Beer and Whiskey in Dublin

When people think of visiting Dublin, chances are that one of the first things that come to mind may be things like Guinness, Temple Bar and Irish Whiskey, among other things.

These were definitely things on my mind when I finally arrived in Dublin 22 months later than planned after covid came and derailed all of our lives. It was a long 2 years for all of us and rescheduling meant that I arrived in Dublin just after St. Patrick’s Day and also on my birthday! Suffice it to say, I was ready to celebrate my birthday and my first international trip in what felt like forever with some drinks.

Full disclosure: I visited all of these places over a few days with other stops in between, which will be part of another post.

Guinness Storehouse

Probably one of the most popular attractions in Dublin has got to be the Guinness Storehouse. It’s located on site at the St. James Brewery and is a must visit even if you are not a beer drinker.

I’ve been to many brewery tours over the years, but the Guinness Storehouse tour was definitely one of the top ones that I have been too. It’s a self-guided tour that takes you thru the process of making Guinness beer and the history of the company with tasting opportunities and very impressive multi-sensory exhibits throughout the 7 floors of the building.

Guinness Brewing Process

The first set of rooms went into detail on the brewing process step by step. Since most of us are very used to Step 11 – Enjoying Guinness, it was very interesting to learn all the steps that gets the Guinness to that point so we can enjoy it. While most of the process is similar to what you learn in other breweries, there are difference which make Guinness unique from other beers. One of the differences is that they use a combination of carbon dioxide and nitrogen to carbonate the beer. This creates 30 million bubbles in every pint which aids in making it the thick and creamy beer we all love.

Guinness is carbonated using both carbon dioxide and nitrogen

The roasting process is done at a temperature of 232 degrees celsius which is what gives Guinness it’s flavor, aroma and color.

Roasting temperature of Guinness

After the brewing process, the self-guided tour goes into the full history of Guinness. From the beginnings in the 1700s when Arthur Guinness started brewing beer right here at the St. James location right into the present. It covers the history of the beer becoming more popular and being sold throughout the world. I found it very interesting that Guinness had its own fleet of trains, ships and barges to deliver its beer within Ireland and around the world.

Guinness Advertisement

One thing that sets Guinness apart from other beer companies is definitely it’s advertising. As part of the tour, you get to see many of the fun advertising pieces that make the Guinness brand special.

But of course, no brewery tour is complete with tasting the beer! At the Guinness Storehouse you not only can enjoy the tasting room, but you can also learn how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness by adding the Guinness Academy to your ticket.

In addition to the tasting room, included in each tour is a free pint at the Gravity Bar on the top floor of the Guinness Storehouse. Not only do you get a free pint, but the Gravity Bar is the perfect place to get a great view of the city of Dublin. I was lucky enough to be up there during sunset which made the views even more beautiful.

If all that beer, has you hungry, there are a couple of restaurants located in the Guinness Storehouse. Also make sure to visit the gift shop before you leave. The Guinness Storehouse is open 7 days a week and tickets for the tour start at 22 euros if purchased online.

Irish Whiskey Museum

Ireland isn’t just known for Guinness; it’s also known for its whiskey. While there are many distilleries located within Dublin, including popular whiskey brands such as Jameson and Teeling that you can visit, as someone who loves history, I decided to visit the Irish Whiskey Museum instead of one of the distilleries.

The Irish Whiskey Museum is located near Trinity College and is the perfect place to learn about the history of Irish Whiskey and get to taste some great Whiskey as well.

Irish Whiskey Museum

The entertaining tour guides will take you thru 4 rooms each representing a different time period in Ireland. In each room they will discuss the history of Irish Whiskey.

Irish Whiskey is one of the earliest distilled spirits in Europe, dating back as early as the 12th century. Although there are no written records, it’s thought the Irish Monks learned of the art of distilling from the Moors who used it as medicine. I found the fact that Irish Whiskey had Muslim origins very interesting!

While the Irish Whiskey industry has had its ups and downs over the years, it is now one of the fastest growing spirits in the world, growing from a mere 4 distilleries in 2013 to 24 distilleries just 9 years later.

After listening to the history, we moved on to the different types of Irish Whiskey: Single Malt, Single Pot Still, Grain and Blended. Once we learned more about the different types, we headed to the tasting room to sample the whiskey.

Included in the tour is a tasting of three whiskeys, but for a few additional euros you can upgrade to the premium tour which includes a tasting of a fourth whiskey and a souvenir whiskey glass. I had never done a whiskey tasting before and was surprised at how little whiskey was in the glass, although considering the alcohol content in whiskey, it makes sense. As you can see from the photo below, you can barely see the whiskey in the tasting glasses….

Alas, after flying all night, with no sleep, the four small tastings were more than enough for me. Although, if the tasting has you craving more whiskey, there is a bar located in the museum where you can continue to enjoy some more Irish Whiskey, whiskey cocktails or an Irish Coffee.

The Irish Whiskey Museum is definitely a great spot to visit when in Dublin.

Temple Bar

Temple Bar St Patrick’s Day Weekend

After learning about Guinness and Irish Whiskey, why not enjoy some in a bar. The Temple Bar District is one of the oldest areas of Dublin and is well known for its nightlife and bar scene. The Saturday of St. Patrick’s Day weekend it was incredibly busy and lively, making me question all the people that have told me over the years that the Irish do not celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like we do in America. The scene in the Temple Bar District certainly reminded me of how we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day here in South Boston.

The Temple Bar District was once St. Andrews Parish. But in the 17th century it became known as Temple Bar after Sir William Temple who was the provost at nearby Trinity College had a house and gardens here.

Now Temple Bar is a top spot to visit in Dublin, especially The Temple Bar Pub. This pub with the red facade is what first comes to mind when people think of famous pubs in Dublin. It’s a great pub to stop in for a drink but can get busy and seem a bit touristy so make sure to check out some of the other pubs in the area as well.

Brazen Head – Ireland’s Oldest Pub

Speaking of famous pubs in Dublin, one that shouldn’t be missed is Brazen Head.

The Brazen Head is the oldest pub in Ireland. The name Brazen Head dates as far back as 1653, but there has been a food and drink establishment at this location going all the way back to 1198, making it the fifth oldest restaurant in the world!

With both outdoor and indoor bars, it’s the perfect spot for some drinks, a meal and to listen to some live music. It’s the quintessential Irish pub and who doesn’t love an Irish pub?

There is no shortage of places to drink alcohol in Dublin, the city is full of pubs, and you don’t need to walk far to find one. Learning about what the beer and whiskey you are drinking and its origins will make having drinks a bit more special. Where are you heading for a drink on your next trip to Dublin?

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30 Years of Disneyland Paris

On April 12, 2022, Disneyland Paris officially turned 30 years old. It seems like just yesterday I heard them talking about opening a Disney Park in Europe.

While Disneyland Paris may have been open for thirty years, the idea of a Disney Park in Europe first started way back in 1966. Approximately 1200 locations in Europe were presented as a location for the Europe Park. It was then narrowed down to a couple of locations in Spain and France. Ultimately the small town of Marne-la-Vallee just east of the city of Paris.

Disneyland Paris

Construction began on the park in August of 1988 and on April 12, 1992, the park, then named Euro Disney opened to the public. The park had its fair share of problems in the beginning. Attendance was lower than they thought it would be, hotels vacancy was higher than estimated and they struggled to make a profit the first few years.

Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain

I’m not saying the Euro Disney name wasn’t the right name for the park, I thought it just didn’t have the best ring to it, but after a name change in late 1994 to Disneyland Paris and the opening of Space Mountain in 1995, the park reported its first quarterly profit. On March 16, 2002, a second park was opened at Disneyland Paris. Walt Disney Studios Park is similar to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida.

Walt Disney Studios Park

While the attendance is nowhere near the attendance at the theme parks in Florida and California, it’s a popular vacation spot and for those of us visiting from the US, it’s nice to visit and not have the crazy crowds that I normally see in Florida.

