3 Vantage Points in Edinburgh You Don’t Want to Miss

When people first began to settle in the area that would become the city of Edinburgh, they did so for one major reason. The higher ground would offer protection against invaders. Something that might not have been at the forefront of their thought is the stunning views that the terrain—both man-made and natural—offered in several locations. While walking up the Royal Mile in Old Town or across Princess Street in New Town, it is easy to forget the city’s remarkable design. There are three viewpoints that let visitors take in more of the city and offer some memorable settings to capture the scenery.

View from Arthur's Seat back at the Castle

Arthur’s Seat

The Once and Future King didn’t pick this spot lightly. Arthur’s Seat resides on the top of an extinct volcano. But that shouldn’t dissuade anyone from trying this moderate hike to achieve arguably the best view in all of Edinburgh. Quite the opposite. Most days see both locals and visitors amassing on the sides of Arthur’s Seat to enjoy the hike. The hill offers several trails to claim the summit, each with a different degree of difficulty. The Salisbury Crags sit adjacent to the King’s Seat, an ideal location for rocking climbing (with the correct permit, of course). On your ascent, your route might take you by a pond or the Ruins of Saint Anthony’s Chapel. Both directions will take you to a 360 view of the area unlike any other. At the top lies a compass with mileage to various points across the United Kingdom. Be sure to dress in layers. The top always has a strong wind the makes it several degrees cooler than the bottom of the hill.

Approx. Time to Complete: 3 hours

The Firth and LeithCalton Hill

Located in New Town, Calton Hill is the lowest of the three points, but don’t shy away from climbing it because of that. It is home to more than just the best view of the Firth and Leith, it also showcases the Collective contemporary art gallery, City Observatory, and the unfinished National Monument. A pleasant walk past the distant Salibury Crags also shows Arthur’s Seat looming just behind them. Once atop Calton Hill, for five pounds you can climb to the top of the observatory to truly have an amazing view. It’s unnecessary if you want to save your money for a pint after the walk. Calton Hill is close to some pubs, bakeries and other local favorites. A casual walk—I wouldn’t consider this a hike—will have you looking out over New Town and Old Town basking in the city’s magnificence.

Approx. Time to Complete: 1 hour

View fron the CastleEdinburgh Castle

The highest point off the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle delivers stunning viewpoints atop the rocky peaks of its foundation. In Medieval times, the bottom of the Royal Mile was known as the “end of the world”—a bar that you should visit now marks the location of where the city once ended. Edinburgh Castle must have felt like the top of the world. The walls and towers appear to have grown out of the rock they sit on, rising high above the natural landscape. Edinburgh Castle houses a rich history of Scottish nobles, eerie dungeons, and is still home to the Scottish Crown Jewels. Unlike Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat, you will have to pay to enter the castle. Though the feel is more museum than castle, it is still worth the pounds it costs to take in all the Edinburgh Castle has to offer. If you can, try to be in the area around 1 pm for the firing of the canon. If not, there are plenty of other canons positioned around the castle walls, and nice prop to get a picture with that looks out over the city.

Approx. Time to Complete: 1-5 hours

 

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Manteo: A Not-So-Secret Secret Worth Sharing

Time Required: 2 hours – multiple days
Cost: moderate pricing
Getting There: drive the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge over the Croatan Sound
Parking: street (metered and free)
Other Notes: It’s great place for lunch! Wear comfortable shoes.

Address and additional details at the bottom of this article.

My family has always considered the Outer Banks of North Carolina a special place. My parents and two sets of aunts and uncles honeymooned there (they even managed to stay in the same cottage). My cousin proposed to his wife there. We’ve vacationed there for as long as I can remember and even before that.

20160716_105014It was a “secret worth keeping” when my grandfather first wandered there. It is known today as a “secret worth sharing”. I have taken numerous friends with me over the years. One day, we hope to share the magic of the area with Sarah’s family.

