Tips for planning your first visit to NYC

ESB in fog

Happy New Year! Are you planning a trip to New York City this year? I’ve recently had a few family members ask for advice about their first trips to NYC, so thought I’d put my tips into a blog post.

First of all, New York City is HUGE – and most first-time visitors spend their time in Manhattan, one of five boroughs that make up the city (the other four are Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx), so this post will focus on Manhattan. Secondly, this post will NOT include a list of “must see” sights. What I will do, however, is give you tips for making the most of your limited time, navigating your way around the city, and designing an efficient sight-seeing plan. I’ll also alert you to some things that surprise first-time visitors.

Where to stay – There are thousands of hotels in Manhattan; I’ve written an entire post on how I choose hotels in NYC.  Here’s the short version – where you should stay depends on what you want to see and do as well as cost, your tolerance for noise, and how you plan to get around. Stay away from hotels directly on Times Square if you don’t like crowds and noise; moving just a couple of blocks away can drastically cut the crowds (I’ve stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn on 8th Ave. between 48th and 49th Streets and had a great experience). Midtown East is quieter but still close to many of the Midtown area main attractions (St Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, and Times Square, among others), but doesn’t have great subway connections once you’re east of Lexington Avenue. If you want to spend most of your time exploring the 9/11 Memorial/Museum and the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island complex, the Financial District might be a good location. Chelsea and the Fashion (Garment) District are walkable and have good subway connections to Midtown, the West Village (with some amazing restaurants) and the Financial District; this is often where I choose to stay. Here is a map outlining the neighborhoods of Manhattan, from the folks at nyctourist.com – their website has TONS of info about New York City!

nyc-neighborhood-mapImage source: http://www.nyctourist.com

When to go – New York City is a year round destination – the museums and sights are phenomenal no matter when you go. January is one of the cheapest months for hotels, and I’ve also gotten great rates for the Fourth of July weekend (I guess everyone goes to the beach instead?). December is generally expensive, although I had a friend report last month that she found good hotel rates for the third week in December. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is both incredibly crowded and extremely expensive. Spring and Fall have the nicest weather and the parks are beautiful. Time Out NYC lists the best places to see cherry blossoms here, and the fall foliage in Central Park is gorgeous!

Sightseeing – My biggest tip here is to group your sightseeing geographically! Minimize the time you spend traveling around the city by visiting all of your sights in the Financial District one day, then spend another day enjoying the museums on the Upper West Side and Central Park and a third day seeing the sights of Midtown. I star my activities on Google Maps, then plan my days by location. After many visits when I’ve been too ambitious with my sightseeing plan, I now divide my days into morning, afternoon, and evening, and schedule no more than ONE activity per segment. However, I also keep a list handy of other sights in the vicinity that I’d like to see in case I have extra time and can squeeze in something else.

Better NYC plans photoHere’s a screenshot of  my “midtown/theater district” day – everything is within a ten block area to make for convenient and quick walks between activities

Visiting the Statue of Liberty – Okay, so maybe THIS is my biggest tip – if there is one thing that surprises first time visitors more than anything else, it is the amount of time you have to block out to take the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty. If you are planning on visiting both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, I’d recommend blocking out the entire day, especially if you want to climb to the crown and enjoy the museum at Ellis Island. Even with advance tickets for the ferry, you wait in a long line and go through security (the entrance time on your ticket is the time you enter the security line – you might not get on the first ferry after you’re through the line). The ferry stops first at Liberty Island, the home of Lady Liberty, then proceeds to Ellis Island before circling back to Manhattan; even if you don’t want to visit Ellis Island, you still have to ride the ferry and wait while others disembark and embark. My family loves history; we took the very first ferry in the morning and the very last ferry back in the late afternoon and still wished for more time! Both islands have cafes, so you can buy coffee and lunch. If you’re just going to the Statue but don’t plan on getting off at Ellis Island, you will want to block out at least 4 hours (more during busy times like Spring Break, Easter, summer and December), so be cautious about what you schedule directly after your Statue excursion. I’d recommend planning this for a day towards the beginning/middle of your trip – I once booked a visit for my last morning in the city, but due to a snow storm, the ferries didn’t run until afternoon. The company offered to put me on a later ferry, but I had a flight out, so had to miss the experience.  Ha – aren’t you glad I make these mistakes so you don’t have to??