While there are many similarities between the US Disney Parks and Disneyland Paris, there are so many unique aspects to Disneyland Paris. First off, the castle, like Disneyland in California, Disneyland Paris has Sleeping Beauty’s Castle or Le Chateau De La Belle au Bois Dormant. But it’s much larger than the castle in California, they have made it look like it’s up on a hill. It’s the most beautiful castle I’ve seen in person at a Disney Park.

The castle features a waterfall and even a dragon lair! You can also walk into the castle and see the stained-glass windows. They really outdid themselves with this castle, it blows the castles at the US parks out of the water.

Some of the classic rides at Disneyland Paris are just better than the originals in California and Florida. Big Thunder Mountain is amazing, it starts by going thru a tunnel under the water over to an island and it’s a much faster ride than in the US parks.

Big Thunder Mountain

For someone who loves pirates, I was so impressed with the area around Pirates of the Caribbean. Not only is there the ride, but there is a pirate ship and pirate themed area to explore. It’s a great spot to enjoy especially for kids.

Pirates of the Caribbean Area

One of the things I really love about the Disney Parks is how the exterior of the Haunted Mansion is different in each park. In Disneyland Paris, it’s called Phantom Manor and it reminds me of something straight out of a horror movie.

Over at Fantasyland, they have Alice’s Curious Labyrinth which is a walk thru attraction that will take you down the rabbit hole into the world of Wonderland. It’s fun to walk thru and check out all the Alice and Wonderland statues.

Alice’s Curious Labyrinth

Over at Walt Disney Studios, they have some different rides including Crush’s Coaster. This fun coaster is unique to Disneyland Paris and I’m surprised they haven’t brought it to Walt Disney World yet, it would fit in great at Epcot as part of the Living Seas.

Crush’s Coaster

Some of the areas and rides in Walt Disney Studios have moved on to the US parks, there was a small Toy Story area in this park and now at Hollywood Studios in Florida, they have Toy Story Land.

Toy Story area in Walt Disney Studios

When I heard that they were bringing the Ratatouille ride to Epcot, I was so excited as I had already experienced it at Walt Disney Studios at Disneyland Paris. This 4D ride finally just opened in Epcot in 2021.

Ratatouille Ride

When Disneyland Paris opened in 1992, many of the same hotels that are there today opened as well. There are six hotels all based on different regions of the United States. The following hotels are located on property:

  • Disneyland Hotel – This American-Victorian hotel is located at the entrance of the park overlooking Main Street USA. It’s based on such Victorian-American Hotels in the US like Hotel del Coronado in California.
Disneyland Hotel
  • Disney’s Newport Bay Club – Based on New England architecture, it’s very similar to Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts in Orlando.
Disney’s Newport Bay Club
  • Disney’s Hotel New York – Based on the largest city in the US, New York City, this hotel was recently rethemed as the Art of Marvel just recently in 2021.
  • Disney’s Sequoia Lodge – This hotel will remind you of the American National Parks Lodges, specifically the Old Faithful Inn located in America’s first National Park, Yellowstone.
  • Disney’s Hotel Cheyenne – You will feel like you have ventured back in time to the American Wild West.
Disney’s Hotel Cheyenne
  • Disney’s Hotel Santa Fe – This hotel will make you feel like you are in such popular spots in the Southwestern US like New Mexico. Featured in the hotel is the famous Disney movie Cars.
Disney’s Hotel Santa Fe

If you have a chance to visit Disneyland Paris, during the next year while they are celebrating the 30th Anniversary, I highly recommend it. I was lucky enough to visit for the 20th and 25th anniversaries and really wish I could make it there for the 30th.

They even had statues for the 25th Anniversary that I now look back at it and it’s very similar to the gold statues they have at Walt Disney World in Orlando this year for the 50th Anniversary.

Disneyland Paris makes a great addition to any trip to Paris. Just a 45-minute train ride from the city center of Paris will take you right to the gates of Disneyland Paris. What a great trip, visiting the beautiful city of Paris and getting to enjoy the Disney magic while you are there.

Happy 30th Anniversary Disneyland Paris!

Birmingham Civil Rights Trail

I love traveling to visit historic sites. When I was a child, visiting historic sites, helped to expand upon what I learned from history class in school. Seeing the sites in person, brings a new perspective to what is learned in history books. As an adult, visiting historic sites, brings an even deeper meaning to those history lessons I learned as a child.

Much of history is tragic and sad, but it’s important to learn about this history not just to know what happened in the past but also to learn why it happened and to make sure that history does not repeat itself.

In a time where people of color are still fighting for equality and against discrimination, there is no better time than now to learn more about the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. While you will see how far we have come, you will also see that there is so much work still to be done and it will give you a better perspective on how we can all do our part to help fight for equality for all.

Birmingham Alabama played a large role in the fight for Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. It was the site of many violent events where lives were lost but it was also the site of strong people fighting for the equal rights for all. Encompassing a few blocks in Downtown Birmingham are some important sites that make up the Civil Rights Trail.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

The first place to stop on the Civil Rights Trail is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Opened in 1992, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s mission is:

“To enlighten each generation about civil and human rights by exploring our common past and working together in the present to build a better future.”

It’s a great spot to start the Civil Rights Trail as you will get the history or the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham and the rest of the south which will bring bigger meaning to the other sites along the trail.

Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth

Outside of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a statue in honor of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. Reverend Shuttlesworth was a minister who led the civil rights movement in Birmingham. Martin Luther King Jr. called Reverend Shuttlesworth “the most courageous civil rights fighter in the South”. He helped organized the Freedom Rides in the South. He devoted his time to desegregating Birmingham by holding mass demonstrations in the city and by attempting to enroll his children in an all-white high school.

Martin Luther King Jr quote featured in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Your visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute begins with a short film and then you can take a guided or self-guided tour thru the exhibits. There were multiple exhibit rooms that started by depicting how segregated whites and blacks were. Then it moved on to the events of the Civil Rights Movement.

Each set of exhibits had a timeline of the events of the Civil Rights Movement. There was definitely a lot of information, some of which I remember learning in history class and other information that either I hadn’t learned or went into more detail from what I did learn.

One of the events that happened in Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement was the Childrens March Against Segregation. The demonstrations and protests during the Civil Rights Movement were not known to be peaceful, with many turning to violence. Even with the thought of a violent demonstration, the children of Birmingham wanted to get involved and knew there was only so much their parents could do while working to provide for their kids. So, on May 2, 1963, thousands of black children, some as young as 12 years old, walked out of school to protest Birmingham’s segregation laws. Many protestors were arrested that day, but it was the following day that was most shocking. Police responded by spraying the children with firehoses and having dog’s brutally attacking the children. It was heartbreaking to read about this, they were only kids wanting respect and equality.

I spent about an hour and a half in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute but definitely could have spent longer. I would set aside at least an hour or two. As of the writing of this post, the Institute is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10am – 3pm. Tickets must be bought online in advance for a timed entry. Always check the website ahead of time for any changes in hours or ticketing procedures.

Bell from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on display at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

An often-overlooked piece of history sits in the lobby of the Institute by the restrooms. A large cast iron bell that was originally part of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church across the street. This bell was also atop the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC in August 2013 and was rang to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the same location. A few weeks later, the bell rang again to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. It’s the site of that tragic bombing that we visit next on the Birmingham Civil Rights Trail.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

Established in 1873 as the first black Baptist Church, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church played an important and also tragic part in the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham. The church was used as a meeting place for Civil Rights leaders including Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King Jr. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is a National Historic Landmark.

Sadly, what makes this church a landmark and such an important part of the Birmingham Civil Rights Trail is the tragic events that took place here on September 15, 1963. On a Sunday morning, when the church should have been a welcoming, happy and safe environment for its parishioners, four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted 19 sticks of dynamite outside the basement of the church. The explosion took the lives of four young girls, three were 14 years old and the other was just 11 years old. Over a dozen other people were injured in the explosion.

