong with the southeastern part of the state of Utah and Moab is the perfect place to stay to be close to it all.

Beyond The Miles Travel is more than happy to help you plan your trip to the Moab area, contact us today.

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Yellowstone – More Than Just Geysers and Hot Springs

When people think of Yellowstone National Park, the first thing that comes to mind is the famous geyser, Old Faithful. But while the geysers, hot springs and other hydrothermal features are amazing and a must see there is so much more that Yellowstone has to offer.

Yellowstone was established in 1872 as the first national park. The park covers over 2.2 million acres located mostly in Wyoming but also stretching into Montana and Idaho as well. There are five entrances into the park that lead you to 466 miles of roadway to explore this massive park. I spent three days in the park and feel like while I saw the major sites, that I didn’t even scratch the surface of things to see here.

So what is there to see other than the over 10,000 hydrothermal features.

Wildlife: The other thing that may come to mind other than Old Faithful when you think of Yellowstone is wildlife. Other than Alaska, Yellowstone has the most wildlife of anywhere in the US. There are 67 different types of mammals that live in the park including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, elk, pronghorn, coyote, linx and moose.

It’s not unusual to be driving the roads of Yellowstone and see wildlife alongside the road, crossing the road or just roaming in the road. When you see a bunch of cars parked on the side of the road that’s a sign there was a wildlife sighting. While exciting, remember to pull over slowly and find a safe place to park your car. It’s also important to remember that when in Yellowstone, we are visitors in the animals home and to respect that. For safety, it’s important to stay 100 yards away from bears and wolves and 25 yards from all other wildlife.

While you may spend your trip to Yellowstone searching for a grizzly bear or a wolf and leave without seeing one, the one animal you will definitely see alot of throughout the park is bison. There are over 4000 bison in Yellowstone and they have no fear being around people or cars. They seem to love just walking right down the middle of the road causing the infamous “Bison Jams” that can cause you to be stuck in traffic for hours. I speak from experience as the first day I was there I was in a 2 hour bison jam and the last day I was there it was an hour bison jam that caused me to miss a kayaking trip. Important Tip: Give yourself a couple of extra hours if you need to be somewhere in the park by a specific time.

But even though the bison causes lots of traffice and aggravation, they are still amazing to see. Nothing like them walking right next to your car down the road! Spring is a great time to see wildlife in the park. The animals are coming out of hibernation and this is also when the babies are born. Baby bison are called “Red Dogs” due to them being an orange-red color and they are just adorable. My dream of seeing a bear leading some adorable cubs across the street didn’t come true, but I know that must be quite a great sight!

The best place for wildlife viewing is the Lamar Valley. Often referred to as America’s Serengeti, this is where the largest population of wildlife is in the park. In this area of the park, you are sure to see lots of wildlife.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone: This is definitely a can’t miss spot in Yellowstone. I could have spent an entire day exploring this area. The canyon is 1,000 feet deep, 20 feet long and reaches 1,500 to 4,000 feet wide in different areas of the canyon. It’s thought the canyon formed by the Yellowstone River eroding the rock that had been weakened by hydrothermal activity.

The canyon is quite the sight to see. There are two drives that you can take, the North Rim Drive and the South Rim Drive.

The North Rim Drive will take you to multiple lookout points to view both the Upper and Lower Falls of the Canyon. There are also hikes at the different lookout points. I hiked the trail to the Brink of Lower Falls. The trail is only 3/8th of a mile but it’s a steep 600 foot walk down. This is a very popular hike and I saw people of all ages and wearing all types of footwear, including flip flops (even as a huge flip flop fan, I must say it, do NOT hike in flip flops, you are just asking for an injury if you do!) The view once you reached the bottom of the falls was just beautiful.

Check out the video below to see just how close you get to the falls and the beautiful rainbow.

Considering the steep drop down to the falls in such a short distance, the hike up was a little challenging especially on a hot afternoon. Luckily there were spots to stop to the side and take a little break without being in other hiker’s way. I’ll admit I had to stop a couple of times. You also get a really great view of just how impressive the canyon is when you look at it from the lower falls. It was absolutely beautiful!

Along the South Rim Drive are other lookouts and hikes. One of the most popular stops along the South Rim Drive is Artist Point. Artist Point is definitely a must see view in Yellowstone. The view definitely lives up to the hype, it’s absolutely stunning, in fact it’s so beautiful that it almost doesn’t even look real! There is a large parking lot and the view is just a short 5 minute walk from the parking lot.

Artist Point

Waterfalls: The Upper and Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone aren’t the only waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park. As I was driving thru the park, I stopped a couple of other waterfalls. What’s a visit to a National Park, without a random stop at a waterfall?

Located between Madison Junction and Norris Geyser Basin is Gibbon Falls. The falls drop 84 feet into the Gibbon River. There is a trail along the river to see the falls from different viewpoints.

Heading south from Yellowstone Lake towards the South Entrance, you will pass the 30 foot tall Lewis Falls.

Yellowstone Lake: Yellowstone Lake is the largest high elevation lake in North America. It’s 7,733 feet above sea level and is 20 miles long and 14 miles wide. At the bottom of the lake are geysers, hot springs and deep canyons. A popular area on the lake to see is West Thumb where some of these underwater hydrothermal features are located.

A great way to enjoy the lake and get up close to West Thumb is to take a kayaking tour. During my visit, I was signed up for a 6 hour kayaking tour but as I mentioned earlier, one of those infamous “Bison Jams” caused me to miss it.

Fishing is another great way to enjoy the lake. Yellowstone Lake has the largest population of cutthroat trout in all of North America.

You might me thinking, swimming in the lake sounds like a great idea, but think again. Due to the high elevation of the lake, the water stays very cold even during hot days in the summer. The average water temperature is 41 degrees fahrenheit, so swimming is not recommended.

The views of the lake are absolutely stunning and there are plenty of lookout points to stop and take in the view. There is something about a lake with the snow capped mountains in the distance that just seems so beautiful. The lake reminded me a bit of one of my favorite places in the world, Lake Tahoe.

Yellowstone is definitely the most diverse park you will ever visit. There is definitely something for everyone and it’s a place that should be visited by all at least once.

