Discover the Azores: The Atlantic’s Best Kept Secret

I’ve traveled to many of the well known places in Europe such as London, Paris and Rome, but sometimes it’s those little known places that end up being one of the most amazing places you’ve been to. For me The Azores has been that place, it’s definitely the Atlantic’s Best Kept Secret!

I remember my first night of my online travel agent course I took a few years ago and we were asked what our favorite place was that we have traveled to. I mentioned the Azores and was surprised exactly how many of my classmates had never heard of these wonderful islands in the Atlantic Ocean. I definitely knew I made the right choice to become a travel agent as this proved to me that I do have some travel knowledge that others may not have.

The Azores first became known to me about ten years ago when it was featured in the AAA (American Automobile Association) travel magazine that they mailed out to their members. It looked like such a beautiful place that I mentally added it to the never-ending bucketlist in my head. A couple of years later a friend suggested that a group of us go check out The Azores. So in June 2013, we left Boston to explore this unknown land that had most of the people we talked to saying, “I’ve never heard of the Azores, where is that?”

View of Pico Island of the Azores

Just the Facts: The Azores is an autonomous region of Portugal and is located in the northern Atlantic Ocean about 870 miles west of Lisbon, Portugal and it is actually the closest part of Europe to the United States. It’s an archipelago of nine volcanic islands grouped into three geographic areas in the Atlantic. The capital city of Ponta Delgada is located on the main island of Sao Miguel.

Due to the Gulf Stream and it’s distance from the mainland, the islands have a very mild climate considering how far north they are located. Daytime temperatures are generally in the 60s or 70s year round, making it a great place to visit all year long.

Capital of Ponta Delgada

History: It’s believed that the islands were first discovered by Portuguese explorer Dioo de Silves in 1427, however it wasn’t until 1439 when the Portuguese began to settle on the islands.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the largest of the islands, Sao Miguel was taken over by Spanish troops but it was returned to Portugal by 1640 and at that time Ponta Delgada was named the capital. After this, the islands became an economic and argricultural hub leading to even more development on the islands.

During World War II, the islands of the Azores served as British air and naval bases, which ended up being a major turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic. In 1945, an airbase that serves both the United State and Portugal was built on the island of Terceira. The United States uses this air base mainly as a refueling station for cargo planes heading to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

It wasn’t until 1976 that the Azores became one of the autonomous regions of Portugal.

The Azores connection to Boston: To get to the Azores, there are direct flights from Lisbon and other European cities as well as from Toronto and Boston. Before traveling to the Azores, I assumed the main reason there were direct flights from Boston was due to it’s proximity compared to other US cities. While traveling there, I learned that is not the only case, Massachusetts actually has quite a high population of immigrants from the Azores.

Immigrants from the Azores first arrived in Massachusetts when crews from the island of Faial were recruited for the American whaling ships in New Bedford, MA prior to the Civil War. They later brought their families over and started to settle in southeastern Massachusetts.

In 1957, the island of Faial was devastated by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Masschusetts Senator John F Kennedy helped convince the US Congress to pass the Azorean Refugee Act in 1958 to help those effected by the devastation and allowing them to enter the US. Since many of those from Faial had relatives already living in Massachusetts, many chose to settle in Massachusetts.

Portuguese immigrants actually make up the largest foreign-born group from Europe in the Greater Boston Area. The things you can learn about your own home while traveling, it truly is amazing how much travel can teach you.

Sao Miguel Island Views

The Islands: As I mentioned earlier, the Azores are made up of 9 volcanic islands divided into three geographic groups. These three groups consist of the following:

  • Eastern Group:
    • Sao Miguel – This is the largest of the 9 islands and also the location of the capital city of Ponta Delgada. There is so much to see in Sao Miguel, you could easily spend a week on this island alone. Start your exploring in the capital city of Ponta Delgada where you can visit the historic landmarks and the Arruda Pineapple Plantation. Make sure to head to Furnas to see the bubbling geysers and try the food cooked underground in the hot springs. While in Furnas, visit Terra Nostra Park to take in the scenery and enjoy the thermal spring. The island is a beautiful place for adventure, from gorgeous lakes to hiking trails and whale watching. And for those looking to relax, visit a tea plantation or check out a thermal spa. Be sure to check out my Sao Miguel itinerary.
    • Santa Maria – This island is known for it’s water sports. You can enjoy such water sports as sailing, windsurfing, scuba diving, fishing, surfing, and water-skiing. Swimming is popular both at the beach and at the natural swimming holes throughout the island. Unlike the dark volcanic sand beaches of the other islands, Santa Maria is known for it’s white sand beaches.
Terra Nostra Gardens on Sao Miguel
  • Central Group:
    • Terceira – The second most populated island of the Azores, it’s capital city of Angra do Heroismo is a Unesco World Heritage Site and a must visit on the island. Make sure to also visit Algar do Carvao where you can have the unique experience of going inside an extinct volcano. Like the other islands, there is plenty of hiking, whale watching trips and natural swimming pools to explore.
    • Graciosa – See the historic architecture on the island, including churches dating back to the 16th century and the red windmills. A must visit on Graciosa is Furna do Enxofre, this lava cave features a perfect dome-shaped roof with an underground lake inside.
    • Sao Jorge – Another island known for it’s water sports, people head here for fishing, diving, sailing and kayaking. Surfers will love Sao Jorge, the waves are perfect for both surfing and body boarding. The island has plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails as well.
    • Pico – Named for the over 7,000 foot tall volcano, Mount Pico, this island has it all. Not only does it have multiple hiking trails and natural swimming pools but there is so much more. Visit the largest lava tube in Portugal, Gruta das Torres or visit a winery. If you’d like to learn more about the wine on Pico, there is also a wine museum on the island. If museums are your thing, also check out the whaling museum. The definite must do on Pico if you are adventurous enough is to climb Mount Pico and explore the crater of the volcano. You can even book a trip to camp on top of the crater! To learn more about Pico, check out my Pico Itinerary.
    • Faial – Visiting the seaside town of Horta is a must, stroll along the harbor to see not only the beautiful boats, but also the colorful murals painted on the barriers of the harbor. In the center of the island, visit the Caldeira or volcanic crater for the beautiful view or to hike around the edge of the crater.
Mount Pico on Pico Island
  • Western Group:
    • Flores – There is a lot to see on this tiny island. The lush landscape of this island features many lakes and waterfalls such as Poco da Ribeira do Ferreiro which features multiple waterfalls flowing down into a lagoon and the 90 meter waterfall Poco do Bacalhau.
    • Corvo – The smallest of the nine islands, Corvo still has a lot to offer. The most popular thing to see on the island is the Caldeirao. This crater features two lakes and 9 small islands, coincidentally the same amount of islands in the Azores.
Inter Island Plane

How to explore the islands: Most flights will arrive in Sao Miguel. From there you can take an inter-island flight to the other islands. There is also a ferry that runs year round between Faial, Pico and Sao Jorge as well as between other islands during the summer months.

The Azores is definitely a lesser known place to visit that is becoming more popular with the addition of more direct flights. While I want more people to explore these beautiful islands, I selfishly would love for them to remain the Atlantic’s Best Kept Secret. There is definitely something special about being somewhere that not too many other people have been and overtourism definitely takes away from how special a place is. Here’s to keeping these islands the special place they are while a few more people get to Discover The Azores.

Visiting Boston in the Winter

The winters in Boston can be harsh, the temperatures can be pretty cold and there could be quite a bit of snow. I will be the first to admit that I prefer to visit cities when the weather is warmer and definitely when there is no snow. But visiting Boston in the winter is definitely not out of the question, maybe you are flying into Boston before heading up to northern New England to go skiing or maybe you want to visit the city when it’s less crowded and cheaper to visit.

There is still plenty to do in Boston during the winter and who knows if you prefer warmer weather, you could luck out, there have been quite a few times where the temperature gets up into the 50s and 60s in the middle of the winter in Boston.