We drove down July 16th with the rising of the sun. Like many beach towns, there are limited ways to get onto the beach, and traffic tends to bottle neck and the cars backs up. We’ve found the best time to get there is before 10 a.m., and we also learned that traffic builds up in two main spots: on the bridge over the Roanoke Sound and a few miles further north on Currituck Highway.

If you’ve never walked the shore town streets of Manteo, North Carolina, then you may not immediately know where to go. But, if you head toward the inlet, you’ll arrive where you need to me. We quickly became lost in Manteo’s small town charm. We came across the Full Moon Café and Lost Colony Brewery.

The Full Moon Café and Lost Colony Brewery offers relaxing atmosphere with indoor and outdoor seating. It is a a great place with affordable dining and enjoyable craft beers. We sat and chatted while tasting a few different beers.

One of the coolest things about visiting Manteo in the Outer Banks is that it is (as of now) 20160716_104231still relatively untouched by commercialism and maintains the quaint charm people have come to seek in our fast-paced world. Its also historical, with frequent showings of The Lost Colony and nods to the Outer Banks’s history of pirates. One favorite place is Outer Banks Distilling, a very cute rum distillery that is proud of their work and has harnessed the local feel. Their featured Kill Devil rum is growing in popularity and availability, and touring the distillery is a fun experience.

A quiet visit to Manteo when you are in the Outer Banks is almost a must if you want to get a feel for daily life in the area. Check out their community calendar for events that might appeal to you during your visit. We got to visit a craft fair with the beautiful pier as a backdrop, and we will definitely make our way back there when we can.

Address: (Full Moon Cafe) 208 Queen Elizabeth Avenue, Manteo, NC 27954
Phone Number: (252) 473-6666

You Should Visit St. Paul’s Cathedral, Even if You’re Not Christian

photo by Hieu Vu Minh (from Stocksnap.io)

Time Required: 3-4 hours
Cost: £18 (adults), £16 (concessions), £8 (kids 6-17)
Getting There: Ten minute walk from the Mansion House (District line) tube station
Parking: I’m sure you could find some somewhere
Other Notes: Address and additional details at the bottom of this article


Whether it’s your first time in London or your twentieth, there is no shortage of stuff to do. That is often regarded as a positive quality of a city, but it can also make you feel overwhelmed and challenged by the choice between the city’s many assets.

During our first visit, we found lots of things to do for free (the only cost was the tube), but we also found many sites that were absolutely worth the cost. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the plentitude of amazing sightseeing opportunities available to you, take a deep breath and know IT WILL BE OKAY. No matter what you pick, it will probably be pretty cool. Alas, we’ve decided to highlight only one in the hopes that it will make the call of London seem more manageable.

We were initially a little unenthused by the tour, but our collective breaths were repeatedly taken away by the surprises and stories around every corner. If you are visiting London for the first time, you won’t be sad if you spend time at St. Paul’s cathedral. And that’s true whether you’re Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, agnostic, or atheist. It is a beautiful and exciting building at its very core, and in it, you can feel the depths of its connection to England’s history and the human experience. You’ll find it in the neighborhood known as “The City” (basically the Wall Street of London).

You’ll find it in the neighborhood known as “The City” (basically the Wall Street of London) and can get to it fairly easily on the tube.

Why it’s awesome: The cathedral is a busy place, and it is a functioning place of worship (and weddings). The church was founded in 604 AD, and the first part of the cathedral that exists as it is now was built in 1148. The fullness of its history is palpable when you walk through its doors.

History aside, the ability to describe the aesthetic of the building still escapes me (I just spent ten minutes googling synonyms for the words “beautiful” and “breathtaking”). We all gasped when we went inside, and that was just the Nave. It seems like even the tiniest details have been attended, and every time you scan the room, you’ll see something new and interesting. The Grand Organ is a sight to see, as are the quire, the pulpit, and the transepts. They are built in honor of the Christian god and the tenets of Christianity, but they also are built in honor of worship, peace, and community.