Arches National Park

When I was younger, I never had any desire to go to Utah. I knew nothing about the state and just imagined a state that revolved around winter activities like skiing which just isn’t my thing. One of the great things about running a half marathon in all 50 states is it really has taught me a lot about each and every state in the US. I quickly learned that Utah was way more than ski resorts and winter activities. The state is huge and while there are mountainous areas that receive plenty of snow it also has other areas that feature red rock formations, plenty of hiking and gorgeous national parks that are absolutely stunning to visit.

Arches National Park is one of the “Mighty 5” National Parks located in Utah and is definitely a must visit. Arches National Park is located in the Southeastern part of the state in Moab Utah. The closest major airport is Salt Lake City International Airport which is about a 4-hour drive away. Other major airports to consider are Denver International Airport, about a 6-hour drive and Las Vegas International Airport, about a 7-hour drive. You might be thinking, is it worth the long drive from the airport and as someone who hates driving, I can honestly tell you, yes, it’s most definitely worth it.

Formation of Arches National Park

You might wonder just why there are so many arches located in one area. Well it started over 300 million years ago when sea water flowed into the area and then evaporated. As it evaporated, it left behind a salt bed which over the years became covered in debris including sandstone. Over time the weight of this debris above the salt bed, caused the salt bed to lift up and create ridges and domes. Over time, weather and erosion eventually caused these ridges and domes to collapse into fins and eventually arches. Just like they became arches over time, these same arches will end up collapsing over time as well. So, now is the time to see them just in case they were to collapse in our lifetime.

The 76,680 acres that later became Arches National Park were, back in the beginning of the 20th century, only known to the locals who would spend time exploring the area. Eventually the news spread though. Loren “Bish” Taylor spoke about his journeys in this rock wonderland in the Moab newspaper. Then in 1923, prospector Alexander Ringhoffer led hikes in the area for executives of Rio Grande Western Railroad to help and bring attention to the area and more business to the railway.

All of this attention to the are worked. In 1929, President Herbert Hoover established Arches National Monument, which at the time only included less than 5,000 acres. Over the years, the acreage included expanded and in 1971, the area which now features over 2,000 arches officially became Arches National Park.

Arches National Park – Need to Know

Before I talk about my experience in Arches National Park, there are a few things that you should know before planning your trip to the park:

  • Timed-Entry Ticket – When I visited Arches National Park in 2019, timed entry tickets were not required, but like a lot of places, since covid, they now require a timed-entry ticket from April 1st thru October 31st when entering the park between 7am and 4pm. For more information and to reserve your timed-entry ticket, visit the Arches National Park website.
  • Entrance Fees and Passes – On top of making a timed-entry reservation, you will also need to pay the entrance fee which is $30 and allows entry for 7 days. Another option is the Southeast Utah Parks Pass which is a great deal if you also plan to visit Canyonlands National Park which is just under 30 miles from Arches National Park. This pass is only $55 so it will definitely save you some money if you are visiting both parks. If you plan on visiting multiple National Parks during the year, the America the Beautiful Annual Pass is a great deal at $80 for the year.
  • Beat the Heat and the Crowds – As mentioned above, the timed-entry tickets are required between 7am and 4pm. That is because these are the busiest times in the park. They also happen to be the warmest times in the park, especially in the summer when temperatures can rise to over 100 degrees. With not much shade in the park, it is best to avoid the heat of the day. Visiting early in the morning and late afternoon/evening are the best times as far as I’m concerned. I ended up heading back to the hotel late morning to shower, have lunch and relax by the hotel pool for the afternoon before heading back to the park in the evening.
  • Stay Hydrated and Fueled- With the warm temperatures, it’s important to not only stay hydrated but to also eat the best foods to avoid heat stroke. Make sure to bring plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Electrolyte drinks like Gatorade are also helpful as are salty foods like nuts or pretzels since salt will help you retain water and thus avoid dehydration and heat exhaustion.

Things to do in Arches National Park

There is so much to do in Arches National Park, no matter your activity level, from scenic drives to hiking, everyone can experience the beauty of this national park.

  • Scenic Drive thru the park – A drive along the 36-mile roundtrip road in Arches National Park is a great way to see the park if you are short on time or maybe just want to avoid spending a lot of time out in the heat.
  • Photography – While on the scenic drive, there are many spots to stop and photograph the arches and the unique scenery in Arches National Park.
  • Hiking – From short 10-minute hikes to multiple hours long hikes, there is a hike for every ability in Arches National Park and the best thing, unlike other National Parks such as Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park, no need for bear spray here. But remember there are no trees to provide shade, so make sure to bring plenty of water.
  • Camping – From March thru October each year, you can camp in the Devils Garden Campground right inside of Arches National Park.
  • Sunrise and Sunset Viewing – Arches National Park is a great spot to view the sunrise or sunset. Delicate Arch in particular is a very popular spot for sunset.
  • Stargazing – Being so far away from a major city has its advantages, Arches National Park is a great to enjoy the night sky and the park is open 24 hours a day.
  • Ranger-led Programs – From guided walks and hikes to star gazing events, there are many free ranger-led programs that are available. Stop by the visitor center on your way in for a current schedule.

Areas of Arches National Park

Now that you know of all the activities you can partake in at Arches National Park, lets talk a bit about the different areas of the park.

  • Park Avenue – This is one of the first areas that you will come to when driving into the park. Park Avenue features towering red rock walls and here you will find a viewpoint as well as a short mile hike into the canyon.
  • Balanced Rock – You may have seen photos of this rock formation before. Balanced Rock features a 3,600-ton boulder that is balancing 128 feet high on an eroding pedestal shaped rock. Over time the rocks will erode even further, and eventually balanced rock will more than likely end up falling. The rock can be seen from the road, but there is a small parking lot for a closer look and walk around the base of it. Balanced Rock is also a great spot to view the sunset and for some stargazing.
  • The Windows Section – This was one of my favorite areas to visit in Arches National Park. I loved it so much that I went around sunset (highly recommend this time of day if you are looking for a less crowded time) the first night I was there and then returned on my way out of the park mid-day the following day. It’s a very popular area and has quite a few different arches to see with not much hiking involved. The two main arches here gave the area it’s name – North and South Windows Arch.

