Historic Sites of San Antonio

Located just 150 miles from the Mexico border, San Antonio Texas is rich in Spanish culture and history. It’s the second most populated city in Texas and is located just 80 miles southwest from the capital of Texas, Austin. If you are looking to experience a different culture without leaving the US, San Antonio is a great place to visit.

San Antonio was founded in 1718 and at that time and in an effort to colonize and spread Christianity thru the area, the Spanish established five missions along the San Antonio River.

The Alamo San Antonio Texas

The Alamo: The first and most well known of these five missions is Mission San Antonio de Valero which was used from 1718 to the late 1700s. In the early 1800s, Spanish military troops were stationed in the abandoned mission. They named the fort “El Alamo” (The Alamo) after the cottonwood trees around the building.

To this day, the building is well known to many from their history books as The Alamo due to it’s involvement in the Texas Revolution. In December of 1835, a group of Texan’s overtook the Spanish military at the Alamo, taking control of San Antonio. On February 23rd 1836, the Mexican Army sieged the building and began the 13 day Battle of the Alamo. On the morning of March 6th, they broke into the building and a battle erupted. Although the Mexican army won the battle, the Battle of the Alamo became a symbol of heroic restistance in Texas’s fight for independence.

The Alamo is open daily and is definitely a must do when visiting San Antonio. Admission is free and you can either tour the Alamo on your own or pay for a guided tour.

Missions National Historic Park: The other four missions are part of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, these include the following:

  • Mission San Jose – Established in 1720, it’s the largest of the missions in San Antonio. The visitors center for the Missions National Historic Park is located here. Make sure to check out the famous “Rose Window”, one of the finest examples of baroque architecture in North America.
  • Mission Concepcion – Established in 1755 it’s the oldest unrestored stone church in the United States.
  • Mission San Juan Capistrano – Established in 1731, the chapel and bell tower are still in use today.
  • Mission Espada – Established in 1731, the majority of the buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1836, but to this day part of the original irrigation system is still in use.

The missions are open daily and admission is free. They are a must visit for anyone that wants to experience the history of the area. There is free parking available at the missions. Or if you are up for a more active day, there is a hike and bike trail along the San Antonio River that connects all five of the missions. The trail is about 7 miles one way and there is an option of taking a bus back if you aren’t up for the round trip.

San Fernando Cathedral : Founded in 1731, the San Fernando Cathedral is the oldest church in the state of Texas and one of the oldest in the United States. It’s located in the Main Plaza of San Antonio, the center of the city.

The church is a beautiful building to photograph. Like a lot of older buildings, the church is thought to be haunted and is a stop on ghost tours in San Antonio.

On Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, check out the free lightshow on the outside of the cathedral. This lightshow called The Saga is a beautiful way to experience the history of the city of San Antonio.

San Antonio Riverwalk: The Riverwalk known for it’s restaurants, bars and shopping may not be the first place you think of when it comes to historic sites, but this famous area in downtown San Antonio has it’s part in history. This river was used to supply water to the missions, particularly The Alamo which is located nearby.

It’s main part in history isn’t necessarily a happy history. As with a lot of rivers, there were many floods. The worst of which was in September of 1921 which killed over fifty people and caused millions of dollars in damage. It took years for the city to revitalize the area and for it to grow to the popularity of today.

A great way to learn about the history of the riverwalk and downtown San Antonio is to take a sightseeing crusie along the river. Its a beautiful tour down the river and you will learn interesting facts about the city and see some interesting things like a tree growing out of one of the buildings along the river.

History aside, this a great area to have a meal or a drink or two by the river, especially if you are like me and visit in the winter as an escape from the cold and snow.

Who wants to now have dinner at that table under the tree? That’s definitely a unique table to dine at!