The audio tour that is included with admission will help you understand how each part of the cathedral came to be and how it’s used now. I listened to the grand organ section first, and was lucky enough to arrive just as an organist came out to play. You can get close enough to the organist to touch him (some people stood right next to the organist, leaned on the organ, and gazed down upon the poor guy until they were asked to move), and hear the clicks and pressure on the foot pedals and the keys. In the audio tour, I learned about the lowest and highest notes the organ can make, and learned about its transformations as technology has changed

You can go up into the cathedral dome. Yes, UP. Into. It.

But, looking beyond the audio tour (which isn’t actually that exciting to talk about so I don’t know why I gushed for so long), you can go up into the cathedral dome. Yes, UP. Into. It. And you don’t have to be strapped into a safety harness or watch a video about walking safely up steps, like you would stateside. You can actually walk all the way up into the thing to different “galleries,” where you can see amazing views of the city and even look back down into the cathedral. The highest gallery is about 279 feet from the cathedral floor, and it’s OUTSIDE. And you can LOOK at the CITY and it’s incredible.

Tips for maximum enjoyment: If you’re going to go into the dome, wear comfortable shoes. Some people did it in heels, but they weren’t exactly smiling by the time they’d climbed the 1,161 steps and made it to the top. Buy your ticket ahead of time online. Depending on what time you get there, there may be a bit of a line. Pre-purchased tickets are retrieved from another, shorter line. Once you get there, listen to the introduction on the audio tour, then see where you want to go. If you don’t know, let the audio tour guide you. If you feel drawn to a particular spot, then use the audio tour that lets you jump around at your own pace. You can’t take pictures inside, so try not to be disappointed. It is gorgeous and you will want to show it off. Plus, if you’re going to go into the dome, you can take pictures from there. But be ready to enjoy most of it without documenting it. You’re still sharing it with the crew you’re traveling with, and you can check in on your apps and what-have-yous, then share the pics that are already available.

Additional Details

St. Paul’s Cathedral
Address: St. Paul’s Churchyard, London EC4M 8AD, UK
Phone Number: +44 20 7246 8350
Tickets/More Infohttps://www.stpauls.co.uk/visit  

 

Advice for Brides-to-Be: Traveling with Your Future In-Laws

20160716_202933People that eat ice cream live ten times longer. And if you’re planning a wedding, you probably have a love-hate relationship with ice cream right now. But this silly statement is something that I can say I ‘learned’ on my second trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, the first time traveling with my in-laws-to-be after getting engaged.

I expected my second trip to the Outer Banks to be… different. Not only different from the first, but different from other trips I’d taken. To say it was the same isn’t true, but to say it was “different” isn’t either. I’d expected it to be enlightening in some way, or give me some kind of insight into what life as a married woman might be like.

It was my first time traveling with the whole group after Chris and I got engaged. There were also lots of other family things going on, and attention to be paid to varying issues. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. And to be even more honest, I hadn’t had much time for anticipation to build prior to going down.

We went to see a venue for the wedding we didn’t end up planning, and we met with a potential caterer, who talked to us for so long we were exhausted by the end of the conversation. We also took a few engagement photos that we later used on our null wedding Save-the-Dates. I guess it’s fair to say we were absorbed in ourselves and our own plans. It’s also fair to say that we were more nervous about the wedding already than excited, and it was over a year away.

Chris’s mom was there, and it was one of the last times we really got to hang out with her. Her chemo had already started. We hung out with her and played cards. She slept a lot. She laughed a lot, but maybe a little less than usual. She played cards with us. She ate mostly liquids because her throat was burned from the treatment.

Looking back, I wish I had talked less and listened more. I wish I had I wanted them to like me, but they already did. I also wish I had been more present and absorbed more of my future mother-in-law’s presence, because she’s gone now.