 

**For those of you with kids between 6-12, Ellis Island has an AMAZING Junior Ranger Program – and even though the islands are a National Park site, the state of New York is providing the funding for them to stay open during the government shutdown (thanks, State of New York!)**

Click here for info about the ferry and the different types of tickets available. If you want to climb to the crown, book your tickets as far in advance as possible and keep in mind that the inside of the statue is not climate controlled, so it can get very hot in the summer.

Doug and I in Lady libertyHubby and I in the crown of the Statue of Liberty

**Time-saving tip – If you are tight on time and okay with just seeing the Statue of Liberty from the water, I’d recommend taking the Staten Island Ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island and back – it’s FREE, you get great views (albeit from farther away) and it takes about 1.5 hours tops – the ride is 25 minutes each way, but you have to disembark on Staten Island and circle around to get back in line for the return trip**

If you want to see a show, you can book tickets ahead of time (playbill.com and broadwaybox.com sell discounted tickets for some shows) or use the TKTS booth to get discounted tickets the day of the show. If you’re flying in and arriving in the late afternoon, book a show for your second night and plan something like a walk around Rockefeller Center for your first night, in case you end up with a flight delay.  If you have your heart set on seeing a specific show, I’d recommend booking ahead; if you’re flexible about what you want to see and would be happy with a myriad of choices, then I’ve seen some great shows using the TKTS booth. Here is the link to the TKTS website home page, and you can see what’s currently available at the booth here (there are no guarantees what will be available the day you go, of course, but I’ve always been able to find something fun). Many first time visitors don’t realize you can meet the actors at the stage door after the show – take your playbill and a sharpie if you want autographs! To be the among the first in line, scope out the stage door location before going into the show and leave the theater as soon as possible after the show ends – don’t stay through all the curtain calls.

Stage door HamiltonMeeting Michael Luwoye (aka Alexander Hamilton) at the stage door after the show!

Advance tickets – You’ll definitely want to buy advance tickets for the Statue of Liberty, and if you want to go to the Top of the Rock, Empire State Building, or One World Observatory, you’ll save a TON of time by buying tickets online. This blogger has a great article about when to book ahead…the Statue of Liberty tickets and Broadway tickets are in the #1 and #2 spots!

To go to the top or not? – Top of the Rock, the Empire State Building and the One World Observatory all give you the same type of experience – you go to the top of the building and get amazing views over the city. They all offer advance booking (and together hold the #4 spot on the above list) but are slightly different.

One World Observatory is the newest of the three, honoring the former World Trade Center Twin Towers. It overlooks the 9/11 Memorial and the Financial District, with a great view of New York Harbor. There are three types of tickets, all of which include a multimedia experience in the visit. They seem to have the earliest closing time of the three (when I checked times for today, the last entry was at 8:15 PM).

The Empire State Building is the oldest, with great views of midtown. The Empire State Building is the classic experience for fans of Sleepless in Seattle, King Kong, or An Affair to Remember, and is open the latest of the three, until 2 am, so if you’re a night owl or trying to squeeze every last bit of sightseeing out of your visit, a late night visit is a great option. Click here for ticket info.

Top of the Rock – Another option is to go to the top of Rockefeller Center, where you get great views of midtown and Central Park, as well as the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and One World Tower.  To me, there’s something magical about being at Top of the Rock during sunset, watching the sky become a blend of colors before it fades to dark and the lights of the city come on, including a fantastic view of the lights coming on at the Empire State Building. The latest entry time is generally 11:40 PM, so this is also a good “after dinner” option.

