A weekend in Tempe Arizona

In January of 2019, I headed to Phoenix, Arizona to run a half marathon and to visit my cousin and his wife. The Phoenix metro area is fairly large, and I decided to stay in Tempe, which is about 10 miles east of Downtown Phoenix, since that was where the start and finish lines of the race were located. Little did I know how much there would be to do in and around Tempe.

View of the Mountains in the distance

Being that it was January and I live in Massachusetts where they were expecting a snow storm the weekend I was in Arizona, my top priority was to spend as much time outside as possible to enjoy the warm weather.

Luckily there is no shortage of outdoor activities in Arizona and January is one of the most perfect months to enjoy the outdoors in Arizona as the temperatures were in the 70s, much more enjoyable than the temps in the 100s that they usually have in the summer.

Papago Park

Papago Park: Located on the Tempe/Phoenix border is the 1,500 acre desert park, Papago Park.

The park has so much history. From over a 100 years ago as a native american reservation to a POW camp during World War II to a VA hospital and an Army Reserve facility after the war. It was even considered a National Monument from 1914-1930.

Nowadays visitors to the park can experience hiking trails, picnic areas, lakes, bike paths, a botanical garden, a zoo, a golf course and recreational fields.

I was able to check out the following areas during my visit:

  • Hole in the Rock
  • Hunt’s Tomb
  • Desert Botanical Gardens

Hole in the Rock: The geological formations in the park are thought to have formed some 6-15 million years ago. The most popular formation is the Hole in the Rock. The views are wonderful from this location of the park. The early inhabitants of the area were thought to use Hole in the Rock to record the position of the sun to mark the seasons.

The hike to the Hole in the Rock is an easy .30 miles long and great for the whole family. Steps carved into the sandstone take you into the hole where the beautiful views await you. This is definitely worth checking out for hikers of all abilities.

Hunt’s Tomb: After spending some time at Hole in the Rock taking in the views, I checked out some of the other hiking trails. Most of the trails in the park are on the easier side. I took a hiking trail that led me to Hunt’s Tomb.

Hunt’s Tomb

Hunt’s Tomb is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is the final resting place of Arizona’s first Governor, George W.P. Hunt and his family.

The tomb is situated on a small hill with beautiful panoramic views of the local area.

While hiking to Hunt’s Tomb, you can experience the beauty of the park and the Arizona landscape. Visiting from the other side of the country, I loved seeing the red rocks and cactus throughout the park.

Desert Botanical Gardens: Established in 1939, this 140 acre botanical garden is home to over 50,000 plants, many of which are native to the area. Throughout the year the garden offers many workshops, lectures, exhibits and even concerts.

While I was there, they had an exhibit called Electric Desert. This art exhibit ran nightly for 7 months and was quite the sight to see. Using projections, lights and music it tranformed the plants into a beautiful art installation.

Hayden Butte Preserve: Otherwise known as “A” Mountain due to the “A” put on the side of the mountain by Tempe’s Arizona State University.

“A” Mountain

Hayden Butte Preserve has a strong Native American history and is considered a sacred place to the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community.

It was named after the founder of Tempe, Charles Trumball Hayden.

The trail up A Mountain is a fairly easy out and back that is less than a mile. Although it definitely may not seem that easy if you are like me and decide to do hike it the morning after running a half marathon, not my smartest of ideas. I would assume in the middle of the summer in the over 100 degree heat, it wouldn’t seem all that easy either. But the views from the top are definitely worth it. You can see all of Tempe, the mountains in the distance and even a beautiful view of the popular Camelback Mountain in Phoenix.

While I was only in Tempe for a long weekend and spent a good amount of time running the half marathon and visiting with my cousin and his wife, I only ended up with a limited amount of time to explore. There is so much more to see in Tempe though.

  • Mill Avenue District – With Arizona State University being located in Tempe, the shops, restaurants and bars in this district attract the younger crowd in this college town
  • Tempe Beach Park – Located on Tempe Town Lake, this park has it all, athletic fields, splash pad, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, concerts, festivals and running events.
  • Sea Life Aquarium
  • Arizona State University Art Museum
  • Tempe History Museum
  • Tempe Diablo Stadium – Spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and minor league home of the Arizona League Tempe Angels
  • Big Surf Waterpark

With so much to do in Tempe itself and throughout the rest of the Phoenix metro area, it’s a perfect place for the entire family to visit especially if you are looking for a warm winter escape.