As a result of the bombing, violence in the city of Birmingham escalated. Two teenage boys were shot just hours after the explosion, they were only 16 and 13. The 13-year-old was shot by a 16-year-old as he was just innocently riding on the handlebars of his brother’s bike on his way home.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

The awful events from this day helped to lead to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being signed almost a year later. Sadly, it took years for there to be arrests and trials related to the bombing. In 1968, the FBI closed the case. It was opened again in 1971 but it wasn’t until 1977 that the main suspect was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. In 1995, the investigation was opened again, one of the other suspects had since passed away, the final two were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in 2001 and 2002. Learning how many years it took for justice to be served for such a tragic event is just mind boggling to me. My heart goes out to the families of the young kids whose lives were lost that day who may not have even lived long enough to see justice served.

Kelly Ingram Park

Kelly Ingram Park

Across the street from the Sixteenth Street Baptist is Kelly Ingram Park. This park was the location of many of the demonstrations and protests during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the park is the location of many Civil Rights Movement sculptures.

Probably one of the most emotional sculptures in the park is “The Four Spirits”. This sculpture was added to the park in September 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing.

Four Spirits Sculpture in Kelly Ingram Park

This touching sculpture features the four young girls who lost their lives in the bombing in 1963. The sculpture depicts the four girls preparing for the church sermon as that was what they were doing just before the bombing. At the base of the sculpture the name of the sermon planned for that day, “A Love that Forgives” is inscribed. The sculpture includes 6 doves to represent the fours girl’s lives as well as the lives of the two young boys who also lost their lives that day.

Martin Luther King Jr. Sculpture in Kelly Ingram Park

If you walk into the park behind the Four Spirits sculpture, there is a sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. to honor him for all he did for the people of Birmingham during the civil rights movement.

Around the center of the park there is a circular walkway called the Freedom Walk which includes many of the other sculptures in Kelly Ingram Park. These sculptures along the Freedom Walk depicts what the citizens protesting in the park and throughout the city of Birmingham had to endure. It definitely gives you a visual idea of just how awful this time was.

Located at the southeast entrance to the park is the Kneeling Ministers sculpture. This sculpture recreates three ministers who knelt and prayed during violence during one of the many protest that occurred in 1963.

Kneeling Ministers Sculpture in Kelly Ingram Park

Birmingham is a great city to visit and learn more about the civil rights movement history. Many people visit the city while on a longer civil rights trip thru other cities in the US. This would make for a great educational summer road trip for the whole family.

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An afternoon on the Northern Oregon Coast

While visiting Portland, Oregon last October, I took a drive out to the coast for the afternoon. I’ve dreamed of visiting the Oregon coast since I was young and watched the movie, Goonies. The Pacific coast is just so different than the Atlantic coast which I’m used to from living in Boston.

I got a bit of a late start after a long day the previous day that started with a 5am flight out of Boston. So, I knew I wasn’t going to see all that I wanted to see, but that was fine, something is better than nothing. It was pretty rainy in Portland, so I did get a bit nervous about the weather, but the further west I drove, the rain started to taper off and I ended up with a nice dry day and even some sunshine.


Seaside Oregon

My first stop was Seaside, Oregon. This is the perfect beach resort town with plenty to see and do for the entire family. The beach in Seaside is absolutely beautiful, perfect place to get some sun, play in the sand, go for a swim and it has some of the best surfing in the Pacific Northwest. I was definitely impressed with the waves at this beach, I could have watched them all day, waves are so relaxing to me.

One of the most popular things to do in Seaside is to walk the Promenade. This 1.5-mile oceanfront promenade has been here since 1921 and is the perfect spot for a walk, run or bike ride. The views along the Promenade are just stunning. Located along the Promenade is the Seaside Aquarium. The Aquarium is definitely a popular spot especially for families. The aquarium has been in Seaside since 1937 and while visiting, feeding the harbor seals is a must.

After spending some time walking along the Promenade and on the beach, I walked thru town. There is so much to do in town: take a ride on the carousel, play some games in the arcade, shop in the gift shops and one-of-a-kind shops or even just take a stroll and people watch. And if you work up an appetite with all that activity, there are plenty of food options in Seaside. From the typical beach food like pizza, ice cream and saltwater taffy to sit down restaurants featuring everything from Seafood to Italian to Mexican to Chinese to Pub food, Seaside has it all.

Seaside is more than just a beach resort town; it also has its place in history! Seaside is known as the end of the Lewis and Clark expedition. In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out to explore the land west of the Mississippi which was just acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. Seaside is said to be the last place they stopped in 1806 before turning around to head home. There is a statue where the road ends near the Promenade to commemorate this.

End of the Trail Lewis and Clark Statue

Ecola State Park

After spending some time in Seaside, I headed south to Ecola State Park. This park encompasses 9 miles of the Oregon coastline. It’s the perfect spot for hiking, wildlife viewing, beach access, picnics and stunning views! I could not get over how beautiful the views were and coming from Seaside where the sun was shining made the foggy coastal views in Ecola State Park that much more impressive.

Driving into the park, you follow a road thru the forest which can be narrow at times, but also very beautiful. It definitely makes you feel like you are out in nature. You will then come to the coast with its cliffside views high above the ocean where you can also view the historic Tillamook Rock Lighthouse off in the distance.

While the views are spectacular on a sunny day, I’m so grateful that part of the time I was there was somewhat foggy. The foggy view of the ocean below was just stunning! It was pretty crazy how quickly it went from sunny to foggy to sunny again while I was in the park.

Foggy Views from Ecola State Park

There are many short hiking trails within the park and also sections of hiking trails in the park are part of larger trails, like the Oregon Coast Trail, which an 8-mile section of this trail is located within Ecola State Park. There is also the challenging 5-mile Tillamook Head Trail which starts just south of Seaside and takes you to Ecola State Park.

Being that the park sits high above the Pacific Ocean, it’s no stranger to weather related damage. When I visited in the fall of 2021, there were certain trails that were closed due to landslides. As of the writing of the post in February 2022, the entire park is closed due to a landslide on the Ecola Park Road, which you take into the park. Please make sure to check the website before visiting for the status of the park.

Landslide signs in Ecola State Park

Cannon Beach

Next, I was off to probably one of the most well-known spots on the Oregon Coast is Cannon Beach, famous for the 235-foot Haystack Rock. Haystack Rock has been listed as one of the World’s 100 Most Beautiful Places by National Geographic and it’s definitely a sight to see. I’ve been wanting to see Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach in person since seeing it in the movie Goonies when I was a young kid. It was as impressive in person as it was seeing it in the movie all those many years ago.

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock is said to be formed by lava flow millions of years ago. It can be accessed by foot at low tide, making it a great time to view the sea life in the tide pools by Haystack Rock. When I visited, the tide was coming in and boy was it coming in fast, definitely something to watch out for at Cannon Beach. At one point, I was very far away from the edge of the water and next thing I knew I had to run so as not to get wet from the incoming tide. And I was not alone, there were many others running with me.

Haystack Rock is also a great place for bird viewing year-round and in the early spring to mid-summer, you might even catch a glimpse of a Tufted Puffin. Time for me to plan a trip during that time of year so I can see the puffins! I had no idea before this trip that puffins could be found in the Pacific Northwest.

Other than Haystack Rock and the Beach, there is plenty of shopping, art galleries, restaurants and craft breweries to try. I had a late lunch at Pelican Brewing Company. It was a great spot, not far from the beach and they had outdoor dining which was a plus as it was the only warm and sunny day while I was visiting Oregon, so it was nice to enjoy the vitamin D! Pelican Brewing Company started in 1996 about 65 miles south of Cannon Beach in Pacific City, Oregon. They have a terrific food and beer menu; I ordered the Beer Sausage Flatbread which had roasted tomatoes, ricotta cheese and beer sausage. To accompany it, I had a Sea’N Red Irish-Style Red Ale as recommended on the menu.