**These tickets are usually pretty easy to get a day or two in advance, so I wait to book until I can see the weather forecast for the days I’ll be in NYC, and choose a sunny day! If you want the sunset view, book a time for about 30-45 minutes before sunset (find sunset times here, although Top of the Rock makes it easy with a little sun symbol next to entrance times that will let you see the sunset) to allow for time to get up to the observation deck. Once you’re up there, you can stay for as long as you like.**

new-york-city-105860From Top of the Rock, you’ll get this gorgeous sunset view!  Photo courtesy of pixabay

Eating – I’m not a foodie, and while I enjoy a nice dinner, I don’t want to spend $100 per person either, so I look for food that is fresh, tasty, inexpensive-moderately priced, and convenient to sightseeing rather than adventurous. I rely heavily on Yelp and suggestions from friends or Instagram, and I stay away from chain restaurants. I’ve gotten tons of great recommendations from With Love from Kat – two of the places we’ve tried from her app (and loved) are Buvette and Momoya. I’ve also enjoyed La Bonne Soup (french bistro), S’mac (an entire restaurant devoted to mac and cheese? yes, please!), Gigino’s at Wagner Park (Statue of Liberty views), Serafina (several locations for wood-fired pizza and pasta), Hurley’s Saloon (Irish Pub in the Theatre District with a beer garden out back in nice weather), Carmine’s (family style Italian in Times Square), Serendipity 3 (if you’ve seen the movie with Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack, it’s especially fun!), Doughnut Plant, and Alice’s Tea Cup (Alice in Wonderland themed tea room with three locations). I’ve also been known to chow down on Shake Shack, Pret a Manger, or Chipotle while in line for show tickets or riding the Staten Island Ferry!

 

Transportation –  I don’t recommend driving around the city to get from one sight to another – parking is just too hard and expensive, and traffic is crazy crowded. If you are driving to New York City, be prepared for parking charges of $40-50 per day at your hotel, and plan on parking your car and not using it again until you leave. Parking at hotels is generally valet-only, so be ready to pull up, get all your stuff out, and have a few singles on hand for tipping the valet.

New York is a great walking city; I walk whenever possible, but when my destination is too far, I use the subway or a cab/Uber. I could do an entire series of posts on transportation in New York, but I’ll just give you a helpful link with details about getting around the city by subway, bus, cab, Uber, walking, and more!

traffic-691870Believe me – you DO NOT want to try and drive from sight to sight in NYC traffic! photo courtesy of pixabay

**navigation tip – In Manhattan, anything above 14th Street is on a grid pattern, which makes navigating easy. Streets run east/west (with 5th Avenue as the dividing line) and Avenues run north/south, while Broadway runs diagonally. Below 14th Street, it’s a little less predictable, as this is the oldest part of the island. Most people use cross streets to navigate rather than numerical addresses, so when giving your destination to a cab/uber driver, say “The Hilton New York Fashion District on West 26th St. near 7th Avenue”**

Weather in NYC –  if you are going in the winter, the skyscrapers create wind tunnels, so you’ll feel much colder than you might expect! Bring warm gloves/mittens (mittens are warmer than gloves because of the body heat from your fingers being together), a scarf (or you can buy one on nearly any street corner for less than $10 – these make great souvenirs) and a hat. If you’re going in the summer, the converse is true – temps can feel warmer, as all the concrete holds heat.

img_1626We got lucky with a day full of sunshine for our Statue of Liberty day – but the wind on the ferry was COLD!!!