I realized that on one of the last nights we were there. I was too concerned about the wrong things; it occurred to me when I saw the sign at the ice cream place that said people who eat ice cream live ten times longer. We were all concerned about my mother-in-law, and the concept of living longer was very much on our minds. But when I noticed that sign, it slowed down my thoughts and reminded me that even when grave seriousness confronts you, it’s important to stay in the moment you’re in. But I also realized that it means to go beyond the idea of “stopping and smelling the roses,” and it goes beyond noticing the pretty glint of the sun on the water, or the way even dust particles glitter when the light is right. You get from the moment what you put into it. So if you put in distractedness and worry, you’ll get back a buzz of blurry memories. If you put in selfishness and self-centeredness, you’ll get back a feeling of loss and missed opportunities.

So, my advice to brides is not some kind of morbid “you never know when it will be the last time you see someone,” nor is it to enjoy the now in case tomorrow never comes. You already know that.

Instead, my advice is this: Start internally. Put your truest self into the moments you have. Don’t worry about whether your future family likes you or dislikes you. Don’t worry about whether you are given more domestic duties than your sister-in-law-to-be. Check in with yourself periodically and ask if you’re enjoying what you’re doing. Is there something you can do to be in a better mood? Is there something you can do to make yourself feel useful? Is there some way you can see your future family’s true selves more clearly?

No matter what kind of family you’re marrying into, you need to be able to be yourself. If you try too hard to be liked, at the very least, you’ll crack. At the very worst, you’ll miss out on important moments.

 

 

A Day at the Taos Wool Festival for Someone Who Doesn’t Knit

Time Required: varies, depending on your interest in wool and knitting

Cost: Free!

Getting there: driving only (about 2.5 hours from Albuquerque, about 1.5 hours from Santa Fe

Other Notes: see bottom of post for address and link

Taos, New Mexico. I visited this well-known (but somehow still tiny) town on a beautiful, clear day, and maybe that’s why my memory of it is so crisp and sharp. The cloudless sky was of the iconic blue hue that one sees in Conde Nast magazines, and the crisp, cool air was strange and pleasing. 

Three friends and I took a day trip to the little city of fewer than 6,000 residents for the Taos Wool Festival, an annual celebration of knitting, a pastime that seems to have made a bit of a resurgence, likely thanks to lots pretty pics of fuzzy and colorful crafts on Instagram and Pinterest.

Before we could peruse the rainbow rows of wool, we needed to eat. Two of our friends were from the area and had been waiting “all year” to go to a Michael’s Kitchen and Bakery. We hung out with big cases of dreamy pastries while we waited in line for about half an hour, but it was clear that we were in the kind of place where waiting a little was just a fact of life. 

I got heuvos rancheros with—others who have been in New Mexico will find this detail important—green, not red, chile. They were extremely delicious and I ate every bite. Looking back at their menu, I am enjoying thinking about what I want to order next time. Will it be the Poor Man’s Benedict (two eggs any style, nestled between shaved ham and chile and crowned with melted cheese on a toasted English muffin)? A Spanish-style omelette? Or maybe Michael’s Favorite (in-house cinnamon bread dipped in rich egg batter, grilled golden brown and then topped with strawberries and whipped cream)?

Anyway, now that we’re all drooling, let’s move on to the Wool Festival. I am openly not enthusiastic about knitting, and the prospect of visiting the Taos Wool Festival wasn’t really first on my list. 

But, my concerns of “wasting” a day of a trip by doing something not that interesting were eliminated as soon as we walked in, where a row of colorful tents stood, and a pen of llamas finished out the row. It was clear that this craft festival was focused more on creativity than simply on wool. (But, before letting all the creativity seep in, I basically beelined for the llamas, and watched them unwittingly entertain passersby.)