If you aren’t a fan of the cold there are many things to do while staying warm:

  1. Take a Hop On & Off Trolley Tour – Still want to see all the sites of the city without having to brave the weather and walk outside. Get a ticket for the Old Town Trolley Tours. During the winter, they use fully enclosed trolleys which includes 18 stops at many of the famous sites, such as:
    • Faneuil Hall – A great stop to grab a bite to eat in the food hall or do some shopping
    • Cheers Restaurant – Definitely a must see if you are a fan of the hit tv show from the 80s.
    • North End – If you love italian food and bake goods, this is a must stop for a meal, also check out the Paul Revere Statue.
    • Boston Tea Party Museum – A must see historic museum and boat.
    • Boston Common and Public Garden – Two great parks to see even in the winter.
    • Beacon Hill – A historic and beautiful old neighborhood in Boston.
    • Copley Square – Shop at nearby Newbury Street, Copley Place Mall and Prudential Mall and check out the location of the Boston Marathon finish line.

And if you don’t want to get off at the stops, the tour is fully narrated and takes less than 2 hours for the full loop.

2. Check out a museum – There are so many museums in Boston to choose from and a cold winter day is a great time to spend a day in a museum. Here is a list of some museums to check out in the city:

Boston Children’s Museum
  • Boston Children’s Museum
  • Museum of Science
  • Museum of Fine Arts
  • Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum
  • ICA – Institute of Contemporary Art
  • John F Kennedy Presidential Library

3. Attend a Sporting Event – Winter is a great time to attend a hockey or basketball game. Both the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics play at the TD Garden so chances are one of the teams would be playing in Boston while you’re in town.

4. Attend a Broadway Show – Boston has it’s own theater district and winter is a great time to end your day by checking out a show. Blue Man Group plays in Boston year round at the Charles Playhouse and most of the year, there are Broadway shows on tour visiting Boston.

5. Go shopping – What girl doesn’t love to shop? Did you know that Massachusetts does not charge sales tax on clothing purchases, this could help you save a little money shopping in Boston than if you were to shop at home. In Copley Square, there are two malls connected to each other by a skywalk, Copley Place which has some higher end stores and Prudential Mall which has some of the stores you would see in your malls at home.

If you don’t mind being outside, Fanieul Hall, Newbury Street and Downtown Crossing are great areas to get some shopping done.

6. Tour a local Brewery – Boston has got some great breweries and what better way to warm up from the cold weather than to take a tour of one of the breweries and then end the tour by tasting some samples of the local beer.

Both Sam Adams Brewery and Harpoon Brewery are located right in Boston and I can guarantee you will love the not just the beer but the tours as well.

Harpoon Brewery

7. Food, food, food! – Who doesn’t love to try the local food when traveling? Winter is the great time to indulge more than normal since you have some time before you need to work it off for swimsuit season! Boston definitely has some great food that you must try.

  • Seafood – Boston is known for it’s seafood and it’s top on people’s list of what they want to eat when visiting.
  • Italian Food – The North End of Boston has some of the best Italian food you will ever eat, outside of Italy.
  • Food Halls – Fanieul Hall and Time Out Market are two great food halls to check out for a variety of different types of food.
  • Boston Creme Pie – the Omni Parker House in Boston is the birthplace of the Boston Creme Pie.

Even with the unpredictable cold weather, there is always something great to see and do in Boston. I hope this gives you some ideas if you are wanting to visit Boston in the winter.

Austin Half Marathon

In February 2018, I headed to Texas to run the Austin Half Marathon for my Texas race in my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states.

The race is held in February each year the Sunday of President’s Day weekend. For someone like me who lives in the northern United States, it’s the perfect time of year to escape south for some better weather. Oddly enough this year Austin ended up experiencing some winter weather on what would have been the day of the race if it hadn’t been postponed due to the pandemic. It’s crazy to me to think of snow and temperatures below freezing so far south! But luckily this year the race was postponed to April, the weather should be better then and fingers crossed the pandemic will not postpone it further or cancel it.

The race includes a marathon, half marathon and 5K. It’s a fairly large race, 2020 had over 16,000 runners from all 50 states and 36 countries. If you enjoy larger races, this is definitely a race for you.