I spent a very quick afternoon exploring the Oregon Coast and really barely scratched the surface. I think another trip to Oregon is in order so I could spend a few days exploring the coast, including making it down further south along the coast. This was definitely a great overview of what to expect from the Oregon Coast.

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Run 50 States – Columbia Gorge Half Marathon Hood River, Oregon

When deciding on a half marathon in Oregon, I knew that I definitely wanted to run one somewhere near Portland. I decided on the Columbia Gorge Half Marathon in Hood River which was a little more than an hour from downtown Portland. It’s run in the fall, which is my favorite time of year to run, the temperature is usually perfect and it’s always easier for me to train during the summer than the winter since I’d much prefer to run in heat and humidity than snow and ice. Little did I know just how magical fall is in Oregon even if the weather ends up not being perfect for running.

Columbia Gorge Half Marathon Views

The race weekend is also included a Marathon. When signing up for the race, I noticed the logo on the website which stated it’s “The Most Scenic Marathon in the Country” Even reading that I was not prepared for just how scenic the race would be!

A little bit about the general area before I get into the race details. Hood River is located about 70 miles east of Portland and is located where the Hood and Columbia rivers join. It’s located in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge and while in the area, you must check out the waterfalls along the Historic Columbia River Highway. In Hood River itself watersports take center stage, from sailing to kayaking to stand up paddle boarding to kiteboarding. But it’s the windsurfing that makes Hood River so famous as it’s known as the windsurfing capital of the world.

Mount Hood Railroad

Take a ride along Mount Hood Railroad. This historic century-old railroad runs scenic rides thru the Hood River Valley on weekends from late June thru the end of October each year. Take in the beautiful views of the river, the foliage and views of Oregon’s tallest peak, Mt. Hood. Hood River has a beautiful downtown area full of one-of-a-kind shops that is definitely worth checking out. There are also numerous restaurants that I visited while I was there:

Kickstand Coffee – Not just your everyday coffee shop, this shop is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They serve Oregon’s own Stumptown Coffee. And their food is made with local ingredients with a global twist.

Romuls – This Italian restaurant located in downtown Hood River is the perfect place to go to carb load for your race. The food is fresh and homemade.

Full Sail Brewing Co. – This brewery is located in Hood River and has a brew pub to dine in. I was unable to dine here, but purchased some beer to bring back to my hotel and they were delicious.

Solstice Wood Fire Pizza – Located along the river not far from the start and finish line of the race, this family-owned restaurant serves up delicious inventive pizzas with more than your typical pizza toppings.

Hood River Event Site

Now that you see how much there is to do in Hood River, it’s time to get to the race! The packet pickup took place at the local running store in downtown Hood River. It was a very quick process. For swag I got a beanie, which was nice but as I had a blanket made with the shirts from my first 25 state half marathons and planned to do the same for the second 25, I was slightly disappointed in no shirt. Although a quick glance at the website later, they didn’t mention a shirt, so I should have known. Not to fear, due to the race day weather a shirt was purchased after I finished the race, but that’s a story for later.

The race started and finished at the Hood River Event Site which is right along the river. It was within walking distance from my hotel, Hampton Inn Hood River, so it was fairly easy to get too, there was also plenty of parking available at the site. When I was walking over to the race, the weather wasn’t too bad, it was in the high 40s and cloudy, if only it stayed that way!

Columbia Gorge Marathon and Half Marathon Start Line

The half marathon started at the Hood River Event Site and went into downtown. Once downtown it went along the main road thru downtown and then down near the river. Then the race started its ascent up what seemed like a mountain! There is a total elevation gain of 1,112 feet in the half marathon and I’m pretty sure that all took place in the first couple of miles, it was never-ending, and the grade was 5%. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one who decided for a nice early walk break up the hill and found some other runners to talk to for a majority of the way up. One of the girls was from the area and she assured me that once we made it up this hill, the rest of the race wasn’t that bad. I won’t lie, this race made me long for rolling hills (which I normally hate), that’s how steep this hill was!

View of Hood River from above

There were some positives to this crazy hill being at the beginning of the race though. Since the race was an out and back course, that meant a nice long downhill at the end of the race! And the views both going up and especially at the top of the hill were stunning!

Stunning views

The hill leveled off, and there were a few more hills, although it really felt to me like it was one really long hill that went on for miles with some leveling off in between the less steep sections after the really steep part at the beginning.

Views from the course

The race followed the Historic Columbia River Highway State Park Trail. This trail used to be part of the Historic Columbia River Highway. This historic highway was built in 1921 and then in the 1950s, after the present highway down closer to the river was built, the road was shut down. In 2002, sections of it opened as a state trail. This state park trail is used for hiking and apparently running!

One of the highlights of the trail and the turnaround point of the half marathon is the Twin Tunnels. These tunnels were built in 1921 to allow the road to go thru the rock in the area. When the road closed, they filled the tunnels in with rocks. For the Historic Columbia River Highway State Park Trail, they restored these tunnels and even unearthed graffiti dating back to 1921 when motorists were snowbound for days in the tunnel. The tunnels are definitely a great experience to run thru.

Running thru the Twin Tunnels

Remember I mentioned earlier that I wish the weather had remained cloudy? Well shortly after leaving the tunnels, the skies opened, and it poured for the remainder of the race! I’m not a fan of running in the rain at all, only if it’s a warm summer day and it’s a light rain which ends up being refreshing. This was a cold, soaking rain! Needless to say, the remainder of the race was run with a poncho on! Thankfully the fall views somewhat distracted me from how miserable I was with the weather.

It was definitely a beautiful race; I can only imagine how miserable I would have been if the views weren’t so amazing to take my mind off of the rain temporarily. Needless to say when I finished the race, after being in the rain with temperatures in the 40s, I was pretty cold. Remember I was upset about not getting a shirt for the race? Well first thing I did when I finished was go to the tent and buy a quarter zip race shirt. It felt so nice to have something dry on me. Of course, as luck would have it by the time I walked back to the hotel, the rain had lightened up to a drizzle, figures!

I will say, that even with covid, the post-race food and refreshments were great. They had beer from a local brewery, which if you can believe it, I didn’t have, I was that cold, all I wanted was a hot cup of coffee and it was delicious. They also had a taco bar and cookies for dessert. I definitely ate well after this race.

Post race taco bar

As wet and cold as this race was it was also one of the most beautiful races I have ever run, I may just try running it again someday, maybe. If you are looking for a race to run in Oregon, this is definitely the one for you. And even if you aren’t a runner, if you ever thought of visiting this area of Oregon, fall is definitely the time to visit!

The Columbia Gorge Marathon and Half Marathon will be held on October 16th in 2022. Remember that Beyond The Miles Travel would love to help you plan your next racecation, maybe that can be to Hood River Oregon!

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La Isla del Encanto – Puerto Rico

The Spanish word Encanto has been brought to the attention of many non-Spanish speaking people with the recent release of the Disney movie of the same name which takes place in the country of Columbia. But did you know that Puerto Rico is known as “La Isla del Encanto” which in English translates to “The Island of Enchantment”. And after visiting Puerto Rico, I could not agree more with this.

The island of Puerto Rico is located in the Caribbean and is a territory of The United States of America. This makes it a very easy destination for US visitors as passports are not required. But this beautiful island is more than just tropical beaches and relaxation. It’s full of history, culture and outdoor activities.

Tropical waters in Puerto Rico

Old San Juan

When flying into Puerto Rico, most will fly into the capital of San Juan. While visiting a tropical climate, you may be eager to spend your week at the beach or the pool at your resort, but Old San Juan is definitely worth taking a half day or full day away from the beach.