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The people at the Wool Festival were, in addition to being from all walks of life, extremely interesting and like nothing I had ever seen before. I was surrounded by real New Mexican cowboys, not just men wearing hats and big belt buckles with bulls on DSC0027them for looks, half-Native and full-Native locals who wore on their faces and in the very folds of their skin more of the truth of America than I’d ever feel, and flowy granola women with long skirts and long hair who really did mix the dye from scratch to create the unique color that now illuminated their hand-spun wool. Semi-styled hipsters laid in the grass with abandon and shoeless hippie children played with dogs, played with each other, and ran their fingers through the soft fabrics that decorated the tents.

Recalling the many vendors at the Festival brings a smile to my face. Many made what you would expect at a festival dedicated to wool: hats and gloves and scarves and sweaters. But others had spun Christmas ornaments, ties, cat toys, and even tiny, detailed 3D “paintings” of scenery displayed on an easel.

I had wandered away from my friends, each of whom had their own points of interest to

IMG20141004131527317
New wool!
IMG20141004132051350
The hat is still a fave.

draw them, and bought a pink wool hat and wore it despite the warm sun, then sat in the grass myself.

 

My friends eventually appeared and sat down next me. I was extremely happy to have seen this part of life about which some people could get so excited. One friend had spent $100 in wool and the other had spent $60 and bought a pair of gloves. Their faces were flush with excitement about the project ideas they had.

We drove to our friends’ home in Albuquerque as the sun began to set over the desert. I admired my hat in the mirror, happy to have a souvenir from the profound little city of Taos. 

3 Hidden Gems within a Hidden Gem: The Wallace Collection, Westminster/London

Time Required: 1-3 hours

Cost: free!

Getting there: walk from Bond Street Station, Baker Street Station, or Oxford Circus

Other Notes:

  • Look for the “Treasure of the Month”
  • Check their website for special exhibitions
  • Address and other information at the bottom of this article

Our first visit to London could be classified as what we like to call “-whelming.” It was four days long, and it was largely unplanned in terms of site-seeing. We had certainly talked about what we wanted to see and do, but hadn’t officially planned any of it. That’s why seeing the Wallace Collection, a hidden gem not far from the most traveled spots in the city, was so perfect for this visit. It was twice described as “manageable” by museum staff I chatted with, both of whom were highly enthusiastic about the wonders that surrounded them.

 

The Wallace Collection is a free art museum nestled away behind Manchester Square in Westminster. It’s a beautiful piece of artwork in and of itself, not just because of the architecture, but because of the pronounced and curated mood of each room. Each room is lined with French silk wallpaper and matching drapes in a color specifically chosen to enhance the pieces on exhibition in the room.

In addition to having a truly beautiful setup, the Wallace Collection boasts the largest collection of armor in Europe. Those two reasons might be enough even to entertain even those who are less than enthusiastic about paintings. That brings me to the first item on our scavenger hunt list. These three items, in addition to being reasons to go to the Wallace Collection, sum up the experience for the wanderers.

1. A chain mail jacket (that you can TRY ON!)

IMG_5992 (1)
If we look uncomfortable, it’s because we are.

 

Let me tell you, chain mail is heavy and uncomfortable. The look is not really runway-worthy (I tried), but it’s fun to try and interesting to contemplate what knights must have thought of it. In addition to trying on a chain mail jacket, you can try on a chain mail head piece, a breastplate, and a helmet. Look for these pieces in the room that would probably be the Wallace Collection dungeon… if it had a dungeon… which it doesn’t.

IMG_59712. A veiled lady statuette

This piece is done by the same sculptor who created the Veiled Vestal Virgin, an incredible sculpture that somehow makes marble look see-though. Rafaelle Monti was a 19th Century sculptor known for making veiled figures, and this tiny lady is a force to be reckoned with. Look for the eggplant-purple silk and she’s not far away.

3. Political dogs painting

Any dog lover will be attracted to this painting, and may even chuckle or murmur, IMG_5965“aww” when you see the pups’ droopy faces. However, a closer look gives the dogs’ expressions a deeper meaning, and may even break your heart a little. This painting is facing you as soon as you enter the Wallace Collection, but it still might take a little bit of searching.