A Boston Locals Favorite – Castle Island

While it’s great to visit the popular tourist attractions when traveling, it’s also a great idea to check out some of the local’s favorites as well. Boston is know for such things as the Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall, Boston Common and Public Garden but there are also many great things to see in Boston that aren’t your typical tourist attractions.

View of Downtown Boston from Castle Island

One of the places I think more tourist should visit in Boston is Castle Island. This Massachusetts state park is a popular place for the locals to visit all year long, but especially in the summer. There is nothing better than spending a warm summer day by the water and Castle Island has a lot to offer when it comes to summer activities.

Before I get into all that you can enjoy there today, let’s talk a little bit about the history of Castle Island.

Castle Island is located in the South Boston neighborhood just a couple of miles from downtown. While it hasn’t been an island since 1928 when it was connected to the mainland of Boston, the fact it was an island hundreds of years before this is where it’s history began.

Fort Independence: In 1634, Boston was looking to build a fortress to be able to defend the city from out in the Boston Harbor. The fort was named Castle William by the English as they were fighting the French for control of North America.

During the start of the American Revolution, Castle William served as the main military base for the British. On March 17, 1776, after the first major American victory in the war, the British left Castle William and the city of Boston. Three days later, Castle William was destroyed.

Due to it’s strategic location, a new fort was built to help protect Boston during the War of 1812. The name of the new fort was Fort Independence and this name has not changed to this day even though the present fort located on the island was built between 1833 and 1851.

Fort Independence is on the National Register of Historic Places and is run by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Reservation. During the summer months, they offer free tours of the fort on Saturdays and Sundays.

Sullivans Castle Island: Although Fort Independence is the major landmark located at Castle Island, the incredibly popular snack shack, Sullivans is what really drives the locals to Castle Island. Open since 1951, Bostonians flock to Sullivans each year for a meal at the beach.

Open from late February until just before Thanksgiving each year, Sullivans opening day has always been a sign that the cruel hard winters of Boston will soon be over. Even during years like 2015 when it opened with an unprecedented 7 feet of snow on the ground, it still gave us that one little sign of hope that winter would soon come to an end.

Although the food is nothing fancy, you can get local seafood like lobster rolls and clam chowder, cool treats for a hot summer day like soft serve ice cream and raspberry lime rickeys and what I consider the best french fries anywhere! The lines outside Sullivan’s are a true sign that the food is definitely worth it!

Pleasure Bay Beach: There is so much more to do at Castle Island than Fort Independence and Sullivans. Pleasure Bay beach is a great beach for families with young children, it’s located on the enclosed lagoon in Pleasure Bay making the waters calm and safe for the younger swimmers.

Kiteboarding: Due to the calm waters of the enclosed lagoon of Pleasure Bay and the ideal wind coming off the harbor, Pleasure Bay is a popular kiteboarding spot that attracts kiteboarders from all over the world. You can catch the kiteboarders in Pleasure Bay year round and it’s definitely a fun sight to see especially with the views of downtown in the distance.

Walking and Running: The trail around the lagoon brings walkers and runners to Castle Island year round. This 2.2 mile loop around the lagoon and Fort Independence is a great way to get some exercise, work off your meal from Sullivans, enjoy the weather and take in the beautiful views.

Relaxing: If you are interested in a more relaxing time at Castle Island, there are places to sit all around the island to relax, have a picnic, take in the views, watch the boats in the harbor and watch the planes flying into Logan Airport.

Sunrise and Sunset: Castle Island is also a perfect spot to view the sunrise and sunset and some of the local fireworks shows can also been seen from here.

USS Constitution Turn Around: While the USS Constitution is docked about 5 miles away at Charlestown Navy Yard, a couple of times a year it does a turnaround cruise so that the over 200 year old ship’s wooden hull will be weathered evenly. The turnaround cruise takes the ship into the harbor to Castle Island for a gun salute to Fort Independence. This normally takes place on the 4th of July and it’s a great way to start the day off.

USS Constitution Turnaround Cruise

Tall Ships: In 2017 the Tall Ships came to Boston and Castle Island was the place to see them as they sailed thru the harbor to the Seaport of Boston where they docked for a six day event. It was definitely a beautiful sight to see.

Views of Downtown: Castle Island is also a great place to take in views of the skyline of downtown Boston.