Old San Juan is the historic district in San Juan. While Caribbean islands may not be the first places that come to mind, did you know that San Juan is the second oldest city in the Western Hemisphere? In the US, most of us have heard of Juan Ponce de Leon who discovered Florida while searching for the Fountain of Youth. Prior to discovering Florida, he discovered Puerto Rico and became their first governor. One of the historic attractions you can visit in Old San Juan is Ponce de Leon’s mansion.

San Juan National Historic Site

The most popular of historical attractions in Old San Juan though has got to be the San Juan National Historic Site. Visiting this historic site, will take you back 500 years in time. On this site, you can see the remaining city walls along with two forts, Castillo San Felipe del Morro (commonly referred to as El Morro) and Castillo San Cristobal. These forts took 200 and 150 years each to be built. Both forts were used to defend the island of Puerto Rico and during World War II, El Morro was used by the USA to keep watch on German submarines in the Caribbean.

The park is open daily (except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day) from 9:30am – 4:30pm and admission is $10. You can tour the forts on your own but look out for the ranger talks going on in the fort while you are there to learn more about the history.

While at the San Juan National Historic Site, make sure to check out the beautiful views of the surrounding area, they are certainly breathtaking!

View from San Juan National Historic Site

Seeing El Morro from the outside by the water is also a beautiful experience. Take a walk along the Paseo del Morro which follows along the coast. The walk does dead end at the fort as seen in the photo below, but it’s not a long walk and the views are worth seeing again on the walk back.

Paseo del Morro connects to another great walkway in Old San Juan, Paseo De La Princesa. This beautiful walkway also offers stunning coastal views. Along the Paseo De La Princesa, you will come across street vendors and the Fuente Raices (Roots Fountain). This fountain is in honor of the 500th anniversary Spain’s discovery of the New World.

Fuente Raices

These two walkways are not the only great places to walk in Old San Juan. Walking the historic streets is definitely quite the treat. Old San Juan is full of colorful buildings that are just stunning to see as you walk thru the historic city streets.

My favorite thing I saw while walking around Old San Juan was located on Calle San Jose. There I found the famous door painted as the Puerto Rican flag. This is definitely an Instagram worthy location for your Old San Juan visit.

Puerto Rican Flag Door

Along with all that I mentioned, Old San Juan also has many great shops and restaurants. You could definitely spend a good portion of a day here.


Of course, no vacation to somewhere in the Caribbean would be complete without some beach time. Just like other Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico is full of beaches. Right outside of San Juan there are many beaches, the three most popular being Condado Beach, Ocean Park Beach and Isla Verde Beach. If you are staying in a hotel or renting a house or condo near San Juan, chances are you will be right near one of these beaches. All of these beaches are great for relaxing, swimming, taking a walk and watching the sunset.

The most beautiful beach that I visited while in Puerto Rico was Luquillo Beach. Located about 30 miles from San Juan, Luquillo is known as the la Capital del Sol (the Sun’s Capital) which is probably why this beach is just so perfect. This beach looks like it’s straight out of a postcard and is the perfect spot to spend a relaxing afternoon.

While you could bring a picnic to the beach, I highly recommend visiting Los Kioskos de Luquillo while at this beach. These beachside kiosks feature restaurants, bars and gift shops. It’s the perfect spot for some authentic Puerto Rican food like Mofongo. If you are unfamiliar with Mofongo, it’s mashed fried plantains with garlic and olive oil and can be accompanied by meat or seafood. I had never heard of Mofongo before I visited Puerto Rico, but I definitely fell in love with it while I was there, so delicious!

Mofongo at Los Kioskos de Luquillo

El Yunque National Forest

Located about 5 miles from Luquillo Beach is the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest Service, El Yunque National Forest. This rainforest gets on average 120 inches of rainfall each year. Oddly enough after running a half marathon in tropical downpours and getting stuck in tropical rain on the beach for two days straight, the day I visited the rainforest was the first day I didn’t see rain in Puerto Rico, go figure!

El Yunque National Forest

Like many National Parks in the United States, El Yunque National Forest has moved to a reservations system to visit the rainforest. Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance with timed entry during a 3-hour time frame. One reservation per car is required and there is a $2 reservation fee.

Trees in El Yunque National Forest

El Yunque is full of gorgeous views, waterfalls and hiking. Climb the Yokahu Observation Tower to view the lush rainforest from above. The tower is located at 1,575 feet and is 69 feet high. The views from the tower are stunning and on a clear day you can even see all the way to the Virgin Islands.

Being a rainforest, El Yunque has many waterfalls to check out. One of the easiest ones to see is La Coca Falls. This waterfall is located right by the road, so no hiking is necessary. These 85-foot falls are stunning to see and definitely make for a great photo op.

The most popular waterfall in El Yunque is La Mina Waterfall. This waterfall is 35 feet tall and offers a pool at the bottom that you can swim in. There is a 3/4-mile hike to the waterfall along La Mina Trail. While this trail is short, it is rated as moderate to difficult due to the 500-foot elevation you will gain on your way out of the waterfall. The trail follows along the La Mina River and there are stairs at points along the trail. Be prepared for crowds as this is the most popular trail in El Yunque.

Since the damage from Hurricane’s Irma and Maria in 2017, the trail has been closed. Make sure to check the website to see if it has reopened.

Cueva Ventana

An often-overlooked attraction in Puerto Rico is Cueva Ventana. Located about an hour east of San Juan, this hidden gem is worth the drive. Cueva Ventana translates to Window Cave in English. The view out the window of this cave of the lush landscape below is absolutely stunning.

Cueva Ventana is open from 10am – 4pm daily and guided tours are offered frequently throughout the day. The tour takes you thru the cave giving you a little history of the cave and surrounding area and gives you plenty of time to take photos of the window.

Make sure to dress appropriately, leave the flip flops and sandals at the hotel and wear either hiking boots or sneakers. Hard hats and flashlights are provided for the tour.

While in the area, make sure to drive thru nearby Arecibo. This coastal town has some stunning views that are worth the short detour.

Caribe Hilton

If you are looking for a great hotel to stay in, I highly recommend the Caribe Hilton. This beautiful resort is located just outside of San Juan and is set on a beautiful private beach. But even if you are not staying here, it just might be somewhere you may want to visit as it’s the home of the Pina Colada! That’s right, in 1954, a bartender at the bar at the Caribe Hilton created this delicious tropical drink and since 1978 it’s been Puerto Rico’s national cocktail. Everyone wants a tropical frozen drink while traveling in the Caribbean, why not enjoy one at it’s birthplace.

Puerto Rico is a beautiful island to visit and as you have read above, there is so much more than just the beach. Is this Caribbean Island now on your bucket list?

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Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts

Throughout the year, Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center features many festivals. The first festival of the year is the International Festival of the Arts. In 2022, from January 14 – February 21st, you can immerse yourself in culinary, performing and visual arts when visiting Epcot Center. This festival will definitely bring the arts to your day, Disney style!

Culinary Arts

Just like other Epcot festivals, there is a big emphasis on food, but this festival focuses on the presentation and artfulness of the food dishes. There are multiple food booths throughout the park.

By far the most popular the first weekend, was Pop Eats. If you are a Disney fan, I’m sure you have heard of the hours long (I think some people waited up to 6 hours!) lines for the Figment popcorn bucket filled with rainbow popcorn. The popcorn bucket was certainly cute, but I’m not one to stand in line for hours to purchase something. On the 4th day of the festival, after selling 500,000 buckets, the popcorn bucket sold out.

Day 4 – Sold out of the Popcorn Buckets

While I’m sure there were plenty of disappointed people, I was actually happy they had sold out of the popcorn bucket, as one of the festival food options I really wanted to try was being sold at the same booth. I’m a big fan of grilled cheese and tomato soup and it was a chilly florida winter day so soup sounded amazing! The tomato soup was served in a soup can and was topped with sour cream and it came with two small pieces of grilled cheese to dip in it. I also had a Brooklyn Brewery Pulp Art Hazy IPA to wash it down. It was delicious and I’m so happy I was able to try it, sorry Figment popcorn bucket fans, but I’m glad those buckets sold out.