As with all art museums, go to the Wallace Collection only if you are prepared to contemplate. The beautiful displays are there to impress, of course, but one also can feel that the careful arrangement is made out of the utmost respect not only for the art, but the human suffering and joy it represents.


Address:

The Wallace Collection
Hertford House
Manchester Square
London W1U 3BN
United Kingdom

Hours:

7 days a week, 10am-5pm

 

London in Under $20 US

On our first day in London, we saw five important sites without paying a dime… er, excuse me, a pence, toward entrance fees. The $20 was spent on tube fare and… well, beer. Anyway, the point of this post is to help you find awesome things to do in London without spending too much money. The list below details an actual day we spent in London–and loved it.

Here’s a quick list of five sites you can see in London for free.

1. Changing of the Guards

Contrary to what it may seem, the Changing of the Guards ceremony does not take place at the same time every day in accordance with the shift change. It doesn’t even happen every day. But, if you’re able to get to Buckingham Palace in time, you can catch a glimpse of the ages old ceremony from outside the palace.

To find out the schedule, check here. (It’s a link to the Royal Collection Trust website.)

IMG_59482. Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square is an important city hub. From it, you can see statues, busy streets, all types of people, and museums, namely the incredible (and huge) National Gallery. While it may not seem that a city block should be a destination, it is one well worth seeing. We visited it twice and were enthralled both times.

3. Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection is known as a bit of a hidden gem (which seems like an oxymoron; if it’s “hidden,” how does it also have a reputation?) In some ways, it sits in the shadows of the National Gallery, but in others, it stands out completely. It is frequently described as “more manageable,” both because of its size and because of the smaller crowds. Its rooms are all distinct from one another, featuring carefully arranged artwork placed on stunning backdrops of French silk wall coverings and window dressings. (Seriously, the wall coverings themselves are spectacular.) But if you’re not much for decor, you still may be interested in seeing the largest collection of armor in Europe… and you can even try on a chain mail jacket, head piece, and a covering of armor.

4. Kyoto Garden (Holland Park)

Kyoto Garden is placed in Holland Park, and really is a small attraction. In its center is a waterfall feeding into a koi pond, a water feature surrounded by peacocks, very bold squirrels, and other animals that are fun to watch. While the garden itself is lovely and peaceful, it is tiny. However, it’s worth the trek to Kensington (the neighborhood) because from it, you can take a stroll through the lovely Holland Park and may even stop to see a show.

5. Big Ben/Westminster Bridge
IMG_6049

You can, of course, tour these two locations. However, if you’re visiting for the first time, I’d recommend simply planning to stop and admire the two infamous structures before making any plans to go in. You can view both clearly from a park with a striking statue of Winston Churchill and several other prominent Brits of ages past. Or, if you’re in the mood for a pint, check out St. Stephen’s Tavern, where you can stand outside and toast to Big Ben.

You can also see the National Gallery for free (which is in Trafalgar Square), but we opted not to see it that day because it is massive.

This little introductory tour of London required a lot of walking and a little bit of time spent with the map of the tube.

Do you have favorite cheap and/or free things to do in London? Should we add them to our list of things to do on our next visit?

Why It’s Okay to Get Sucked In by a Huckster

We were in Trafalgar Square in London, staring up at the National Gallery amid swarms of fellow international travelers, visitors from nearby, and locals going about their days, when I did something I almost categorically never do: I let myself get sucked in to buying something I didn’t want.