Tower of the Americas: Built in 1968 for the Hemisfair’s Worlds Fair, this 750 foot tour is the tallest observation tower in Texas and was the tallest in the United States until 1996 when the Stratosphere opened in Las Vegas, Nevada. For people that love seeing the city from above, I highly recommend visiting the Tower of the Americas for that perfect view and photo of the city. I tried to go up at sunset, but unfortunately there were too many clouds, but seeing the city light up as it got dark definitely made it worth going up at that time of day.

The Tower of the Americas is open 4pm-10pm Monday thru Thursday, noon-11pm Friday and Saturday and noon-10pm on Sundays. Tickets are $14.50 for Adults, $12.50 for Seniors & Military, $11.50 for children ages 4-12 and free for children ages 3 and under.

The Pearl: Located about two miles north of downtown San Antonio, The Pearl is a mixed-use district with shopping, dining, office space, a hotel, apartments, a farmers market, green space and even a campus of the Culinary Institute of America. The Pearl is a former site of the Pearl Brewery which operated here from 1883-2001. The buildings at the Pearl were renovated with sustainability in mind while keeping thier historic charm.

It’s definitely an interesting area with a noticable historic past to go for a meal. I had brunch at the Boiler House and it was beyond delicous, I’m drooling just looking back at the photo of that day’s brunch!

Hotel Gibbs: If you are looking for a historic hotel in San Antonio, there are many to chose from, but from experience I can say that Hotel Gibbs is a great choice. Hotel Gibbs is located diagonally across the street from the Alamo and if you are lucky, you may just get a room with a view of the Alamo.

The hotel is built on ground where part of the Alamo once stood and where the final assault of the battle began. Because of this the hotel is thought to be haunted by the spirits of soldiers killed during the battle.

It’s history doesn’t just come from the Battle of the Alamo. Before this building was a hotel, it was the first skyscraper in San Antonio, The Gibbs Building, built in 1909. The office building closed and reopened as a hotel in 2006. They preserved many aspects of the office building. The hallways on each guest floor are just as they were in the office building, complete with water fountains in the wall. It was definitely a fun hotel to explore, definitely different than the typical hotel. While the common areas were reminiscent of the old office building, the rooms had a very modern hotel vibe. Great combination of old and modern.

San Antonio is definitely a great city to experience history and culture in the state of Texas. I visited for just two days but easily could have stayed another day or two.

I hope you get to visit this beautiful city some day!

Great Places to Photograph the Boston Skyline

If you like traveling to major cities of the world, chances are you are like me and enjoy taking photos of the skylines of these cities. I mean, it’s the tall buildings that make the city and something about seeing all these buildings together just makes for a beautiful photograph and memory of your trip.

Downtown Boston Skyline

One of my favorite things about flying into Boston is how close the airport is to downtown, it’s just across the harbor. With so many other airports located quite a few miles away from the Downtown area, it’s so impressive how close the skyline is when you are landing at Boston’s Logan International Airport.

Maybe you are lucky and will have a window seat on the correct side of the plane and be able to get a great photo from the plane while landing. If you are striving for this photo, I highly recommend flying in at night, the skyline at night is breathtaking!

The skyline in Boston can really be split into two skylines, one being Downtown and the other being the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston.

Downtown Boston Skyline:

From the water – Probably the best place for a great photo of the Downtown Boston Skyline is from the water. Whether you are just taking a harbor cruise, taking the boat to Salem or Provincetown or taking a boat to one of the Boston Harbor Islands, one of the highlights of your boat trip will most definitely be the view of the city as the boat moves away from the dock, further and further into the harbor.

For the best views of the city, make sure your boat leaves from either Long Wharf near the Boston Aquarium or Rowes Wharf behind the Boston Harbor Hotel. Luckily these two locations are where most boats that head into the harbor leave from.

View of the Downtown Boston Skyline from the water

From land: The best place to photograph the Downtown Boston skyline from land would be Fan Pier. Located in the Seaport District, this area used to be fairly empty with nothing more than large abandoned parking lots. About 15 years ago, the whole Seaport area started to transform into what it is today, one of the most popular and busy areas of the city. New office buildings, hotels, restaurants and shops now bring locals and toursits alike into the Seaport.