Castle Island is a couple of miles from Downtown Boston. There are buses that will take you close by or you could take an uber/lyft or drive if you have a car.

My grandparents lived a few blocks from Castle Island when I was younger, so I have been going here for my entire life. It seems to get more and more popular as the years go on but it is still a very special place. If you are visiting Boston, I highly recommend visiting Castle Island if you are looking to visit a part of Boston that isn’t the typical tourist area.

Gasparilla Pirate Festival

One of the great things about traveling is being able to attend local festivals and events. Some people even plan trips around these events. These events are a great way to learn about the culture and history of a city.

I lived in Tampa, Florida for 11 years and one of my favorite things about living there was the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. It’s definitely something I would recommend traveling to Tampa to check out. Wondering what Gasparilla is, well just imagine something similar to Mardi Gras but with Pirates. Who doesn’t love anything that includes Pirates?

Gasparilla Pirate Invasion

The Caribbean has always been known as a place with a history of pirates and due to it’s close proximity to the Caribbean, it’s not surprising that Florida has it’s own pirate history.

Gasparilla is named after Jose Gaspar. Jose Gaspar was famous in Florida folklore for being a Spanish pirate based in Southwest Florida during the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Although there is no true evidence that Jose Gaspar actually existed, his legend lives on in Florida.

Jose Gasparilla

The Gasparilla Pirate Festival includes many events that begin in mid January and end in early March. The festival includes such events as:

  • Gasparilla Festival of Arts
  • Gasparilla Film Festival
  • Gasparilla Distance Classic
  • Gasparilla Music Festival
  • Sant’Yago Illuminated Knight Parade
  • Gasparilla Children’s Parade

But it’s the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates that is the main event!

The first parade was in 1904 as part of the city’s May Day celebrations. There has been a parade almost every year since then. The date of the parade was anywhere from February to May until after World War I when it moved to mid February. After World War II it was moved to the second Monday in February and was considered an official holiday in the city of Tampa. In 1988 the parade was moved to the first Saturday in February so that those without the holiday off were able to attend. Since 2005, it’s been held the last Saturday in January.

Just like Mardi Gras, the Gasparilla Parade is organized by krewes. The main one organizing the Gasparilla Parade is Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.

A few days prior to the parade, members from Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla go downtown and kidnap the Mayor of Tampa, demanding the city surrender to them. As part of the act, the mayor refuses and the Krewe says they will return on Saturday to steal the key to the city thru a Pirate Invasion.

Sailing on the Jose Gasparilla among a flotilla of hundreds of smaller boats, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla sails into Downtown Tampa. It’s quite the sight to see all of the boats sailing into the city. When they reach downtown they disembark and demand the mayor hand over the key to the city. The outcome of this act to take over the city has had different outcomes over the years, but regardless if the mayor hands over the key or not, the krewe celebrates with a victory parade along Bayshore Boulevard into Downtown Tampa.

Bayshore Boulevard

Side note: If you are not familiar with Bayshore Boulevard, it’s a waterfront road thru South Tampa into Downtown Tampa. It’s lined with beautiful homes and includes a 4.5 mile long sidewalk that is popular with walkers and runners.

In my opinion, it’s the most beautiful area of Tampa. In the 11 years that I lived in Tampa, I spent countless hours running, walking and rollerblading along this sidewalk.

It’s definitely a must see if you visit Tampa Florida.

Of course during the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates, the sidewalk does not look as peaceful and quiet as the above photo.

The parade has over 50 krewes that participate. They can be seen marching in the parade and on pirate themed floats. Just like Mardi Gras, the krewes throw beads out into the crowd and boy does the crowd go crazy trying to catch as many beads as they can. Along with the krewes, there are numerous floats, ranging from local sports teams to local businesses. And just like most parades there are multiple marching bands in the parade as well.

Things can get slightly crazy at the parade, from people enjoying a few too many drinks before, during and after the parade to girls lifting their shirts to get beads. It definitely isn’t exactly the perfect family event. Luckily though, one week before the main parade, there is the children’s parade so families can enjoy the parade in a more G-rated experience.

Post Parade sporting the beads

Have you ever attended Gasparilla? It’s definitely my all time favorite thing about Tampa. I can’t even tell you how many beads I accumulated over the years of going to the parade. It was actually fairly sad to have to part ways with them when I moved back to Boston. Seems strange as they are so cheap, but they do hold so many memories over the years. I won’t lie that I did keep a few of the more unique ones I ended up with.