Nelson's Monument, Trafalgar Square
Looking out on Trafalgar Square on a Saturday

Part of visiting the National Gallery in London is interacting with, or at least observing, the people who make a living by trying their best to get your attention in front of the United Kingdom’s second most popular tourist attraction. And, for me, that usually means smiling awkwardly and saying “no thank you,” when I’m approached, or trying to pretend I don’t see the man painted in gold who is standing very, very still. But this week, when walking through Trafalgar Square during my first time in London, I took a picture of the gold man, then put my change in the hat on the ground next to him. He broke his stillness to nod at me, which charmed me–and set off a bit of a chain reaction. A few moments later, a grim reaper who seemed to floated gestured to me, a man surrounded by drawings he’d done in chalk turned toward me, and someone had motioned me to lift my hand. It was the last one that got my attention almost without me realizing it, and I realized I had already lifted my hand toward him. He told me to put out my pinkie finger. My instincts told me first to pull away, but then, in a moment of clarity among the hubbub, I thought, “I’ll just see what happens.”

The man placed a loop of red, white, and blue thread around my pinkie and crossed layers of the thread over a bracelet wrapped up in what I called a “tube bracelet” (alternating tubes of color) in my friendship-bracelet-making days. While he did this, he asked me about what I was doing there. I told him I was visiting from the U.S., and he said my country beat his in the World Cup. I also learned that his sister was a lawyer in D.C. and that she wanted him to move there, but he couldn’t because he was taking care of his wife and children. In less than a minute, he had created a little bracelet that called to mind the Union Jack, and tied it around my wrist.

At that point, Chris came over and said hello, and then the man asked him if he wanted one, at the same time saying Americans typically gave him ten pounds (about $13 US) for two bracelets, but we could give him whatever we wanted. Ten pounds was, of course, absurd. I was planning to give him one pound. But then he pulled out an already made bracelet and offered it to Chris, weaving in mention of the ten pounds he usually got from Americans as he had weaved the threads of the bracelet. We ended up giving him about two pounds, thirty pence (about $3 US).

It was, overall, a fairly unremarkable experience. However, it slightly altered how I think about the whole idea of soliciting and peddling in high traffic areas. I’ve never had ill will toward the people who do it, but my generally shy nature has always pushed me to steer clear of the interaction. And, until that moment in Trafalgar Square went smoothly, I hadn’t realized why.

I’d avoided those situations in the past for a simple reason: because I felt like I didn’t know what was going to happen. But, this tiny interaction showed me that I did know what was going to happen and, more importantly, that I could trust myself to respond adequately regardless of what happened. It also showed me that coming off $3 I didn’t really want to spend wasn’t the end of the world.

Pontoon Ride in Estero Bay

Palm trees always put us in a better mood.

 

Coastal towns often have a lot more to offer than beautiful beaches. And even though spending a vacay lounging on the beach every day is certainly an attractive option, the collection of things to do often goes far beyond sticking your toes in the sand and occasionally taking a dip.

As I’ve gotten older (and as I’ve done more yoga), I’ve learned to appreciate what’s around me in ways that I simply couldn’t when I was still in my twenties. Before, I knew when beauty was around me, or when I was having a “Life Is Good” moment, but there was always something else attached to it–those moments of peace were an escape, or a peaceful interim as I waited for the next thing to happen.

During a visit to Bonita Springs, FL, we took a pontoon boat ride on the Imperial River and into the Gulf. And during it, I got to experience the whole thing in-the-moment, even though I snapped pictures all around and played with my new iPhone camera a lot of the time. The boat rental was from Bay Water Boat Rentals, an easy-to-find rental company on Bonita Springs Boulevard.

For people who don’t know, pontoons are the flat boats that have lots of space to walk around and seating around the perimeter. They are designed for cruising, and make a smaller amount of wake than other boats.

Our pontoon didn’t have a radio, which we lamented but got over quickly, and apparently the gas gauge was broken as well. Those two things were kind of strange to me, but the boat was pristine and well cared-for otherwise. They give you a big laminated map with a spiral center, and you can follow that all around the Estero Bay. On their map, they have Big Hickory Bay marked, which is a lesser-known name for the part of the bay between the Imperial and Estero. I kind of liked knowing that because “Hickory” shows up in a few names around the region.