Pop Eats Booth – Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese and Brooklyn Brewery Pulp Art Hazy IPA

Another popular booth that has been there in past years is the Deconstructed Dish which features favorite dishes presented in a deconstructed manner. I tried the Deconstructed French Onion Soup which was a beef broth ravioli, gruyere and onions. It was so delicious. I paired it with a Blood Orange Cosmo which I got from the nearby Refreshment Port.

Deconstructed French Onion Soup from The Deconstructed Dish with a Blood Orange Cosmo

With the popularity of the new Disney animation film, Encanto, the Vibrante and Vivido: Encanto Cocina was another popular booth. But the film isn’t the only thing to make this booth popular, the food was amazing! Still chilly from the cool Florida winter day, I tried the Spice Ajiaco Soup. This soup had all my favorite things, Guajillo and Arbol Chili-Spiced Chicken, potatoes, avocado and corn. I highly recommend this soup. My sister got the Chorizo and Potato Empanada which she said was delicious. The one notable thing about the Empanada was the portion size, it was definitely a regular size empanada as opposed to a tasting size.

Spicy Ajiaco Soup from Vibrand and Vivido: Encanto Cocina

There were plenty of desserts that I wish I had tried but didn’t get to. The one dessert I did try was from the L’ Arte di Mangiare booth. At this booth, I got the bomboloni which came with a hazelnut dipping sauce. I of course also had an Italian Margarita with this as it’s my favorite drink in Epcot since I love limoncello in my margaritas! Since the drink was frozen, I’m glad I got this on my first day when it was in the 70s.

Bomboloni and Italian Margarita from L’Arte de Mangiare

Of course, no Epcot festival is complete without a flight! At the Artist’s Table, I got the beer flight which featured beers from Kentucky and Florida craft breweries. At the same booth, my sister got the Symphony in Chocolate Flight which paired sipping chocolate with cream liqueurs. Maybe one of these days, they will find a better way to present the beer flights, the cardboard box doesn’t really go with the artistic presentation of the Festival of the Arts.

Beer Flight from Artist’s Table

Performing Arts

Although the food and drinks are my favorite parts to Epcot festivals, there is so much more to the Festival of the Arts. There are quite a few ways to experience the performing arts at the festival.

One of the most popular is the Disney on Broadway Concert Series. These concerts take place nightly with three performances each night at 5:30, 6:45 and 8pm. The concerts feature Broadway stars from the Disney musicals. It’s really great to be able to see these talented singers outdoors in a much warmer location than Broadway. For the guaranteed best seating to the shows, you can purchase a dining package at select Epcot restaurants for a pre-fixed lunch or dinner that day. This is a great way to guarantee a seat at the show if there is a Broadway star you are set on seeing.

Disney on Broadway Show

One of my favorite parts of the festival is the chalk art! Featuring Disney characters and scenes from around the world, it’s amazing how the artist can make the walkways look like a piece of art! Check out the slideshow below on some of my favorite chalk art over the years:

Some of the best chalk art displays are the 3D art. The people and places in the art jump out to you and you can even take a photo in the art, and it will look like you are part of it.

One of the really neat aspects of the festival is being able to see the artist creating the chalk art right before your eyes. I think it’s both inspiring and therapeutic to watch the artists in action!

Chalk Artist at Work

It’s not just the chalk artist that you can find at work during the festival, other artist are also working on their art pieces throughout the festival.

Artist at Work

Visual Arts

Does watching the artists at work make you want to create your own masterpiece, be a part of a masterpiece or purchase one of these masterpieces from these talented artists? Well, you can do all of this at Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts!

Be a part of creating a masterpiece at the festival but contributing to the paint-by-number mural! Each person is given a section and number to paint on the mural. Paint and brush are provided and there is no additional charge for this. They also give you a postcard so that you can see what the finished product will look like just in case you aren’t there when it’s finished. This is definitely a fun activity for the whole family!

Paint-by-Number Mural

Have you ever wanted to be a part of a famous painting? Well at Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts, you can do just that. Be a part of famous paintings such as Mona Lisa, The Scream or Washington Crossing the Delaware. These photo ops are so much fun and help to bring out the creative side even in people who may not be that creative. You can take your own photos or at some of the photo ops there are Disney PhotoPass photographers to take your photo if you purchased Memory Maker.

Artful Photo Op

Speaking of Disney PhotoPass, there are also special festival Magic Shots available to take. You may get a Magic Shot like the one below that can be a great memento of the festival or one with figment holding a paint brush.

Festival of the Arts Magic Shot

After seeing all this art at the festival, what better way to remember it all by, than to buy a piece of art to bring home! Throughout the park are many markets where art is displayed for sale. And one of the great things about these markets is you can meet the artist whose work you are purchasing. There are so many beautiful pieces for Disney and non-Disney fans alike.

This festival has it all and adds a little bit of culture to your theme park day. Great way to enjoy something different while visiting the theme parks in Orlando with your family. If you can’t make it there this year, it runs every year from mid-January to late February. Make sure to check out my posts on other Epcot festivals: Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival and Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival. Beyond The Miles Travel specializes in Walt Disney World Travel and would be more than happy to help plan your future trip to visit one of Epcot’s many festivals.

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Sculptures along Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue Mall

Boston has many wonderful areas to enjoy a nice walk. One of these areas is the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. Located in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, Commonwealth Avenue is divided by a park running down the middle of the street. This park connects the Public Garden to the Fens as part of the Emerald Necklace. It’s a beautiful spot to enjoy in all four seasons.

Along the Commonwealth Avenue Mall are many different sculptures. As someone who walks along the mall frequently, I have always been curious about these sculptures. This post will guide you thru these sculptures, starting as you cross Arlington Street onto the mall from the Boston Public Garden.

Alexander Hamilton

The first sculpture you will come across is of Alexander Hamilton. This sculpture has been here since the mall opened in 1865. Alexander Hamilton is a big part of the history of the United States. Not only was he the first Secretary of the Treasury, but he also signed the Declaration of Independence and fought in the Revolutionary War. Due to his part in history, he is also on the US ten dollar bill.

John Glover

Designed by Martin Milmore in 1875, is the second sculpture which is for John Glover. Also famous for his part in the Revolutionary War, where his regiment from Marblehead, MA saved George Washington at the Battle of Long Island and then on Christmas night in 1776, Washington asked Glover to help row him across the icy Delaware River for an attack in Trenton, NJ. This Massachusetts soldier became quite the asset during the war and gained George Washington’s respect.

Patrick Andrew Collins

Patrick Andrew Collins was Mayor of Boston from 1902 until his sudden death in 1905. He was the second Irish-born mayor of the city. This memorial used to be located elsewhere in the city but was moved to the Commonwealth Avenue mall in 1966 due to construction at its former site. There are two figures on each side of the memorial. One wears a crown of laurel leaves and holds a shield, representing Liberty. The other one wears a crown of shamrocks and holds a harp, representing Patrick Andrew Collins birthplace of Ireland.

Vendome Firefighters Memorial

The next memorial is in memory of the lives lost in one of the biggest tragedies to happen in Boston, the Hotel Vendome Fire.

The Hotel Vendome was located at the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Dartmouth Street. On June 17, 1972, a fire broke out at the hotel causing part of the building to collapse, trapping and killing 9 firefighters. It was the worst firefighting tragedy in Boston history. The memorial was dedicated in 1997 on the 25th anniversary of the fire. The memorial features a bronze hat and jacket and a timeline of that tragic day.

William Lloyd Garrison

Massachusetts native, William Lloyd Garrison was an advocate for equality in the 1800s. He fought for the emancipation of slaves and women’s suffrage. His biggest accomplishment was as editor of the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, which was published from 1831-1865. The statue features Garrison on his leather office chair.