Like everything nowadays, the parade has been postponed this year to April 17, 2021 from it’s original date of January 30, 2021. Hopefully we will have more people vaccinated by then and get this virus under control so it will still be able to take place in April.

View of Downtown Tampa from southern part of Bayshore Boulevard before the parade years ago.

2020 has been a year…

I like to spend the time before New Years, looking back at the year and all the great things that happened. This year has definitely not been the best of years, and there isn’t a whole lot of great things that happened and I didn’t travel too far outside of my little one bedroom apartment.

I looked back at my 2019 post and it was full of so many fun travel memories and I ended the post saying “here’s to a travel filled 2020”. Well little did I know that travel would consist mostly of anywhere my feet could take me in Boston. Although I ended up having to cancel 9 of my trips for this year, I am grateful that I was able to get in two trips before March, one of which was to my happy place, Disney World.

It’s really hard to believe that on February 23rd, just a few short weeks before everything changed for the year, I was running with almost 20,000 other people in one of the busiest places in the world. The thought of being around 20,000 other people right now pretty much sends me into a panic attack and at the same time I’m longing for the day I can safely be around that many people again.

And just a month before that I had returned from a weekend trip to Baton Rouge, LA and came down with an awful sinus infection, probably one of the worst I have ever had. I was so sick, I was actually looking up the symptoms of coronavirus online since I had heard about it being pretty bad half the world away in China. The odd thing about that flight home from Baton Rouge is there was someone on the plane with a mask on and I was freaking out wondering if they had the flue and would I catch it even if they had the mask on, the mask pretty much sent me into “I’m probably going to get sick” mode. Here we are 11 months later and it’s the people without masks that send me into panic mode! I can literally see myself wearing a mask on a plane for years to come after this is all over.

Alot of my travels the past few years has been to run half marathons. I’ve been trying to run 5 different states a year in hopes of finishing all 50 states by the end of 2023 before I turn 50 in March 2024.

Coronavirus may have changed the timeline or the number of races I run each year the next few years, but I am happy that I was able to get states 31 (Louisiana in January, check out my blog post here) and 32 (socially distanced race in New Hampshire in October, check out my blog post here to read more on this race) done in 2020.

I started the year with a pretty bad case of hip bursitis and ended up hobbling my way thru that race in Louisiana and only ended up with 27 miles run in January. I didn’t think I would make my 2020 goal of running 800 miles. But one of the positives of 2020 was less going on in life and more time to run, so as of 12/27/20, I have surpassed my 800 miles for the year. And in addition to that goal while running a virtual race over zoom with my local running studio, I ran my fastest 5K ever, under 34 minutes. My running achievements were definitely the bright spot of 2020.

I’m very lucky to live in an area of the country where there are a lot of places to visit just a short drive away. All the other states in New England are about an hour drive from Boston and luckily this summer the cases were low in all these states so travel within New England was possible.

It was really nice to be able to get up to New Hampshire and check out some bucket list items that I may not have gotten to if not for the inability to travel in 2020. We always seem to overlook the things nearby figuring we will always have time to get there. If you are interested in reading more, check out the blogs below:

Omni Mount Washington Resort

Mount Washington

More to do in the White Mountains

Since being outside was the safest option this year, there was a lot of exploring in my city of Boston. Whether it was running or walking, my feet took me all over the city.

One of my favorite places in the city is the Public Garden, I spent a lot of post run mornings here enjoying my coffee and a bagel. You can learn more about the Boston Public Garden in my post here

I also did a couple of audio walking tours that helped me satisfy my need for doing something touristy. It was a great way to learn more about the things I have walked by for years. Check out my posts on the two audio tours I did below:

Freedom Trail

Beacon Hill

As hard as it was to miss out on travel this year, it wasn’t nearly as hard as missing time with loved ones. I have definitely been extra cautious and have spent most of my time alone. But all of my loved ones are alive and healthy and for that reason alone, I don’t for a minute regret my decision to stay alone to keep all of my family and friends safe. I am at the point that even though I’m an introvert at heart, I am really, really missing my family and friends and craving the in person interaction.