Fan Pier was transformed into a beautiful park with a pedestrian walkway along the water, places to sit end enjoy the view and a beautiful viewing terrace. In my opinion the view from Fan Pier is the most beautiful view in the entire city. I spend alot of time relaxing here taking in the view.

Downtown Skyline View from Boston Children’s Museum

Nearby Fan Pier, is the Boston Children’s Museum. In front of the Museum is a boardwalk along the Fort Point Channel where you can see another view of the Downtown Boston skyline. What makes this view special is be able to photograph the Boston Tea Party ship with the Boston skyline in the background. It’s a great example of a common sight in the city of Boston, new and old together.

Boston’s Back Bay Skyline:

The skyline view of Boston’s Back Bay may not include quite as many buildings as the Downtown Boston skyline, but it is equally as beautiful and makes for a great photograph.

From Cambridge: The best place to photograph this skyline is from the other side of the Charles River in Cambridge. There is just no better view than the Charles River with the skyline in the background. If you walk down Massachusetts Ave towards the Charles River, you will come to a big bridge. This bridge has many names: Harvard Bridge, MIT Bridge and Mass Ave Bridge. You can walk across the bridge to Cambridge and will be a short distance down the street from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus.

There is a long walkway along the Charles River and no matter which direction you walk you will be able to get some great photos of the skyline from different angles. In my opinion, if you turn right when you get over the bridge and walk a little ways down you will see boats docked in the water, this is the best view of the skyline. What is more iconic than the skyline, the Charles River and boats docked in the river?

Skyline view approaching the Mass Ave bridge

If you turn left you can get a different viewpoint of the skyline. This viewpoint is beautiful as you get that feeling of how the skyline looks as you are approaching it. The angle of the buildings will be different from this location.

There is a fairly new path, only a couple of years old, right near the river at this section that is a great place to stop and take some photos.

From the Longfellow Bridge: When you turn right if you continue walking about 1.3 miles you will end up coming to the Longfellow Bridge. This bridge is a great place to get a different angle of the skyline. You can walk across this bridge to the Boston side. When you get to the Boston side, you can walk back to the Mass Ave Bridge or take the subway as there is a stop right at the end of the bridge. In fact if you were to take the subway outbound from here into Cambridge, the train goes over the bridge for the perfect view.

From the Boston Common and Public Garden: Another popular partial view of the skyline is from the Boston Common and Public Garden. You might recognize the Public Garden view from seeing it in tv shows like Cheers. Check out my post on the Boston Public Garden to learn more about this beautiful park. In the Boston Common there is a small hill which takes you up to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, this is a perfect place to get a photo of the skyline.

These are my favorite places to see the skyline, there are also numerous other vantage points including Piers Park in East Boston, the top of the Prudential Tower, from Castle Island, from the JFK Library and from Spectacle Island.

I hope this has given you some ideas on great places to get that perfect photograph of the Boston skyline.

Top 4 Things To Do In Aruba

After a lucky first few weeks of January with above normal temperatures in Boston (which were still too cold for me), we are now back to normal cold January weather. Thankfully there is no snow on the ground, but the temperature is in the 20s with a lot of wind, so it feels more like the single digits or teens. This of course has me dreaming of the warm, sunny Caribbean.

Aruba

One of my favorite islands in the Caribbean that I’ve visited so far is Aruba.

This Dutch Island is located in the southern Caribbean just 18 miles north of Venezuela.

While winter is an ideal time to visit if you are living in a colder climate, this island is great to visit all year long. Due to it’s location in the southern part of the Caribbean, the risk of a hurricane in Aruba is much lower than the other islands in the Caribbean. And due to it’s dry arid climate, the island does not get too much rain, so more times than not you are greeted with sunshine while visiting Aruba.