The great thing about the Windows Arches is that you can hike right up into the opening of the arch. From here you can get a great view and can even hike down to the back of the arch, which I highly recommend, especially if you would like to escape the crowds a bit.

Also located in the Windows Section is Turret Arch. While you can hike up to this beautiful arch, I really enjoyed the view of Turret Arch from North Window Arch.

Double Arch is made up to two arches which share the same foundation. It’s definitely a very impressive arch to see, it really blows me away imagining how something like this is formed naturally.

  • Delicate Arch – One of the most well known and most recognizable arches in Arches National Park is Delicate Arch. It’s such an iconic symbol that it is even featured on the Utah state license plate. It’s the largest free-standing arch in the park at 46 feet high and 32 feet wide. The best way to see Delicate Arch is to hike the 3 mile roundtrip trail. This trail has an elevation of 480 feet and can be a bit strenuous in the heat of the day. If you are not up for the hike there are two viewpoints for the Arch. Both the Lower and Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoints offer great views from afar, with the Upper viewpoint offering a less obstructed view. I unfortunately decided against hiking up to Delicate Arch as I had run a half marathon the day prior (as well as a half marathon the week prior at home in Boston), so I was quite sore and didn’t think my legs (specifically my calf which I had pulled a muscle in) could handle the hike. While the viewpoints were nice, I really think doing the hike and seeing the arch up close is probably the way to go if you are able to. I guess I’m just going to have to plan another trip back to Arches National Park specifically to do this hike.
  • Devil’s Garden – This area features multiple arches and a lot of hiking opportunities from easy to difficult trails. The most visited arch in Devil’s Garden is also the longest arch in North America, Landscape Arch. When you look at Landscape Arch, you will see just how delicate it is, in fact in the 90s, parts of the arch came crashing down.

The 7.9-mile roundtrip Devil’s Garden Trail will take you to Landscape Arch and many other arches along the way and beyond. The 1.9-mile roundtrip hike to Landscape Arch is the easiest part of the Devil’s Garden Trail and I highly recommend it. Not only is it fairly easy, but the views along this trail were just stunning!

The photo above was the view ahead of me but when I turned around and saw the view behind me, I was floored at how beautiful it was with the red rocks and the snow-capped mountains behind. I don’t know what I did on my phone’s camera settings, but I have not edited the below photo. The view was so amazing, it practically looks more like a painting than a photo.

Along the trail to Landscape Arch, you will pass both Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch along the way. I did not get a photo of Tunnel Arch, but below is a photo of Pine Tree Arch, I love the view thru the arch. Looking at the people in the photo, you can get an idea of just how massive these arches are.

If you are up for a difficult hike, continue on the trail past Landscape Arch towards Double O Arch. I attempted to continue on for a bit but decided it was a bit too much for me. Not only was I sore from the race the prior day as mentioned above, but there was quite a bit of rock scrambling that required you to be on your hands and knees. As I was traveling alone, I didn’t feel comfortable doing such a technical hike without someone with me. From what I’ve been told, the views are stunning and definitely makes the difficult hike worth the while.

  • Other Arches in the Park – While driving thru the park there are many other arches to hike to or just see from viewpoints along the park road. One of my favorites was Sand Dune Arch. Take the very short and easy trail that is just under a half mile roundtrip to find this somewhat hidden arch. The sand in the area had me feeling like I was in a completely different park.

The trail after Sand Dune Arch continues on for another couple of miles roundtrip to Broken Arch. If you are not up to continue hiking, there is also a viewpoint to see Broken Arch from the road. When you see it from the road with the field in between, it’s hard to believe all that sand near Sand Dune Arch is so close by.

Another great arch to see is Skyline Arch. This is located near Devil’s Garden and is just a short half mile roundtrip trail.

Were you like me and didn’t realize just how beautiful Arches National Park is? I bet you are adding this to your bucket list now. Beyond The Miles Travel is ready to help you plan this bucket list trip to explore Arches National Park in Utah.

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Disney’s California Adventure Food & Wine Festival

One of my favorite things about visiting Walt Disney World is attending the multiple festivals they have each year at Epcot. And one of my favorite festivals at Epcot has always been the Food and Wine Festival. When I found out a few years ago that Disneyland had a Food and Wine Festival as well and that it occurred during my birthday month, I just knew I had to check it out some year. 2023 was finally the year that I flew across the country to attend Disney’s California Adventure Food and Wine Festival for my birthday.

The Food and Wine Festival at Disney’s California Adventure started in 2006 and is held annually in March and April each year. What started off as just two food booths in 2006, has grown to a full-blown festival with 12 food and beverage kiosks throughout the theme park as well as special festival items on the menu at restaurants throughout the theme park.

The Food

Due to Epcot having the different country pavilions around the World Showcase, they tend to have international cuisine available at each country’s kiosk. At the Food and Wine Festival at California Adventure, they feature cuisine made with fresh ingredients grown in the state of California. The festival features the following food kiosks:

  • LA Style – featuring Glazed BBQ Pork Belly and Impossible Gyro-Inspired Naan
  • D Lish – featuring Beef & Barley Poutine and Cubano Slider
Cubano Slider
  • Peppers Cali-Ente – featuring Chile Relleno Empanada and Camarones a la Diabla
  • I ❤️Artichokes – featuring Artichoke Pizzetta and Artichoke Toast with Olive Tapenade
  • Avocado Time – featuring Impossible Nacho Mac & Cheese and Impossible Al Pastor Taco
  • Cluck-A-Doodle Moo – featuring Smoked Honey Habanero Chicken Wings and BBQ Beef Brisket
  • Nuts About Cheese – featuring Petite Burrata and Mickey Mouse Shaped Macaron Made with Snickers.
  • Golden Dreams – featuring Elote Paleta and Roasted Beef & Goat Cheese Flatbread
  • Garlic Kissed – featuring Grilled Top Sirloin and Carbonara Garlic Mac & Cheese
  • Berry Patch – featuring Kenny’s Family Cheesecake and Blueberry Buttermilk Pie

As you can tell from the list, there is quite the variety of food, from main meal items for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians to delicious desserts. You could definitely create a full meal with a few items from the ten food kiosks mentioned above.

On a side note, I highly recommend the Mickey Mouse Shaped Macaron Made with Snickers and it’s huge, so definitely something to share with others or you can be like me and have it all to yourself.