We cruised through the busy Estero Bay waterway, hopping over a few waves from larger boats and searching the mangroves for gators and manatees (no luck). And honestly, there isn’t much of a story to tell about the boat ride, except for that it was relaxing and I think we all enjoyed it. Just thinking about it puts me at ease (and makes me want a beer).

Since I don’t have much to say about it, maybe you’ll enjoy these pictures instead:

A restaurant called Bayfront Bistro invites boaters to park at their docks, and we were guided in by a deck hand standing there leading the way. We had great food there, thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere.

Afterward, we cruised back, detouring to see a dog park beach that people have to boat for. It was amazing.

We got a little lost on the way back, so I’d recommend making sure you have your GPS on your phone on. We took a wrong turn and ended up on the river in a neighborhood. It was a little nervewracking, but our trusty phones helped us figure out where we were.

The pelican who had seen us out was still there on his perch when we got back!

Bike Ride… Beer Ride?

Today was the first good day of summer we’ve experienced this year, and we decided to take advantage of it. With my newly acquired bike and Chris’s long-lasting memento bike he bought with his Dad, we hit the dusty trail, starting at the popular walking spot called Forbidden Drive in Philadelphia. We snagged a parking spot on Bells Mill Road, smeared on the sunscreen (SPF 30) then hopped on our bikes with one water bottle between us.

Along the generously wide path, you’ll see bikers, walkers, runners, dogs, horses (and horse… poo), chipmunks, squirrels, cardinals, sparrows, beautiful remnants of colonial Philadelphia, and all kinds of trees and bushes. We got to the Valley Green Inn, where there is a map and a public restroom, and realized that we could probably–if we felt adventurous and tried real hard–make our way to the Conshohocken Brewery in Conshohocken, PA. Well, we felt adventurous, and we felt pretty good about trying hard to make this good day a great one.

We rode from Valley Green Inn down the rest of Forbidden Drive, a gorgeous and peaceful ride, all the way to the Wissahickon Trail. Once we were at the end of Forbidden Drive, we turned and rode down a new path that was so beautiful it made me gasp. (pics and map to come) We went over bridges, rode alongside a stream, and went under another bridge.

Then, we arrived at Ridge Avenue on the edge of Manayunk, surprised to see traffic and a lot of people after such a peaceful and idyllic ride. We turned toward Manayunk and rode under the famous “Welcome to Manayunk” sign. The next mile and a half or so was on the city street, which isn’t my favorite. But Manyunk is used to bikers, so I felt pretty comfortable there.

Shortly after we passed the Manayunk Brew Pub (also a cool place to visit), we saw the little green bike sign telling us how to hop back on the Wissahickon bike trail. Along there, we saw geese, fuzzy goslings, algae-covered turtles, and tons of people. The Manayunk trail runs along the canal, and is a nice, smooth ride (although not quite as peaceful as the other part of Wissahickon Trail). Eventually, we came to an area that had less traffic, and we knew we were at the end of Manayunk.

We stopped at a map and tried to figure out how far we had to go, and another biker overheard us and told us it was about three miles. She was pretty much on the dot, and we finally made it to Conshocken Brewery, where we tried a Blueberry beer, a Blood Orange IPA, a super strong Pineapple IPA, and their Blonde Weisse. We also grabbed a taco and a pretzel, played Connect Four, snapped a few fun photos, admired no less than five precious pooches, and chatted briefly with some very nice people.

But, the fun didn’t stop there. Since we parked on Bell’s Mill Road, we had two options for our return trip: 1. Go back from whence we came, which would probably be about a fifteen mile bike ride, or 2. Go back a little ways, then go straight uphill for a whole mile from the place we’d gotten directions from the other biker. We opted for number two, even with our bellies full of beer. Once we got to the bottom of the hill, we snapped our gears as low as they could go, and trudged forward. It was a challenge, to say the least, but we both agreed we’d do it again.

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