Start Line of the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon

The race start and finish line are conveniently located downtown on Congress Avenue. The course is definitely not easy! Before I left I spoke to some friends who had run the half marathon and the marathon in past years and they warned me of the hills on the course. I hate hills and for some reason, even though I hate them, I never seem to look at the elevation chart of races when I sign up. This is probably something I should start to do.

Even though I was warned about the hills, I still did not expect so many, I felt like it was hill after hill the entire course! During the winter months in Boston, I tend to run on the treadmill alot and took a lot of classes at my local running studio which definitely gave me some practice running hills. Thanks to these classes, I managed to run every hill thru the first 8 miles, which is rare for me, normally I see a hill and instantly stop running to walk up it. After mile 8 I attempted to run the hills, but ended up walking alot of them. They were neverending all the way up to the last mile!

Hill at Mile 12 of the Austin Half Marathon

The spectators along the course must know how difficult the hills are and made sure to reward the runners. There were spectators handing out oranges, candy and beer! I can’t tell you how great the beer tasted after running up all these hills! You might be thinking, beer while running, are you crazy? Nope, not crazy, it was so refreshing and I mean it has carbs in it! lol This is definitely a great race if you enjoy alot of spectators, the support was amazing!

Beer along the course

After all those hills, it definitely felt great to make my way by the Texas State Capitol Building and onto Congress Ave to the finish line.

I actually was happy with my finish time considering the hills. It definitely wasn’t one of my fastest but it was still just a little over 3 hours at 3:00:42. Not bad considering how much walking I did the last 5 miles of the race.

After the race my friend and I headed to Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que on Congress Avenue. Some Texas barbeque was definitely the perfect reward for running a tough race. I also decided on dessert for dinner that evening and headed over to Voodoo Donuts on 6th Street for a delicious M&M donut!

If you don’t mind the hills, I highly recommend the Austin half marathon. Even though the course was tough, it was definitely a fun race in a beautiful city.

Check out my post on things to do in Austin if you want to plan a trip around this race.

Six Great Things To Do In Austin Besides Live Music

Austin is the capital of the state of Texas and is known as the Live Music Capital of the World. Austin has so many live music venues that on some nights there are over 100 live music performances going on throughout the city. Many people come to Austin specifically for the live music, whether it’s in the various performance venues or for the big festivals like Austin City Limits. But what else is there to do in Austin besides listening to live music?

There is so much more to experience in Austin. Below is my list of 6 great things to do:

  1. Texas State Capitol Building and Grounds
Texas State Capitol Building

They say “Everything is Bigger in Texas” and when it comes to state capitol buildings they are correct. While not the tallest capitol building, that distinction belongs to neighboring state Louisiana, it is the largest in size with 360,000 square feet of floor space. It has 400 rooms and over 900 windows. The Texas State Capitol Building sits at the top of the hill at the end of Congress Avenue. It’s the position at the top of the hill that makes it look even larger, it can be seen all the way from other other side of the Congress Avenue Bridge. Do not be intimidated by the hill though, it’s very gradual, in fact you might not even realize you are walking up a hill until you get to the Capitol Building and turn around and look down the hill.

Rotunda inside the Texas State Capitol Building

The inside of the Texas State Capitol Building is equally impressive as the outside. The rotunda includes a 218 foot high dome with a Texas start at the top. It’s quite the sight to see.

Admission to the Capitol Building is free and there are free 30 minute tours of the building offered daily every 30 to 45 minutes.

If you aren’t able to take a tour, definitely take your own tour around the building, walk around the public areas and feel free to take some photos.

Texas State Capitol Grounds

The Texas State Capitol grounds encompass 22 acres and feature some beautiful statues and monuments commemorating Texas history.

Definitely make sure to set aside some time to explore the grounds and discover more about Texas history thru the various statues and monuments on the grounds.

Texas African American History Memorial

The Texas African American History Memorial was the most impressive monument on the grounds.

It displays the history and contributions of African Americans in Texas dating back to 1500. In the middle of the memorial, there is a tall statue that commemorates the end of slavery in the state of Texas on June 19, 1865.