The view from the back side of the statue in the fall is just stunning and always a spot that I have to turn back and catch a quick look or a photo.

Samuel Eliot Morison

Born and raised in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, Samuel Eliot Morison is related to the famous poet T.S. Eliot. He was a Harvard graduate and professor who was known as a very well-respected historian.

He has written over 50 books about history with an emphasis on American Maritime History, including two Pulitzer Prize winning books: Admiral of the Ocean Sea, a biography of Christopher Columbus and John Paul Jones: A Sailor’s Biography.

On one of the rocks next to the statue, is Morison’s advice to young writers, “Dream dreams, then write them aye, but live them first” I really enjoyed this quote, very inspirational.

Boston Women’s Memorial

The Boston Women’s Memorial is my favorite of the sculptures along Commonwealth Avenue mall. The memorial honors three women who were very important to the history of Boston. The idea of this memorial started in 1992 and the memorial was finally finished in 2003.

The women featured are Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone and Phillis Wheatley.

Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams was the wife of the second president of the United States, John Adams and mother of the sixth president, John Quincy Adams. She was often giving advice to her husband while he was president, so much so that some consider her as part of the Founders of the United States. She also spent a lot of her time fighting for women equality.

Lucy Stone

Lucy Stone became the first woman in Massachusetts to graduate from college in 1847. She was very active in fighting for women’s rights and even held the first national Women’s Rights Convention just an hour from Boston in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1850. She also started the Women’s Journal, a women’s suffrage publication. But it was not only women’s rights that were important to her, she was also an abolitionist and orator. William Lloyd Garrison (also memorialized on Commonwealth Avenue) hired her to write and deliver many abolitionist speeches.

Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley was an African born woman who was shipped to the United States and sold as a slave. But she did not let her unfortunate life of slavery stop her from following her dreams. She became one of the best-known writers in New England as her book of Poems, “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” became the first book published in the United States by an African writer. She was also the second woman to have a book of poems published.

Three inspiring women that lived in Massachusetts. This is a memorial that everyone, especially women need to visit.

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento was President of Argentina from 1868 to 1874. He had spent time in the United States to study educational reform. It was during this trip to the United States, that he became inspired by Boston educator Horace Mann and founded Argentina’s public education system.

In 1917, Argentina offered a statue of Sarmiento as a gift to Massachusetts for their gratitude of Horace Mann’s influence of Sarmiento and to celebrate the relationship between Argentina and the state of Massachusetts. Unfortunately, due to World War I and the sculptor passing away, it took almost 60 more years before the statue made it’s way to Boston in 1973.

A Historic Walk

With so much history in Boston, I feel the history behind these sculptures definitely gets missed. Many people walk down the Commonwealth Avenue Mall to enjoy the beauty of it and never think twice about the sculptures. I myself would notice the sculptures but never knew much about them. I’m glad I was able to do a little research, it definitely makes walking down the mall that much more meaningful when you know how many great people from the past are memorialized along this beautiful city walk.

I hope that on your next visit to Boston, you can find further meaning to the Commonwealth Avenue Mall and it’s sculptures.

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Running into 2022 – NYRR Midnight Run

We are all very familiar with New York City’s Times Square New Years Eve celebration, but in a city so large, that is definitely not the only way to ring in the New Year! Why not ring in the New Year the healthy way by running 4 miles thru Central Park? That’s exactly what I did this year!

NYRR Midnight Run

For years I have had the NYRR Midnight Run on my race bucket list. Back in mid November, probably less than 2 weeks before we even heard of the Omicron variant of covid that would rapidly spread throughout the world, I decided that this would be a great year to finally check this race off the bucket list! I was lucky enough to find a hotel room for the night where I could use my Hilton points (which was great since most hotels were going for $600 a night plus due to New Years Eve) and got a cheap train ticket there from Boston. It was like it was meant to be!

Well then comes December and covid cases start to increase in the US, starting with New York City where they were out of control, causing many a breakthrough case in the vaccinated, hours long lines for testing (they seem to have testing on every corner in busier parts of the city!) and record breaking case numbers. I went back and forth on whether it was a good idea to go or not. As it got closer, the weather forecast called for temps in the 50s, so I knew I could at least not be too uncomfortable eating meals outdoors and since I live alone and work from home and plan to head home and not go anywhere or see anyone else for a couple of weeks, I figured, I would just mask up and go (fingers crossed a few days from now I don’t regret this decision!)

I took the train down to NYC from Boston on Friday morning, arriving just before 2pm. I got one of the many little warm ups for the race that day taking the long walk from Penn Station uptown to my hotel on 52nd Street. After I checked into the hotel, I met up with a friend and we walked over to the NYRR Runcenter to pick up my race bib. For those that aren’t familiar with NYRR, they are a major race director in New York City that hold numerous races throughout the year including the famous New York City Marathon each November. I have ran numerous races with them as I ran the 5 borough series in 2016-17, which included the Brooklyn Half Marathon, Queens 10K, Bronx 10 Miler, Staten Island Half Marathon and the New York City Half Marathon. Their races are incredibly well run which is one of the reasons the Midnight Run had been on my bucket list. While picking up my bib, they checked my vaccine card as vaccination is now required to run any NYRR races.

After that we headed to the Upper West Side for dinner and margaritas (need to carb load before a race right). Since it was a beautiful evening with temps in the 50s and no wind, it was rather comfortable eating outside. After dinner, we headed over to Levain Bakery, which is known to have “New York’s Most Famous Cookies” I bought one of their Chocolate Chip Walnut cookies to bring back to the hotel as a post race treat. I of course couldn’t resist having half of it before I left for the race, more carb loading, right? Haha! It was definitely delicious, so make sure to check out one of their locations next time you are in New York City!

Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie

After relaxing at the hotel for a bit, it was time to head over to Central Park. There were two entrances into the park for runners, from the east and west side at 72nd Street. At the entrance, they checked for your bib as only runners and guests (each runner was permitted one guest) were allowed in. Runners were given wrist bands at bib pickup for the their guest, the guest were required to show their id and vaccination card to be let in.

Once you are in the park, there was a large area for runners to gather while being able to remain distanced. They had corrals lettered A to L for runners based on their estimated finish time. I of course was back in L, which was a bit strange, it’s been a minute since I’ve been in the very last corral for a race. The corrals closed at 11:50pm. As the time got closer to midnight, the excitement grew and just before the race started they had a countdown and fireworks at midnight. It was such a fun way to start the race and being in that final corral worked to my advantage as I was then able to enjoy more of the fireworks before running.

Check out the fireworks below:

The fireworks lasted a good 20 minutes, I remember thinking at mile one, “wow they are still going off” This would definitely be a good fireworks show for any guests you bring with you to the race.

The route started going east on 72nd and then headed north and followed the inner loop in Central Park. If you have ever been to Central Park, you know that it’s a very popular place to run, but you may not notice that it’s not flat until you actually run it. The first time I ran in Central Park was when I ran the NYC Half Marathon in 2017 and I was so surprised at how hilly it was! The Midnight Run started right off with a hill of course! But the hills are rolling, so there was plenty of great downhill portions as well.

Around the two mile point the course went west and then headed south again back to 72nd Street. The course was really great and I was actually very happy at how well lit it was. I have a hard time seeing in the dark, so I was grateful that there were plenty of lights along the course.

Not only did they have a water stop on the race course, there was also a sparkling cider stop as well. During the race there were people dressed up with 2022 glasses, new years hats and even some people wearing fancy dresses over their regular running tights. The weather could not have been more perfect. Who would have thought it would be 51 degrees at midnight in December in New York? On a normal year it’s usually at least a good 20 degrees colder than that. I even had to take my running jacket off a half mile into the races I was so warm.

At the end of the race, they gave out water, bagels and fruit with plenty of room in the park to enjoy the post race food while keeping distanced.