**I often see recommendations to wear thermal base layers in winter, but then I get way too hot when indoors, so my secret trick is to layer a lightweight down coat under my heavier winter coat! I have this one and it works like a charm – kept me toasty warm even standing outside for two hours in 34 degree weather trying to get lottery tickets for Hamilton! It packs down into a small pouch for packing, is super lightweight but an invaluable layer in the winter! There’s a longer version, as well**

Wow! If you’ve read this far, you’re a champ – I really hope these tips were helpful! In my next post, I’ll list my favorite sights and restaurants by neighborhood, to help you plan geographically 🙂  Leave me a note in the comments below if you have specific questions or want to add a recommendation to my list!

My best (and worst) travel moments of 2018

Happy December!  I’ve been on radio silence for a while…after working so hard on the midterm elections, I needed time to rest, recharge and nest at home. But I don’t want to let December pass without a post or two, so today I thought I’d share my best (and worst) moments of travel this year! In no particular order, here they are…

Best:

riding-through-forest.jpg

Biking through the forests of South Bohemia – in September, I went on my second bike trip with two girlfriends. This time we biked through the South Bohemia region of the Czech Republic, with more varied terrain than we experienced on our first trip. My favorite days were spent biking through the forest…the trees, rivers, shade and the gigantic mushrooms (the biggest I’ve ever seen) combined into pure joy!

duckhuntersThese men welcomed us, fed us, and laughed with us – thank you for sharing your hospitality!

Sharing lunch with the Duck Hunters – If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen this post about meeting the group of duck hunters. We basically thought we were going to a restaurant (thanks Google maps for the adventure!) but ended up crashing a private hunting lodge and sharing food/beer/schnapps/hunting ceremonies/crazy attempts at communicating with a group of duck hunters! I have to admit…after two beers and three shots each, we were a little wobbly as we mounted up to ride the last 20 kilometers of the day!

Stage door HamiltonMeeting Michael Luwoye (aka “Alexander Hamilton”) at the stage door!

Seeing Hamilton on Broadway – For my birthday in January, we met up with our kids for a quick 48 hours in New York City to see Hamilton. It was as amazing as I expected, and the fact that my kids all took the time to fly in to join us made it extra sweet!

**Tip…get on the email list here for notifications when new blocks of tickets go on sale (Scroll to bottom of page where it says “Join the revolution”, and enter your email), and listen to the soundtrack as much as possible before you go!**

IMG_2283The original 12th century foundations of the Louvre

Introducing my youngest to Paris – I LOVED introducing my son to  one of my favorite cities in the world and and seeing it again through the eyes of a first-time visitor. We explored differently this time as well, with a more relaxed schedule, which only heightened my enjoyment of the city. When I first started traveling internationally, I felt pressure to see as many sights as possible, which led to packed schedules and stress (how many of you can relate??).  This visit, I let my son dictate the schedule – he likes to sleep in, so we enjoyed relaxed mornings, fewer sights each day, and long wanderings just soaking in the city.  We took a walking tour from Paris Walks (we did the French Revolution of 1789 tour) which was incredible; we learned so much not just about the Revolution, but also about how the current French political system works. My son wanted to spend an entire day at the Louvre, so I wandered the less-crowded sections and discovered an exhibit in the basement about the Louvre as a building, where you can still see the original foundations of the fortress which was built in the 1100’s (and had the entire room to myself for a few minutes)!

lennon wall pragueThe John Lennon Wall in Prague at 8 am, with just ONE other person!

Running through Prague – You may have seen this post about our running tour of Prague. Although my natural inclination is to sleep in, it was worth rising early to experience Prague in the peaceful morning hours. During our run, we stopped by the John Lennon Wall at 8 am, and there was only one other tourist there; at 3 pm, we went back, and there were several hundred tourists waiting to try and get photos.

Sheldon Church gate good oneThe Old Sheldon Church Ruins, one of my solo discoveries this year

Hopping in the car and exploring by myself – This year I’ve done a couple of short trips by myself (read about those herehere and here). There’s a freedom in traveling alone –  I relish the ability to change plans on a whim, or sit at a cafe for hours without worrying whether my travel buddy is bored. While I would never choose to travel exclusively by myself, I do cherish my alone time and am hoping to plan a few short solo getaways in 2019.