Another impressive monument was The Tejano Monument. This monument commemorates the history and contributions of the Tejanos in Texas history. The Tejanos are the Mexican-American Texans who mostly inhabit southern Texas. If you have visited the southern portion of the state of Texas you can definitely see the Mexican culture is still alive today.

The Alamo Monument

One of the oldest monuments located on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol is The Alamo Monument.

Commemorating the Battle of the Alamo which resulted in Texas becoming part of the United States, this is a very important and beautiful monument to check out.

These are just a few of the many beautiful, historic and meaningful monuments and statues located on the Capitol grounds.

2. Lady Bird Lake

Formerly known as Town Lake, Lady Bird Lake is a 416 acre reservoir located on the Colorado River. The lake was constructed in 1960 as a cooling pond for the nearby Holly Street Power Plant.

In 2007, the lake was renamed Lady Bird Lake after former first lady Lady Bird Johnson who had passed away earlier that year.

Outdoor lovers will love Lady Bird Lake. It’s a popular spot for kayaking and paddleboarding with gorgeous views of downtown.

Along the banks of the lake is the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail. This 10 mile trail is popular for biking, running and walking. It’s one of the oldest urban Texas trails and offers beautiful views of the lake and the Austin skyline.

3. Enjoy some Texas BBQ

Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que

Texas is known for it’s BBQ and it’s a must to get some while in Austin. What better way to refuel after working up an appetite at Lady Bird Lake.

You can’t go wrong with most BBQ restaurants in Austin.

One of the more popular in Austin is Franklin Barbecue. This famous family owned restaurant opened in 2009 and is so popular that there are lines daily. People have been known to bring lawn chairs and line up hours before Franklin Barbecue opens. They are open Tuesday thru Sunday starting at 11am and close when they sell out, so make sure to get there early!

If you aren’t up for standing in a long line or want something right downtown, Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que is located right downtown on Congress Avenue. The BBQ is delicious and they have a beautiful outdoor patio and live music to entertain you during your meal.

4. Driskill Hotel

Driskill Hotel

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Driskill Hotel was originally built in 1886. It’s one of the most historic hotels in the state of Texas and of course that means that it has a haunted history.

There is a history of death in this hotel.

In room 525, 20 years apart two brides committed suicide in the bathtub in this room, creepy coincidence or did the first bride’s ghost have anything to do with the second bride deciding on the same fate in the same location? I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable staying in this room!

Speaking of haunted rooms, another one to look out for is room 429 where another woman committed suicide. There have been reports of people hearing a woman crying in this room.

There was also a young girl who fell to her death from the grand staircase and there have been reports of people hearing a young girl’s voice in the halls of the hotel.

Interior of the Driskill Hotel

Haunted history aside, the Driskill Hotel is a beautiful place to walk around in and take in the beauty of the lobby.

Amoungst the beauty are old paintings that can seem creepy adding to the haunted atmosphere.

Whether you are staying at the hotel (hopefully not in rooms 525 or 429, unless you are brave enough), just walking thru or enjoying a drink at the bar, the Driskill is a historic Austin institution that is definitely worth checking out.

5. Congress Avenue Bridge

Congress Ave Bridge

Crossing the Congress Avenue Bridge will give you gorgeous views of the Austin Skyline.

As night falls on Austin, the Congress Avenue Bridge becomes the sight of a very unique experience.

The bridge is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world. Nightly just before sundown, from March to October, 1.5 million bats emerge from under the bridge. Definitely a one of a kind experience that you can’t encounter everywhere!

6. Murals and Art Guitars

Mural in Downtown Austin

Just walking around Downtown Austin, there are many pieces or art to see.

From murals to art guitars symbolizing the live music of Austin, Austin is definitely a place to street art lovers.

The art guitars are part of once larger Guitar Austin project that ended in 2007. Luckily there are still a few art guitars displayed downtown and also at the airport for visitors to see.

Whether you are looking for something to do during the day before a night out for live music or just looking for something other than live music, there is so much to see and do in Austin and I hope this list helps you.

If you are interested in adding another Texas city to your trip, check out the Historic Sites of San Antonio located just 80 miles south of Austin.

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.


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.