This was really a perfect way to ring in the new year, especially as someone who is older and isn’t interested in partying in the new year. After the race I had an almost mile and a half walk back to my hotel. Earlier in the day I was a little nervous about walking this far alone at 1am, but thankfully there were so many people out and about and so many cops all over the streets of New York, that I felt incredibly safe.

One of the really great things about heading to New York City for this race is that the holiday season is so magical in New York City!

Rockefeller Center

I’ve been to New York during the holiday season quite a lot, but it’s been a number of years since I’ve been there during this time and I had definitely forgot just how magical it is. There are Christmas trees and holiday decorations everywhere! Check out my post on the Holiday Season in the Big Apple to learn more about all there is to see in New York City during the holidays.

While running my 4 miles to start the new year, 15 thousand people were packed into Times Square for the first time since 2020 (all fully vaxxed and masked) ringing in the New Year by seeing the ball drop at midnight. Even pre-covid, I don’t think that would be something I would enjoy but I definitely enjoyed heading over to Times Square the following afternoon and seeing the ball and the 2022 digital signs.

New Years Day in Times Square

Even though I was hesitant to head to New York City during the Omicron surge, I am definitely glad I did. The race was a perfect way to ring in the new year and definitely beat sitting at home alone on the couch. If you ever have the option to run this race, I highly recommend it.

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Chasing Waterfalls Across the US in 2021

2021 was definitely a better travel year than 2020. It was a great year to explore more of my own country, since there were no restrictions to travel within the US. To be on the safer side, I tried to take trips that involved lots of outdoor activities and when looking back at them, I realized I saw a lot of waterfalls during my travels this year. From east coast to west coast and in 5 different states, there was plenty of waterfall viewing and hiking in 2021.

Here are all the beautiful waterfalls I saw in 2021:

Great Falls Park in Virginia: In April, I headed to West Virginia to run a half marathon. I flew into Washington DC on Earth Day and knew I needed to make a stop on my ride to West Virginia to spend some time outside in nature to celebrate the day. I had also recently purchased an America the Beautiful National Park Pass, so I did a search to see what parks I could stop at on the way to West Virginia. That is when I found Great Falls Park located just a half hour from Washington DC in Virginia.

Great Falls Park

The falls are located on the Potomac River and can be viewed from both the Virginia and Maryland sides of the river. They are made up of multiple 20-foot waterfalls and cascading rapids with a total drop of 76 feet. At the park there are three different overlooks to view the falls from different angles. For the adventurous people it’s a great place to kayak the class II to V rapids, for us non-adventurous types like me, it’s a lot of fun to just watch the kayakers! There are also 15 miles of hiking trails and plenty of picnic areas for the whole family to enjoy. To learn more, check out my post on Great Falls Park.

Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia: From Virginia, I drove over to the northeast corner of the “mountain state” of West Virginia to visit Canaan Valley. One of the biggest attractions in the Canaan Valley is Blackwater Falls State Park.

Blackwater Falls

The 57 foot tall Blackwater Falls can be seen inside Blackwater Falls State Park. They can be viewed from two different viewing platforms. The closest platform involves a boardwalk and 200 steps down to the falls. At this platform you are quite close to the falls, so it’s definitely worth the walk down. For a more accessible platform, you can drive to the other side of the park to take the very short .02 paved Gentle Trail for a view of the falls from a further distance.

Besides the falls, Blackwater Falls State Park also offers 20 different hiking trails, swimming, fishing, boating, camping sites and even cabins. It’s the perfect outdoor location. For the winter lovers, it has the longest sled run on the east coast of the United States. To learn more about the park and the nearby area, check out my post on the Canaan Valley.

Idaho Falls, Idaho: Next up I headed west at the end of May/beginning of June for a trip to some National Parks. The first stop on my way to Yellowstone from Salt Lake City was the town of Idaho Falls, Idaho. The Snake River runs thru Idaho Falls and it was the rapids along the river that inspired the name of the town in 1891. Years later, a hydro-electric dam was built on the Snake River creating the man-made waterfalls in Idaho Falls. The waterfalls are along the River Walk which is a great area, not just for waterfall viewing, but also for picnics, walking and running.

Idaho Falls

Yellowstone National Park: After Idaho Falls, I continued north to the first National Park in the US, Yellowstone National Park. While Yellowstone is known mostly for its wildlife and hydrothermal features, it also features 100s of waterfalls, 45 of which are named. With so much to see and do in Yellowstone, I barely scratched the surface when it came to waterfall viewing, but I definitely saw some beautiful ones.

Yellowstone Falls

If you are looking for one must see waterfalls in the park, Yellowstone Falls is a must! Located in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, this impressive waterfall includes and upper and lower portion which can be seen from many different viewpoints, including the famous Artist Point viewpoint.

Yellowstone Falls as seen from Artist Point

You can even take a short hike down to the brink of the lower falls portion. This hike is suitable for the whole family and will be a very busy trail. The view will definitely make dealing with the crowds worth it though. They say to try and get there in the morning to see a rainbow, but I visited in late afternoon and was able to see a beautiful rainbow in the canyon at the bottom of the falls.

Along with Yellowstone Falls, I also saw Gibbon Falls and Lewis Falls while in Yellowstone, although both were smaller, they made for a great quick stop to break up the long drives while traveling from place to place in Yellowstone.

If you would like to learn more about these waterfalls and more to do in the park, make sure to check out my Yellowstone Park post.

Grand Teton National Park: Located south of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is Grand Teton National Park. The only accessible waterfall in the park is Hidden Falls. This waterfall is located near Jenny Lake, which is a must-see spot in the park. To reach Hidden Falls, you can either take a ferry across the lake or hike the Jenny Lake Loop Trail, which is 7.6 miles roundtrip. Once you reach the ferry dock, you can take the one-mile roundtrip moderate hike to Hidden Falls. This hike is family friendly only gaining 200 feet of elevation. The 100-foot Hidden Falls are stunning! Since I visited in late spring, the falls were quite strong from the annual snowmelt.

Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park

From Hidden Falls, you can continue on for another one-mile roundtrip hike with 300 feet of elevation to Inspiration Point for beautiful views of Jenny Lake. This was the final waterfall I discovered on my National Park trip this summer.

To learn about more to see check out my Grand Teton National Park post and my Jackson Hole post for more to do just outside the park.

Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon: This fall I headed west again to the state of Oregon. Located a half hour east of downtown Portland, is the National Historic Landmark, the Historic Columbia River Highway. This was the first scenic highway planned in the United States and located along this scenic highway is a 13-mile stretch known as “waterfall alley”. These waterfalls are fairly accessible from the highway, making them great for the whole family to see.

Latourell Falls

For those looking for more than just waterfall viewing, there are many hiking trails that will take you closer to the falls, both short and long trails make it a great area for all different hiking abilities.

Bridal Veil Falls

The waterfalls get pretty busy, leading to traffic on the roadway and full parking lots during the busy times of year. For this reason, thru the summer and early fall, they offer a Waterfall Trolley to make your waterfall viewing along the Historic Columbia River Highway less stressful.

The most popular of the waterfalls along the Historic Columbia River Highway is Multnomah Falls. This 620-foot two-tier waterfall is the most visited natural attraction in the Pacific Northwest. It’s quite the site to see and even on a rainy day in late October it was very busy with lots of traffic and full parking lots.

Multnomah Falls

While these waterfalls are beautiful to visit all year long, when I visited in late October at the peak of the fall foliage season, they were just stunning as was all of the scenery along the Historic Columbia River Highway. If you would like to read more, check out my post on the Historic Columbia River Highway. Chances are you probably will fly in and out of Portland and this city is worth checking out, for a full city tour and a great way to replenish the calories you burned hiking the waterfalls, check out my post on the Donut Tour in Portland.

Do you have any favorite waterfalls you visited in 2021? I’m looking forward to exploring new waterfalls in the United States and maybe even other parts of the world in 2022.

Happy New Year, here’s to an even better 2022 than 2021!

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