The Beverages

While it’s called the Food and Wine Festival, there is definitely plenty of delicious California wine to drink as well as many other beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, as well.

At the food kiosks you can purchase some really delicious drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

The alcoholic drinks available at the food kiosks are mainly mixed drinks. Some examples of what’s available are below:

  • D Lish – Sake-Melon ’75 and Apricot Tequila Colada
  • Peppers Cali-Ente – Cantarito-Style Paloma
  • I ❤️Artichokes – Passion Fruit Rum Cocktail
  • Cluck-A-Doodle Moo – Chipotle-Pineapple Bourbon Sour and Smoked Cherry Mezcal-iki Cocktail
  • Golden Dreams – Central California Cooler
  • Garlic Kissed – Raspberry Limoncello-Ade and Guava-Lychee Mule

Some examples of the non-alcoholic drinks are listed below:

  • Berry Patch – Blueberry Pancake Cold Brew
  • Avocado Time – Blackberry-Lavender Lemonade

In keeping with the name of the festival, there is a whole kiosk devoted to wine. I’m sadly not a wine drinker since it gives me terrible migraines, but I must admit, given how much wine comes from California, I would have thought there would have been more than one kiosk devoted to wine. Regardless, the Uncork California kiosk features wines from some great California Vineyards:

  • Daou Vineyards in Paso Robles California
  • Duckhorn Vineyards in St. Helena California
  • Garnet Vineyards from Sonoma Coast California
  • Robert Mondavi Vineyard in Napa California

Uncork California offers wine by the glass as well as mimosa, white wine and red wine flights.

As many wine lovers there are out there in the world, there are just as many beer lovers so of course there is a kiosk devoted just to beer.

The California Craft Beer kiosks has beers from craft breweries all over Southern California:

  • Unsung Brewing Company in Anaheim California
  • Brewery X in Anaheim California
  • Ballast Point Brewing Co. in San Diego California
  • Golden Road Brewing in Los Angeles California

They also offer a few different flight options: Bright & Balanced Beer Flight, IPA Beer Flight and Fun with Flavor Beer Flight.

I cannot recommend trying the Brewery X Pineapple Vanilla Milkshake IPA enough, it was so incredibly delicious, it just may be one of the best beers I’ve ever had. And it’s part of the IPA Beer Flight which was how I first tried it and since it was so good, I ended up getting a full size one later in the day.

The craft beer industry has grown tremendously in the US over the past few years, and California is no exception. Over 90% of Californians live within 10 miles of a craft brewery. There are over 1,000 craft breweries throughout the state and 28 of them are featured at Disney’s California Adventure Food and Wine Festival.

There is also a festival beer garden where you can enjoy even more craft beer options from California.

Along with the food and beverage kiosks, many of the quick service and table service restaurants throughout California Adventure theme park also have special festival food and beverages available.

More about the festival

There is more to the festival than just the food and beverages kiosks, including the following:

  • Alice’s Wonderland Bakery Unbirthday Party Culinary Demonstration
  • Cathay Circle Winemakers Reception
  • Cocktails at Sonoma Terrace Beverage Seminar
  • Live musical entertainment
  • Kids craft area
  • Festival Marketplaces to shop for your favorite festival souvenirs
  • Artist signings each weekend
  • Photo opportunities with Chef Goofy
  • Special magic shots available like the one below with Remy from Ratatouille

Sip and Savor Pass

Do you plan to visit the festival on multiple days and want to be able to try many of the different food offerings at the festival? The Sip and Savor Pass could be a great value for you, depending on the price of the food items you are wanting to purchase.

In 2023, the Sip and Savor Pass cost $59 and includes 8 tabs redeemable for food or non-alcoholic beverages at the festival. If you are a Magic Key Holder or a Disney Visa Cardholder, you can receive a slight discount on this pass.

These 8 tabs can be used at any point during the festival in the year it was purchased but do expire at the end of the festival that year.

Disney’s California Adventure is a special theme park to visit and the Food and Wine Festival definitely adds to the fun you can have there. If you are looking for the perfect place to stay while visiting the festival, The Disneyland Hotel is one of many hotels within walking distance, so you can fully enjoy the beverages at the festival without needing a designated driver.

The festival runs thru April 25th in 2023, but if you can’t make it this year, definitely add it to your bucket list for a future year. Beyond The Miles Travel would love to help you plan your trip to this delicious festival.

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Staying at Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek for runDisney Weekends

As many of my regular readers may know I like to combine traveling and running races. My favorite races to travel to are runDisney races. There is just something so magical about these races and who wouldn’t enjoy running thru their favorite place in the world?

runDisney

I’ve always stayed onsite at one of the Walt Disney World Hotels which offer free transportation not only to the theme parks but also to all the races. I’ve been running runDisney races off and on since 2003 with more recently running at least two race weekends a year since 2017 and have always had good experiences with the buses. Over the years I would hear horror stories of other runners who waited forever for buses or buses that got lost but this never happened to me, until November 2022 at Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend.

I was at the bus stop at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort for the 10K around 3:20am (yes, your day starts early for these races, first bus is usually 3am and you need to be on the bus by 4am for the 5am race). There were already quite a few people that had been there waiting already including some who had been there since a few minutes after 3am. The bus did not show up until 4am and then instead of going to the start at Epcot it drove all the way to Magic Kingdom before we told them they were going the wrong way. I could go on, but long story short, I experienced ALL of the bus horror stories I had heard about, and the race had already started by the time I arrived (thank god I’m slow and start in the last corral).

This got me thinking of the special Marathon Weekend packages I had heard about at the Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, so I decided to look into it.

Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek

Before I go into the special package details for runDisney weekends, lets talk a bit about the hotel itself.

Located on Walt Disney World Property, but not part of Walt Disney World, is Bonnet Creek. This area has many different hotels including Signia by Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, JW Marriott and Wyndham. These hotels are all Walt Disney World Good Neighbor hotels that include some of the same benefits as Walt Disney World owned resorts including early theme park entry and theme park transportation.

One of the great advantages to staying at Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek is that it’s part of the Hilton Hotel chain so if you are a member, you can earn and use points and get all of your same benefits just as you would at other Hilton hotels. In these times of inflation and skyrocketing hotel prices, the ability to use or earn points has become quite valuable.