We certainly don’t know what 2021 will bring, 2020 definitely taught us that just about anything can happen. With the healthcare workers starting to get vaccines, it definitely looks more likely that we will be able to salvage some of this year. I for one will be in line to get that vaccine the minute they say the general public can get it after the essential workers and high risk individuals have already received their vaccines.

Here’s hoping my post at the end of 2021 is full of happy times with family and friends, travel adventures further from home and more normalcy than 2020. I wish you all a Healthy and Happy New Year, we will get through this and even if it doesn’t seem like it, it will eventually be better than 2020, I have all my fingers and toes crossed!

Disney Springs Christmas Tree Trail

More photos than words in this week’s blog, but in honor of Christmas this week, I wanted to share the beautifully themed trees of the Christmas Tree Trail at Disney Springs.

Across the Walt Disney World Resort, there are approximately 1,300 Christmas trees each year. If you don’t plan on heading to the theme parks, head over to Disney Springs to check out the Christmas Tree Trail.

The Christmas Tree Trail is free and consists of 23 uniquely themed trees. The themes of the trees range from Disney movies, Disney characters and Disney World Attractions. Enjoy the photos below of these wonderfully themed Christmas trees!

As someone who has had a Disney themed Christmas tree, I absolutely love seeing the details on these trees, I really want to have a monorail on my tree some year!

My favorite is definitely the Haunted Mansion tree, it’s like it includes not just Christmas but also Halloween, my two favorite holidays. What’s your favorite?

I hope everyone has a Very Merry Christmas even if it’s different this year than every other year. It’s a good year to look back on past Christmas memories and cherish those in our lives even if from a far.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Gingerbread Houses at the Walt Disney World Resort Hotels

Hotels around the world are where you can find some of the most beautiful holiday decorations. And the hotels at the Walt Disney World Resort are some of the most beautifully decorated hotels out there and one of the popular holiday traditions to check out at the hotels is the gingerbread houses. These gingerbread houses have been displayed at Disney World for over 20 holiday seasons.

The most popular gingerbread house is located at the Grand Floridian Hotel. This gingerbread house is so large, that it also functions as a holiday bake shop, so there are literally people working inside the gingerbread house selling baked goods. Could you imagine literally working inside something made with so much sugar?

Another way to put into perspective how large of a gingerbread house it is, here are some of the ingredients:

  • 1,050 pounds of Honey
  • 140 pints of egg white
  • 600 pounds of powdered sugar
  • 700 pounds of chocolate
  • 800 pounds of flour
  • 35 pounds of spices

The pastry team at the Grand Floridian spend hundreds of hours making this gingerbread house each year and it’s truly amazing to see the finished product of their talented work!

At Disney’s Beach Club Resort, there is a Gingerbread Carousel on display.

Each year this carousel has a different theme. For it’s 20th anniversary in 2019, the theme was Peter Pan. There are also hidden mickey’s scattered throughout the carousel.

Although not as big as the Grand Floridian Gingerbread House, there are still a lot of ingredients that go into the carousel, here is a list of just some of the ingredients:

  • 2,019 Gingerbread pieces
  • 100 pounds of honey
  • 300 pounds of flour
  • 100 pounds of eggs
  • 100 pounds of powdered sugar

If seeing the gingerbread carousel makes you hungry be sure to hit up the Gingerbread Counter and the Hot Chocolate Bar in the lobby to purchase some treats.

Just across Crescent Lake from the Beach Club is Disney’s Boardwalk Hotel. The Boardwalk hotel is part of Disney’s Boardwalk which is an entertainment, dining and shopping area. The gingerbread house display at the Boardwalk Hotel is a miniature version of Disney’s Boardwalk. As someone who has spent a lot of time at the Boardwalk over the years, I was very impressed with the amount of detail that went into this gingerbread house display. Not only can you purchase treats nearby in the lobby but you can also sign up to build your own gingerbread house. Like the gingerbread houses at Grand Floridian and Beach Club, there are a lot of ingredients that go into this gingerbread house display as well.

You can also find gingerbread house displays at Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.

If you are in the Orlando area, even if you don’t plan on going to the theme parks, I definitely recommend stopping at the hotels to check out the gingerbread houses. What better way to get ready for the holidays!

Boston Holiday Favorites

Welcome to another holiday post, this one from my home city of Boston!