These are my Top 4 Things To Do In Aruba:

  1. Beaches
  2. Snorkeling
  3. Island Tour
  4. Sunset

Beaches: It goes without saying, the main reason most people head to the Caribbean is for the beach. The beaches in Aruba are some of the most beautiful in the world and there are many different beaches for many different kinds of activities.

Some of the more popular beaches include:

  • Palm Beach – This is the busiest and most crowded beach on the island as this is where most of the high rise resorts are located. The beach is beautiful, has lots of activities and is extremely convenient if you are staying in one of the resorts on the beach.
  • Eagle Beach – Rated Third Best Beach in the World by Trip Advisor in 2019, this beach is considered the most beautiful on the island by many. Located south of Palm Beach with many low rise resorts and boutique hotels, it’s a great beach to find lodging nearby.
  • Arashi Beach – A less crowded beach than Palm and Eagle Beaches, this beach is great for snorkeling.
  • Hadicurari Beach – Popular beach for windsurfing and kitesurfing.
  • Baby Beach – While the views from this beach (there is an oil refinery nearby, just what you dream of seeing at a beach, huh?) may not be what leads you here, this beach still has a lot to offer. This lagoon has calm shallow water making it popular for families with young children who aren’t strong swimmers. And if you don’t look in the direction of the oil refinery it is a beautiful beach.
Baby Beach

There are so many activities you can partake in at the beaches in Aruba.

  • Relaxing in the sun
  • Relaxing under a Palapa
  • Swimming
  • Walking along the beach

Snorkeling: Aruba is a great place to go snorkeling and Jolly Pirates is definitely the company for your snorkeling adventure!

The half day snorkeling tours takes you out in a pirate ship to three snorkeling sites where you can see colorful fish and even a WWII shipwreck! After snorkeling you can enjoy the included lunch and open bar as well as take a turn on the rope swing.

Rope swing on Jolly Pirate Snorkeling Tour in Aruba

Island Tour: There is definitely more to Aruba than the beach and being on the water. An Island Tour is a great way to learn and see more of the island. Here are some of the things you can see on an island tour:

California Lighthouse

California Lighthouse – Named after the British steamship S.S. California which sank in the late 19th century this lighthouse is open daily and offers 360 degree views of the island.

Alto Vista Chapel

Alto Vista Chapel – This is the site of the birthplace of Aruba’s Catholic religion. Originally built in 1750, it was reconstructed in 1952. The winding road leading up to the chapel is lined with white crosses marking the stations of the cross.

Casibari Rock Formation: Located in the middle of the island, this rock formation is a great place to explore and check out some prehistoric drawings.

Natural Pool and Natural Bridge: The Natural pool and Natural bridge are two things that can be seen on the tour. Sadly the Natural Bridge collapsed in 2005, but there is a smaller bridge that is still interesting to see.

Guadirikiri Cave: Located in Arikok National Park, this cave has two chambers. The chambers have holes on the top for the sunlight to shine into the cave.

Sunset: There is no more relaxing way to end a day than to watch the sunset. And the sunsets on Aruba are some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.

Whether you are watching it from the beach, during dinner, from your hotel room or on a sunset cruise, watching the sunset is a must at the end of every day in Aruba!

I hope you enjoyed reading about my top 4 things to do on the beautiful island of Aruba. They call Aruba “One Happy Island” and I hope you can now see why. I’ll leave you with a video of sunset on the beach. Ahh…to be there now!

Rock n Roll Arizona Remix Weekend 2019

In January 2019, I flew to Phoenix, Arizona to run my 26th state in my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states.