The following hotel room types are available at the Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek:

  • King or 2 Queen Beds
  • Pool Views
  • Disney Views – these are perfect if you want to catch a glimpse of the fireworks from your room before your early bedtime the night before your runDisney race.
  • Peloton Wellness rooms – these are perfect for people who like to keep in shape while they are traveling as they include a Peloton bike, Theragun and Wave Roller in the room.

There are many dining options available at Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek:

  • Muse – 24-hour coffee bar featuring coffee, salads, sandwiches, pastries and snacks.
  • Beech – casual, outdoor dining next to the pool, open for lunch and dinner (weather dependent).
  • Myth Bar – Lobby bar featuring drinks and food, open for dinner.
  • Harvest Bistro – Casual Restaurant open for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner that also offers grab and go items for a quick meal on the go or back in your hotel room.
  • Zeta Asia – Open for dinner, this restaurant offers sushi and other popular Asian dishes. Open for dinner nightly.
  • La Luce – This signature restaurant features homemade Italian dishes inspired by Napa Valley chef, Donna Scala. It’s open for dinner Thursday thru Tuesday nights.

Spending a lot of time in the theme parks can get tiring and expensive, so you may find yourself just wanting to spend a day at the resort. Well, there are plenty of ways to keep the entire family busy at the resort:

  • 24-hour Fitness Center featuring 4,000 square feet of exercise machines and free weights with beautiful views of the pool area.
  • Funzone Family Arcade will keep your kids busy for hours
  • Pool Area – The pool area at the Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek has been rated #1 in TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Fantastic Hotel Pools and I most definitely agree with this rating. It’s definitely a top reason to stay here. The pool area is open from 7am to 10pm daily and features a zero-entry pool, waterslide and the highlight for me a lazy river. Who wouldn’t love just floating around the lazy river on a sunny Florida day, nothing more relaxing than that! It’s definitely a great spot to relax after your runDisney race. There are also poolside cabanas that can accommodate up to eight people available for rent. The cabanas come with welcome refreshments (water, soda and snack backset) as well as Wi-Fi and a flat screen tv.

The great thing about staying at the Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek is that guests can also use the facilities at its sister property next door, Waldorf Astoria Orlando. The Waldorf Astoria features multiple restaurants, a pool area, kids club, spa and golf course.

They also share bus transportation to all four Walt Disney World theme parks as well as Disney Springs. The buses are much nicer than the Walt Disney World transportation as they are tour bus type buses, like the ones that Disney’s Magical Express used to use. These make for a very comfortable and spacious ride to and from the parks. The buses are never overcrowded like the Walt Disney World buses, and they run on a schedule that you can find on the following website: Bonnet Shuttle.

In my experience, the buses were always on time, so it was nice to know when it would arrive. The fact that the buses were on a schedule, sometimes an hour or even two hours apart was a bit of a downside though. Some other downsides to the buses were that they do stop at multiple parks making for a longer bus ride and the Magic Kingdom bus drops off and picks up at the Ticket and Transportation Center as opposed to the bus stalls right outside the park. All the negatives aside, the buses were much more reliable which was a big plus!

Marathon Weekends at Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek

The resort sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, I bet you are wondering what the advantages of staying here for a runDisney weekend are. I stayed here for Princess Half Marathon Weekend in 2023 and as much as I love the Walt Disney World Resort hotels, I think this may be my go-to hotel for runDisney weekends.

With the special Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek Marathon Weekend rate, you will get all of the following benefits:

  • Special room rate exclusively for runDisney runners
  • 10% off food and beverage during your stay
  • Carb load specials on Friday and Saturday evening on the menus at La Luce and Harvest Bistro (separate cost).
  • Guaranteed late 2pm checkout on the Sunday of race weekend
  • A welcome runners gift – for Princess Half Marathon Weekend, it was a pink towel.
  • Runners’ Concierge in the lobby to help answer any questions you may have. For Princess weekend, their hours were 4pm-8pm on Friday and 11am-2pm & 4pm-8pm on Saturday. As someone who visits the parks all day, I felt the hours were a bit inconvenient for me. I wish instead of the 11am-2pm time slot that it was earlier in the morning, and I could have visited them prior to leaving for the parks. For those of you who are smart and get to bed early, I’m sure it’s easy to just stop by before they leave at 8pm. Visiting the runners’ concierge was necessary as you had to register for the race transportation.
  • Transportation to the Sunday race only – the marathon for Marathon Weekend, the half marathon for Princess and Wine and Dine weekends and the 10-Miler for Springtime Surprise Weekend. I felt so happy to have dependable race transportation, it really was quite the relief. And the bus drops you off in the same area as the Walt Disney World Hotel transportation. It is important to note that there is no transportation for the 5Ks, 10Ks any of the weekends nor the half marathon on Marathon Weekend.
  • Send off Party – There are a few buses that leave the hotel for the race with the first one leaving at 3am. Starting at 2:45am, is the sendoff party. This party includes people cheering you on and snacks and beverages to help you fuel for the race. I’m not usually a big eater prior to a race, but I was very happy for coffee. They had not only coffee, but tea, water, bagels, fruit and snack bars.
  • Transportation back to the hotel after the Sunday race was also offered. The only downside to this was the walk to the bus. The buses to the Walt Disney World Resort Hotels are all right near the finish area in the Epcot parking lot. For the bus back to Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, you had to walk to the bus parking lot outside of the Epcot entrance. It was quite the walk, but I guess it’s also a good way to stretch out the muscles a bit.

One of my favorite things about staying at this hotel was how supportive of the runners the staff was, they were all really great and made sure to wish us all good luck and say congratulations upon returning to the hotel after the race.

I would highly recommend looking into staying at Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek for your next runDisney weekend. It’s really a great hotel and helps to make the race experience run smoothly.

Beyond The Miles Travel would love to help you plan your next runDisney trip to the Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, contact us today.

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Visiting the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston

Chances are if you are visiting Boston, you are a fan of history. The city is full of history dating back centuries, most notably along the Freedom Trail. If you are looking to experience some world history from the early 1960s, then you must add a visit to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum to your Boston itinerary.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is located in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. I’ve lived less than two miles from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum for over 14 years now. As a runner, my runs have taken me right by it a few times a month or more and I’ve said to myself on each of those runs, I really need to visit the museum someday.