Many a year, I’ve spent a lot of weekends in December traveling, but this year, it’s home (as in home in my apartment all by myself) for the holidays for the entire month. Boston is a beautiful city during the holiday season and it’s sad that so many things will be different this year and due to my lack of transportation options during covid, I won’t be experiencing the city’s holiday spirit like I wish I could with so much time in the city this year. But there is always the memories, the photos of years past and looking forward to seeing everything in person next year. Here are my favorite things to see in Boston during the holidays.

Faneuil Hall: Looking for somewhere to do some shopping, grab something to eat and see one of the largest trees in the United States, then Faneuil Hall is THE place to be in Boston.

At Faneuil Hall you will find popular retail stores like Coach, Sephora and Urban Outfitters as well as numerous pushcarts selling Boston souvenirs and unique one of kind gifts. A must visit, is the Christmas in Boston store with multiple floors of holiday ornaments and decor.

There are many restaurants available for a sit down meal and multiple options in the food hall, a great place to try some local seafood, pizza and baked goods.

But the star of Faneuil Hall during the holidays is the Christmas tree. At 65 feet tall, it’s the largest tree in the city and also one of the largest in the country. Definitely visit the tree at night to check out Blink. Blink is a holiday light show where the lights on the tree dance along to holiday music. It runs every half hour starting at 4:30pm each night and is a must see! Sadly due to covid this year, there will not be a tree at Faneuil Hall. Thankfully I have this video to get a bit of a taste of Blink this year.

Downtown Crossing: A major shopping area, Downtown Crossing, is a must visit during the holiday season. Here you will find stores like Macy’s, Old Navy, Primark, DSW, Home Goods and Marshalls to name a few. Other than shopping, you can get in the Christmas spirit by seeing the Macy’s Christmas tree or listening the carolers walking the streets. Definitely a festive atmosphere!

Boston Common: While the Boston Common Christmas tree may not be as large as the one in Faneuil Hall, it certainly has a great story behind it.

There has been a tree on the common since 1941, but since 1971 it’s been gifted to the City of Boston by the people of Nova Scotia each year. Nova Scotia donates the tree as a thank you for Boston’s help during the Halifax Explosion in 1917. In December 1917, there was an explosion that destroyed much of the city of Halifax. Boston sent a relief train up to Halifax to help their first responders. And even though the relief train was delayed due to blizzard conditions, they were one of the first cities to respond and were considered a life saver. Not only is there a tree lighting ceremony here in Boston, there is also a tree cutting ceremony in Nova Scotia each year.

But the tree is not the only thing to check out in the Boston Common during the holiday season. There is also the popular outdoor ice rink, Frog Pond. Every year, there is a line to get into this popular Boston attraction as it’s such a beautiful place to lace up your skates. As with many other things, it is closed this year due to covid.

Seaport Boston: One of Boston’s newer neighborhoods is the Seaport. The past couple of years they have added more and more seasonal activities to this area. Nicknamed Snowport during the holiday season, this year they are offering a tree lot, Christmas tree, holiday decorations, shops and curling lessons.

New Years Eve Ice Sculptures: The holiday season ends over New Years and what better way to end the season than to check out the numerous ice sculptures throughout the city. If you go early enough, you can see the artist sculpting away at the ice. It is so amazing to actually watch them at work, I could only dream of being that talented.

The ice sculptures have mainly been located in the Boston Common and Copley Square, but the past few years, the Seaport has joined in the fun with a ice sculpture trail of their own.

As someone who loves sea life, the ice sculptures outside of the Aquarium are usually my favorite.

Copley Square is definitely where the largest and most impressive ice sculptures are located. This is also were the big First Night festivities take place each New Years. If you want to miss the crowds, I definitely recommend checking these ones out on New Years Day instead.

What are some of your favorite holiday locations and activities in your home city?

Holiday lights in Christopher Columbus Park in the North End

The Holiday Season in the Big Apple

Each year on Thanksgiving morning, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade takes place in New York City and signals the beginning of the holiday season in the city. Even though it was a different parade this year, I still enjoyed watching it on tv and remembering all the fun things to see and do in the Big Apple during the holidays. It’s definitely a magical place to visit between Thanksgiving and New Years.

Here are some of my favorite things to see and do during the holiday season in New York City.