I chose the Rock n Roll Arizona Half Marathon as my Arizona race for multiple reasons:

  • It was held during the long Martin Luther King Jr weekend which made it a convenient time for me to travel and a great little break after a busy couple of weeks dealing with year end at my full time accounting job.
  • January weather in Arizona is made for running, warm, but not too warm and definitely no snow like in Boston!
  • I had run multiple Rock n Roll half marathons in the past and with the exception of one in Denver, they are some of the most organized and fun races that I’ve run. They all feature music along the course and they tend to be larger races, which isn’t for everyone, but as a slower runner, I enjoy the larger races as there is always someone running near me and always lots of runners finishing after me, no stressful situation where I think I’m going to be the final finisher (which almost happened in a small 10K in Florida when I first started running!)

The expo for the race was held in Downtown Phoenix at the Convention Center. I went and picked up my race package. The expo wasn’t all that impressive that I can remember and I was in and out pretty quickly on Friday afternoon and then headed to Tempe were the race was taking place.

Tempe Mission Palms Hotel

I stayed at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel. This hotel was a great choice as it was located close to the start and finish lines, within walking distance. The last thing I want to deal with is trying to find a parking spot before a race.

The hotel was beautiful, this photo is from my room overlooking the courtyard in the middle of the hotel. They had couches and chairs set up in the courtyard, it was a great place to relax after the race.

The hotel also had a restaurant, Mission Grille which I had a delicious lunch at and also a rooftop swimming pool.

The half marathon was taking place on Sunday morning, but since I was able to take Friday off of work, I decided to also run the 5K on Saturday to complete the Remix Challenge. This means I would earn 3 medals, who doesn’t want to end the weekend with three medals?

The 5K start line was just a couple of blocks from my hotel. It was quite chilly that morning in the 40s and even though I had left the cold and incoming snow storm in Boston, I was freezing before the race started.

The race went across the bridge over the Tempe Town Lake and ran on the other side of the lake for a couple of miles and then headed back over the bridge to the finish line at Tempe Beach Park. Luckily once I got moving, I warmed up quick, but I still rushed to Starbucks on my way back to the hotel after the race for a nice hot coffee.

The next morning, I left the hotel to walk over to the start line of the half marathon, it was definitely a bit further of a walk, but still less than 10 minutes and plenty of other runners walking the same way, so definitely a safe walk. And it was a bit warmer that morning, thank god!

Half Marathon Start Line

The start line was at Arizona State University. The race started off running on regular streets of Tempe and into Scottsdale, nothing all that exciting, I was actually expecting something a little more scenic for Arizona. But the course would definitely get more scenic and more hilly!

The course was fairly flat but I had been warned of a large hill around mile eight. Well to me it seemed that hill started at mile 7 and it didn’t seem like we got to the top of it until after mile 9. As the elevation of the race increased so did the scenery as we began to run thru Papago Park.

Luckily after getting to the top of the hill, it was pretty much downhill all the way back to the finish line at Tempe Beach Park.

Like all the Rock n Roll races there was great entertainment along the course. Check out the video below for an example of some of the talented musicians along the course.

Even with the never ending hill in the middle of the race, I somehow ran a pretty fast race for me, 2 hours 43 minutes, definitely in my top 5 fastest times. This was extra impressive as I had spent a good portion of 2018 injured. I had plantar fasciitis the first half of 2018 and then the second half of the year I was dealing with a stress reaction in my shin. I made quite the comeback in this race!

Half Marathon Medal

The finish line was at Tempe Beach Park where they had live music, snacks and of course the free beer. I got my free beer and stayed a while to enjoy the live music. They always have a well known band playing at the finish line and this year it was Plain White T’s. They put on a pretty good show.

This was a fun and organized race and I do recommend it if you enjoy bigger events. I’m sure there are more scenic races in Arizona though. I think if I were to run another race in Arizona, I would probably pick one in Sedona in hopes of a more scenic run.

If you are interested in what there is to do in the Tempe area, check out my post on A Weekend in Tempe Arizona here.

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 cancelled in 2021 for safety reasons due to the ongoing pandemic. Hopefully things will be back to normal and the parade will be able to take place as usual in January of 2022.

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!