When wondering what to do on my day off this past President’s Day, I decided to finally visit this museum I had been wanting to visit for so long and I’m so glad I finally made it there.

US Presidential Libraries

Run by the National Archives and Records Administration, there are 15 presidential libraries across the United States, one for every president from the 31st President Herbert Hoover to the 45th President Donald Trump. Each library is located in the home state of the president that it’s for.

These libraries were established to preserve the historical collections of documents and records from each presidency and the museums help to share these collections and the history of the presidency with the public.

The presidential documents were always the private property of the president until in 1939 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt donated his papers to the federal government of the United States and the first Presidential library was built in his name. In 1950, Herbert Hoover, who served as President prior to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, decided to have a library built to preserve his presidential documents.

The Presidential Libraries Act of 1955, established the federally run Presidential Library system and encouraged other presidents to donate their presidential documents. The Presidential Records Act of 1978 established that the presidential documents are the property of the United States and after the President leaves office, these documents are released to the custody of the Archivist of the United States to be included in a Presidential Library.

History of the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Less than a year into Kennedy’s presidency, he contacted the Archivist of the United States stating that he would like to establish a Presidential Library after he left office. Just a month before his death, he decided on the location to be in Cambridge, Massachusetts close to his alma mater, Harvard University.

Just a month after his death, his family met and decided that the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum would be the only official national memorial to President Kennedy. The library would include a museum, archive and educational institute.

In 1975, after delays in starting construction at the site, they abandoned the Cambridge site and chose the current site on the water next to University of Massachusetts Boston campus in Dorchester. Groundbreaking occurred in June 1977 and on October 20, 1979, the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum was opened.

Exhibits at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

The visit to the museum starts with a short film that takes you thru John F Kennedy’s early life right up until his 1960 presidential campaign. Once you leave the film, you will go thru the exhibits, below are some of the exhibits you can experience at the museum:

  • 1960 Presidential Election – This exhibit features recreations of the Kennedy Presidential Campaign, including signs and handouts. It also included newspaper vending machines from around the country with the newspapers printed the morning after Kennedy was elected.
  • John F Kennedy Inauguration – At this exhibit, you can read and listen to Kennedy’s Inaugural Address from January 20, 1961. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address may have one of the most well-known lines from an Inaugural Address, “Ask not what your country will do for you, ask what you can do for your country”

On Inauguration Day, Kennedy took the oath with his hands on his family bible. The Fitzgerald Family Bible was brought over to the US from Kennedy’s Irish ancestors and includes a family chronicle dating back to 1857. It was really interesting to see such an old bible, reminded me of the old books in the Long Room at Trinity College in Dublin.

  • JFK and the Press – The first live televised press conference by a president was from John F Kennedy just days after his inauguration on January 25, 1961. The early 1960s was a very difficult time for the world and definitely kept the President busy. Through his three short years in office, John F Kennedy was dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis, a divided Berlin, The Cold War, Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Due to all of this, it was very common for Kennedy to hold somewhat regular live televised press conferences, on average one every 16 days.
  • White House Corridor Gifts from Heads of State – In the hallway between the exhibits, on display were many of the gifts that the Kennedy’s received from 106 Heads of State from across the world. It has become a tradition for Heads of State and the President to exchange gifts when they meet. Over time these gifts started to become more extravagant and in 1966 a limit was put on the value of the gift the President could accept. The gifts consisted of things like porcelain vases to Michelangelo replicas. But it wasn’t just Heads of State that presented gifts to the Kennedys. I was really amazed with this replica inkstand that was used in signing the Declaration of Independence that the Kennedys received from the White House News Correspondents and Photographers.
  • The US Space Program – While there was a lot of conflict going on in the world, there were also amazing things happening at the time of Kennedy’s Presidency. In 1961, the US Space Program really started to gain some steam when Kennedy made it a priority for the United States to get a man to walk on the moon prior to Russia. In July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin accomplished this goal by being the first humans to walk on the moon.
  • The Peace Corps – One of the really great programs that started during Kennedy’s Presidency was the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps sends volunteers to developing countries to work alongside local citizens to help with projects in agriculture, environment, economic development, health education and youth development.
  • Special Olympics – There is also a small exhibit about the Special Olympics which were founded by John F Kennedy’s sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. The Special Olympics are a place for people with intellectual disabilities to compete in athletic events. This was a very personal organization for Eunice Kennedy Shriver to found as their sister Rosemary suffered from intellectual disabilities due to complications during her birth. It’s such a wonderful organization and it’s heartwarming reading about the Kennedy family’s involvement in it.

After going thru the exhibits, the last thing I passed was a piece of the Berlin Wall. It looked like a typical piece of the wall that I have seen in other museums with the graffiti on it. But then there was a mirror showing you the East Berlin side, which was completely blank, no graffiti at all. This was because people were not allowed to get close to the wall in East Berlin. I had not known this fact before and found it very interesting and it was an eye-opening sign of the differences between East and West Germany.

Outside of the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

The John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is located along the Boston Harborwalk, a series of walkways along the waterfront neighborhoods of Boston. I may be biased as I run and walk along this portion of the Boston Harborwalk, but I must say it has some really gorgeous views of the city of Boston.

If you walk out of the library and make a left, you will see a staircase that will lead you down to the Boston Harborwalk. After spending a couple of hours indoors, if it’s a nice day, it would be great to take a short walk and enjoy the fresh air and the views.

If you love history, this museum is definitely a must! It won’t take you long to go thru the museum, I think that two to three hours on average.

Looking for the perfect Boston itinerary that includes the John F Kennedy Presidential Library, contact Beyond The Miles Travel today.

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12 Great Things to Do in Chicago

As the third largest city by population in the United States, Chicago is a very popular city to visit. Being such a large city there is plenty to see and do.

Here are my top 12 things to do in Chicago.

1. Chicago River

The Chicago River goes right thru downtown Chicago before emptying into Lake Michigan. A walk along the river is a must all year long but especially in the warmer months of the year. On warm days, the combination of the river’s clay bottom, water coming from Lake Michigan and algae give the river an almost tropical color that will have you thinking you are somewhere in the Caribbean and not in the Midwest! Speaking of the color of the water, on St. Patrick’s Day they even dye the water green to celebrate the holiday.