Radio City Music Hall

Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes: What is more iconic than seeing the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall? The first show was on December 21, 1933. Since then it has grown so much in popularity that there are multiple shows a day from November thru the beginning of January each year. The music and dancing will definitely get you in the holiday spirit. For the first time in 87 years, it’s been cancelled for the 2020 season, but tickets are already on sale for 2021, show dates are November 5, 2021 – January 2, 2021.

Rockefeller Center: Nearby Radio City is Rockefeller Center. This is a must visit during the holiday season. There is no more iconic New York City holiday view than the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center. Every year the Wednesday after Thanksgiving, they have a tree lighting ceremony. The first ceremony took place in 1931 and it has been televised since 1951. I’m sure most of you have seen the photos of the tree arriving in Rockefeller Center this year from upstate New York. In full 2020 fashion, the photos of the tree looking more like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree were all over social media and then there was an owl stuck in the tree. You just can’t make this stuff up in 2020! Well, luckily, the owl has been saved and the tree will be as beautiful as ever for a somewhat different lighting this year. While there will be no public access to watch the tree lighting in person, it will still be televised this Wednesday night, 12/2/20 at 8pm on NBC.

Beneath the Christmas tree is the popular ice rink. Normally open from November until April, the rink is open for a shortened season this year due to planned renovations. It will be open from November 21, 2020 – January 17, 2021. Tickets will be sold for a specific time and limited to 50 minutes of skating with face masks required.

Wollman Rink in Central Park

Ice skating in Central Park: Speaking of ice skating, the Wollman Rink at Central Park is another great place to skate off all the delicious holiday treats. Ice skating is the only thing I enjoy about winter. It’s such a fun winter activity and pretty much the only athletic thing I did as a kid. Ice skating in Central Park with the New York City skyline creating a beautiful city backdrop is just amazing. The rink is open this season until the beginning of April 2021 with covid guidelines such as temperature checks, hand sanitizer available, face masks required and everyone is also required to have their shoes and the rest of their belongings in a bag that they bring with them on the ice as there are no lockers available this year.

Bryant Park Ice Rink

Winter Village in Bryant Park: Ice skating at Rockefeller Center and Central Park can get quite expensive. Thankfully if you are looking for a more economical way to skate, the rink at the Winter Village in Bryant Park is free.

Another great thing to check out at Bryant Park are the holiday shops which are a great place to find unique gifts to buy from local artisans. Great place to support small business and find that special one of a kind gift. Both the ice rink and shops are open this season with face masks required and sanitizing and social distancing protocols enforced.

Shopping: We all have Christmas shopping to do and what better place to do it than New York City. The city has every store you can possibly imagine. From the high end stores of 5th Avenue to the iconic Macy’s in Herald Square to the holiday markets spread throughout the city, there is something for everyone. And even if you aren’t up for the shopping crowds, just walking down the street and checking out the many holiday window displays is a great way to spend the afternoon.

Holiday decorations

Food: No trip is complete to New York City without food! The holiday season is a perfect time to find a great independent cafe and grab a hot chocolate and a sugary snack to warm up from the cold weather and fuel up for more holiday activities.

New York City is the perfect place to visit during the holiday season. It will definitely get you into the holiday spirit! Let the holidays begin!

Thankful for Travel

This week is Thanksgiving in the United States. 2020 has been very different and difficult and as we are in the midst of a second surge of covid-19, just like everything else, Thanksgiving will not be the same as normal this year. Most of us will be staying home and only celebrating with those in our own household. But there are still so many things to be thankful for this year, like the health and safety of our family and friends.

Not being able to travel this year has definitely reminded me exactly how much it means to my life and to my general happiness. It makes me so thankful that I’ve been able to travel and even though it doesn’t feel like it will happen again, I am so thankful that I will be able travel again in the future. I’ve spent a lot of time this year looking back on past trips and thought I would write about the top 5 places that I am so thankful to have visited in the past.

Road to Hana – Maui, Hawaii

1. Hawaii – For as long as I remember I have wanted to visit Hawaii. Not sure if it was just my love for warm weather and the beach or if watching that episode of the Brady Bunch (one of my favorite shows as a kid) where they went to Hawaii that made me dream of going there. It seemed so far away and I never in a million years thought I’d be able to get there. Back in 2011, I spent a week visiting Maui and Oahu and fell in love, it definitely lived up to expectations, in fact it surpassed my expectations. To this day it is still the most beautiful place I have ever been. I am so thankful to have seen the beautiful beaches, to visit Pearl Harbor, to see the sunrise on top of Haleakala, to attend a luau and snorkel with so many colorful fish. I have a few more years, so hopefully covid-19 will be a distant memory so I can return to Hawaii for my 50th birthday and spend some time visiting the other islands.