Things to do along the river include:

  • Take a walk or a run along the Chicago Riverwalk.
  • Have a meal with river views – there are restaurants along the river with both indoor and outdoor dining.
  • Have a drink along the river – from regular bars to tiki bars in the summer, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a drink.
  • Watch the artists along the river – if you are lucky enough, you might be at the Chicago Riverwalk when the artists are out painting. They are really amazing to watch.
  • Take a kayak tour on the Chicago River.

While there is plenty to see and do along the river during the day, I also recommend seeing the river after dark as well. Of course, make sure to be safe after dark, the river can be viewed from spots downtown. The many bridges that cross the river are great spots to grab a great photo.

2. Lake and River Architecture Tour

While you are at the river, you must take one of the Architecture tours. These boat tours are probably one of the most popular tours in the city of Chicago. The city is known for it’s innovative architecture and famous architects that built these buildings. Wendella Boats offers a Lake and River Architecture Tour which I highly recommend. This 90-minute tour will take you down the Chicago River and give you the history of the buildings along the river.

From the river, the boat will go out into Lake Michigan. From here you will get a beautiful view of the Chicago Skyline.

3. Navy Pier

Navy Pier has drawn millions of visitors to the lakefront for over a hundred years. It’s a top family attraction in Chicago offering the following:

  • Shopping
  • Restaurants
  • Parks and outdoor public space
  • Chicago Children’s Museum
  • Amusement rides including the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel
  • Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Navy Pier is a must visit for families with so much to keep both children and adults occupied.

One of the other great things to do at Navy Pier is to take in the views of the city from the Pier. Whether you are on the ground or 200 feet up in the Centennial Wheel, the views are stunning. It also makes for a great spot to see the sunset behind the Chicago skyline.

4. Grant Park

This 319-acre city park has tons to see and do. Some of the most popular things to do in the park are:

  • Buckingham Fountain – One of the largest fountains in the world, its actually twice the size of the fountain at Versailles in France that it was modeled after.
  • Millenium Park – I bet you didn’t know that Millenium Park is actually part of Grant Park as opposed to being its own separate park. I actually wasn’t aware of this myself until my second trip to Chicago. This is where you can see one of Chicago’s most well-known sites: Cloud Gate or more popularly known as The Bean. Millenium Park also features pieces of art, fountains and spot to hear live music and watch movies outdoors.

5. Willis Tower

The 110 story Willis Tower opened in 1973 as the Sears Tower and for 25 years it held the title of tallest skyscraper in the world. Located on the 103rd floor of the building is Skydeck. This observation deck is the perfect spot to get great views of the city. If you are daring enough, you can experience The Ledge. This glass box extends out 4.3 feet from the building to give you a bit of a different perspective of being 1, 353 feet above the ground with just glass beneath your feet. While I am not brave enough to try it, more than 1.7 million visitors each year do, so it’s obviously completely safe. Have you/will you try it?

6. Lincoln Park

On the north side of the city, along Lake Michigan, is the 1,208-acre park that was named after former President Abraham Lincoln. The park consists of multiple sports fields and a conservatory. But the main attraction is definitely the Lincoln Park Zoo. The zoo opened in 1868 and is the only privately managed free zoo in the United States. Since it’s free it makes for a great activity for families visiting Chicago.

Lincoln Park is also a great park to just take a walk and check out the views of the skyline from the north side of the city.

7. Wrigley Field

Also located on the Northside of Chicago is the second-oldest baseball stadium in the US, Wrigley Field. Built in 1914, it was called Cubs Park until 1927 when it was bought by William Wrigley Jr. of the Wrigley chewing gum company and renamed Wrigley Field. One of the most unique features of Wrigley Field is that until 1988 it did not have lights which meant all games at Wrigley Field were played during the day even the midweek games. As someone who grew up attending games at the historic Fenway Park, I highly recommend seeing a game at such a historic stadium like Wrigley Field when you visit Chicago.

8. Chicago Tribune Tower

The Neo-gothic skyscraper on Michigan Avenue was built in the 1920s. The Chicago Tribune held a design competition to find the architect for the building, with the winner not only getting to design the building but also winning $50,000 which as we all know was a lot of money back in the 1920s. One of the most interesting aspects of the tower is the bricks from historic sites and events around the world. These bricks were brought back from Chicago Tribune correspondents in their travels covering news around the world. As a traveler, I really enjoyed seeing all these. bricks from around the world.

9. Chicago Theatre

There is no better place to see a show than in a historic theater and the Chicago Theatre is no exception. Opened in 1921, the Chicago Theatre was the first lavish movie theater in the United States. The theater has many French influences, the exterior features a small replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the lobby was modeled after the Royal Chapel at Versailles.

While they started with playing movies here, they now have everything from concerts to comedy shows to children’s shows. They do also offer tours of the historic theatre although from what I’ve read, these are still on hold due to the pandemic.

10. Chicago Cultural Center

If you’re looking for somewhere to experience culture and architecture, then head to the Chicago Cultural Center. This beautiful building is located downtown and is on the National Register of Historic Places. At the Chicago Cultural Center, you can experience the following:

  • Art Exhibits by local and national artists
  • Concerts by local artists
  • Film Screenings
  • Dance shows
  • Workshops for both adults and children
  • Architecture including the Tiffany stained glass dome ceiling that is definitely a must see.

And the best part, admission to the Chicago Cultural Center is completely free.

11. Drinks at the Signature Lounge at the 96th

One of my favorite things to do when traveling is checking out the view of a city from above. I mentioned the Willis Tower earlier which has great views, but how about enjoying a drink with a view? 875 North Michigan Avenue features the 360 Chicago Observation Deck on the 94th floor. A floor above that is the restaurant, Signature Room at the 95th. And above that on the 96th floor is the Signature Lounge at the 96th.

The views from the Signature Lounge at the 96th are stunning. There is even a great view from the ladies restroom, sorry guys, you don’t get the stunning view from your restroom. In my opinion the lounge is the perfect spot to relax in the afternoon or have some pre or post dinner drinks. In fact, it the perfect spot to catch the sunset in Chicago.

12. Must Eat Chicago Food

One of the great things about traveling is to try the local food. Chicago is a great city for the foodie travelers out there. Some must try foods are:

  • Chicago style hot dogs – These all-beef hot dogs are served in a poppy seed bun and topped with yellow mustard, white onions, green sweet pickle relish, dill pickle spear, tomato slices, pickled sport peppers and celery salt. They are a must try for hot dog lovers. There are many places to try them, one of the more famous is Portillos which has multiple locations throughout Chicago.
  • Deep Dish Pizza – Of all the food in Chicago, this is definitely my favorite! I’m sure most of you have tried deep dish pizza at Uno’s Pizzeria which has locations across the US. While Uno’s has been said to the first place to serve deep dish pizza, I recommend trying Giordano’s while in Chicago. If you want to try lots of deep-dish pizza from different pizzerias, I highly recommend taking a Pizza Tour while in Chicago.
  • Garrett Popcorn – Looking for the perfect snack while exploring Chicago, look no further than Garrett Popcorn which has multiple locations throughout Chicago. They offer regular buttered popcorn and such flavors as caramel, cheddar, nut caramel crisp, buffalo ranch and even the popular Garett mix which consists of a mix of cheddar and caramel.

Chicago should definitely be near the top of your list of places to visit in the United States. With so much to see and do, it’s somewhere you can travel to again and again and still experience something different each time you are there.

For help in planning your next trip and creating the perfect Chicago itinerary, contact Beyond The Miles Travel today.

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The World’s Most Magical Celebration

50 Years ago on October 1, 1971, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando Florida opened! Can you believe this magical place has been open for 50 years?

What started as a dream of Walt Disney who wanted a place that both young and old could enjoy together as a family has turned into one of the most popular vacation destinations in the entire world. Walt’s first park Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California on July 17, 1955. With the success of that park, he purchased a large amount of land in Florida in hopes of building a larger Disney Park. Sadly Walt Disney passed away in December 1966 but his brother Roy carried out his dream of the Florida park.

On Opening day, Walt Disney World consisted of just two hotels, The Contemporary and Polynesian hotels. Today there are over 25 hotels on Disney property. They opened with just the one park, Magic Kingdom which included less than 20 rides and attractions. With just one park, you could visit Disney Word for two days and enjoy each ride multiple times and spend the rest of your week exploring other things in Florida like the beach. There have since been 3 other theme parks opened and two water parks. You could probably spend a month inside the Walt Disney World Resort and still not be able to experience everything.

Opening Day October 1, 1971 (photo courtesy of my Walt Disney World book)

I have been coming to Walt Disney World for 42 years since I was 5 years old. It’s amazing just how much the parks have changed over the years. Some changes have been great, some make me sad since I get nostalgic for the past. Cinderella’s Castle has certainly evolved over the years.

While I get nostalgic for the classic white and blue castle, they have done a great job at sprucing it up for the 50th Anniversary celebration.

The celebration officially begins on October1, 2021 and will last for 18 months. There have already been plenty of 50th Anniversary touches added to the park leading up to October 1st. As seen above, Cinderella’s Castle is all decked out for the 50th. A new fireworks show, Enchantment which opens on October 1st. In the Magic Kingdom and in Disney’s shopping, dining and entertainment district, Disney Springs, you can find new 50th Anniversary merchandise for all ages.

Walt Disney World has also released The Vault which is a collection of vintage merchandise from the early years of the park. Get classic tshirts, a vintage park map and other memorabilia.

The Vault

There are plenty of 50th anniversary decorations throughout the entire Walt Disney World Resort. From birthday cakes to sparkly 50th banners, you can’t miss all these beautiful displays of the celebration!

But the most impressive decorations to me where the Fab 50 Golden Character Statues. These beautiful statues are located in all four of the Walt Disney World theme parks, with at lease half them in the Magic Kingdom. While some of them are fairly easy to located in central areas of each theme park, there are a few you have to search for. I managed to find all but three, two of them I know where they are located but they had the area blocked off, but I still have yet to find Tink, she apparently is hidden in the trees. Next trip I’ll for sure find her! These statues are so beautiful and represent so many Disney characters from past and present movies.

Fab 50 Golden Character Statues

When you visit during the next 18 months, not only will you experience the excitement of the 50th Anniversary, there are also so many new attractions opening.

On October 1st, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in Epcot opens. This 4D trackless ride will shrink you down to Chef Remy’s size for a culinary adventure. This ride has been at Disneyland Paris for a number of years and it is such a fun ride, I can’t wait to ride it again at Epcot on my next trip.

Also at Epcot, Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind will open in 2022. And earlier this week, the new nighttime show, Harmonious opened. Make sure to get a spot front and center along the World Showcase lagoon to experience all this nighttime show has to offer.

Speaking of new nighttime spectaculars, Disney’s Happily Ever After had it’s last performance on September 29th and now there is a new nighttime spectacular in the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Enchantment. Enchantment will have a lot to live up to as Happily Ever After was one of Disney’s best nighttime shows in my opinion and evoked lots of emotions during it’s tenure since May 2017.

In March 2022, Disney’s Galactic Starcruiser will open. This totally immersive Star Wars hotel will put you right into the Star Wars universe. Reservations for this experience will include two nights in the hotel, 3 meals per day and admission into Disney’s Studios. It sounds like quite the once in a lifetime experience that also comes in a once in a lifetime price tag. Reservations open on October 28th.

Magic Band + will debut in 2022. These bands will bring you more than the typical park ticket, hotel room key and ability to pay for your purchases. Now the magic bands will be more interactive, with is lighting up along with the nighttime spectaculars and interacting with the Fab 50 Golden Character Statues.

With so much going on in the parks and with all the world has gone thru since March 2020, the next 18 months are the perfect time to visit Walt Disney World and take part in the celebrations. Contact your favorite Disney Travel Agent at Beyond the Miles Travel today, sue@beyondthemilestravel.com to book your 50th Anniversary Walt Disney World Trip. http://www.beyondthemilestravel.com.

Have a Magical Day!

Happy 50th Anniversary Walt Disney World, thank you for giving me the best memories over the past 42 years of my life. I hope every little kid has a chance to experience your magic like I did for the first time back when I was 5 years old.

My first Disney Trip

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