Gondola Lessons in Venice Italy

2. Italy – I’m half Italian, could live off of Italian food and was extremely close to my grandparents on the Italian side of my family. I’ve always dreamed of going to Italy and am so thankful to have taken a trip there in 2015. I visited Rome where I saw such amazing places as the Colosseum and the Vatican, I visited the ancient city of Pompeii, fell in love with the city of Florence and the beautiful Duomo, dipped my toes in the Mediterranean while visiting the beautiful Cinque Terre and took Gondola lessons in the dreamlike city of Venice. I spent my week living off of bruschetta, pasta and gelato and just felt so at home as the Italian I am.

Eiffel Tower Paris, France

3. Paris – For some reason, I feel like most little girls dream of visiting Paris, not sure if it’s the romantic feel of the city or the dreams of seeing the beautiful Eiffel Tower in person. Since I was probably 12 years old I have always wanted to visit there, for me it was mostly to see the Eiffel Tower, it just looked so grand and amazing to me, I had to see it in person. Back in 2012, I made that dream a reality when I took my very first trip to Europe to visit Paris. It was a quick 5 day trip but it was so perfect. The weather was absolutely amazing and I loved seeing the Eiffel Tower up close, visiting Versailles, walking along the Seine and seeing Notre Dame. As a huge Disney person, I was so happy to be able to visit Disneyland Paris while I was there as well. I traveled to Paris again in 2017 and hope to maybe return in 2022, seems fitting to try and go every 5 years.

Just me and a monkey In Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

4. Mexico – Milestone birthdays should involve a big celebration and what better way to celebrate than to travel somewhere fun. Back in 2014, I traveled to Playa Del Carmen in Mexico with a couple of friends to celebrate my 40th. It was actually the trip that almost didn’t happen. A couple of weeks before my trip, I realized I couldn’t find my passport, I completely panicked and tore my entire apartment apart looking for it. I’m one of those people who never loses anything, I still have the key to my parents house that they gave me when I was 11 years old and over the 35 years I’ve had this key, I’ve never lost it! As it turns out I didn’t lose my passport, I’m pretty sure that a couple of months earlier while doing a New Years day major cleaning of my apartment I ended up accidentally throwing it out! When you realize two weeks before a trip you don’t have a passport, it ends up being an expensive and stressful experience. Just getting an appointment with the passport office is an ordeal, I called everyday for a week before I finally got an appointment a week before my trip. I actually picked up the passport two days before the trip on my birthday, what a birthday gift! Not only am I thankful that after my dumb, stressful and expensive mistake that I made it on this trip but I am also so thankful to finally visit Mexico. So many amazing things about this country, the relaxing beach, delicious mango margaritas, visiting the beautiful Tulum ruins, snorkeling with turtles and being able to hold this adorable monkey just made this an incredible birthday!

Magic Kingdom Disney World Orlando Florida

5. Disney! – Last but definitely not least, Disney World! I have been going on trips to Disney World since I was 5 years old. For 11 years I lived only an hour away and would visit at least once a month. I tend to go multiple times a year now and it truly is the Happiest Place on Earth! It takes someone who has also been going there their whole life to truly understand how magical this place is. Those that have never gone or have only gone once or twice may not see why someone would enjoy somewhere so expensive with crowds of people and long lines. The thing about Disney is it brings back memories of childhood trips, trips with parents, siblings and grandparents. It gives you an escape from reality. It makes you feel like a kid again. It’s the one place that truly brings me happiness even if it’s located in a state that I’m just not a big fan of. Of all the things I’ve missed this year, Disney is the thing I miss the most. I’m longing for the day I get back there. I have a trip planned in March for my birthday since a trip this past March was one of the three trips I’ve cancelled. I have all my fingers and toes crossed I feel safe enough to take the trip, my mental state and soul just need it more than anything! Regardless on when I make it back there, I am so eternally thankful for all the times I’ve been able to visit and for my parents who introduced this magical place to me and for taking me and my siblings there so often and creating so many family memories.

What are you thankful for? Do you have any specific trips that you were thankful to take and why? Happy Thanksgiving!