Now for the worst; because we all have those moments where we hit the wall of exhaustion or things go wrong, right??? Two moments in particular stick out in my mind…IMG_7944Geared up and ready to ride – but that first day was SOOOO hard!

The first day of our bike trip – Our first day of biking through the Czech Republic was demoralizing; I had to walk my bike up ten hills that day and was in tears going up one particularly long hill. Despite the training I had done, I was questioning whether I was physically capable of completing the ride (the hills were much harder than I expected), wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into, and dreading the six days of biking still ahead. To make matters even worse, it was pouring rain. That day was both a mental and a physical challenge…I had to dig deep and find reserves to keep going.  Thankfully, the remaining days were easier and the sun came out, but that first day still lingers in my mind.

**Lesson learned – for our next trip, I’m going to include more strength training, and book an electric bike to help with the hills**

beynac crepe myrtlesThe day after my bout with food poisoning…moving slowly but enjoying the beautiful town of Beynac-et-Cazenac

Getting food poisoning in the Dordogne region of France – the worst case of food poisoning I think I’ve ever had…read this post for the full story, but overall a horrible 24 hours which left my stomach uneasy and my body dehydrated for days. However, not feeling my best led me to embrace a slower pace of travel, which I LOVED, so there is that…

I’d love to hear about your bests and worsts – feel free to share in the comments!

 

 

 

My November Bucket List (and how I did in October)

fall leaves

Do you all enjoy these bucket list posts?? They really help keep me accountable and productive during the month, so I might make it a monthly series if you’re interested?

I was just looking back over my October bucket list – I didn’t do as much running or hiking as I wanted to, mostly because I spent so much time working to get out the vote. I did, however, rack up miles and miles of walking while knocking on doors to talk with voters! With the November 6th midterm election coming up, encouraging voters became my number one priority for October.

** If you’re reading this and you’re in the USA, PLEASE be a voter this year!!!! Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, every vote is crucial!**

I also didn’t finish going through my fall and winter clothes; temps were warm for much of the month and it just wasn’t high on the priority list. I did start pulling them out; they are currently heaped all over the bed in my son’s old room (my husband asked “what volcano exploded in Alex’s room?”), so I will have to get them all sorted before he comes home for Thanksgiving!

So, without further ado, here is my November bucket list:

Attend my first ever Watch Party – on Election Night, after being a poll greeter for much of the day, I’ll be attending a Watch Party! This is the first time I’ve ever worked an election, and I’m super excited to share the anticipation and (hopefully) the celebration with my fellow Democrats who have all been working so hard to get out the vote!

IMG_1523Just a few of the books waiting for me….

Spend November 7th reading on my porch all day – so many things got put on the back burner during October, including reading! I’ve got a HUGE stack of library books waiting for me, so am going to spend a good chunk of the day reading on my front porch. A good book, coffee and my dog…sounds like a pretty perfect day to me 😊

Finish culling my fall and winter clothes – I want to keep only the clothes I love and wear, and consign or donate the rest. (And my son will need somewhere to sleep when he comes home for Thanksgiving, so there’s that – I work well with firm deadlines lol)

me and sisMe and my sister – so excited to see her at Thanksgiving!!!

Clean my house from top to bottom for the holidays – We are so grateful that all three of our kids are coming home for Thanksgiving! My sister and brother-in-law and my dad and stepmother are also coming, so we’ll have a fun houseful. I’m really looking forward to it, and will spend much of my time between the election and Thanksgiving doing a deep clean in preparation for the holidays. I’ve blocked out days on my calendar for this and will tackle two rooms per day.

gingko leavesSwishing through the fallen leaves is one of my favorite autumn activities!!

Spend lots of time outdoors – November is a great month in North Carolina, so I want to spend time outside every day in the fresh air and sunshine. My husband is heading back to work this month (yay! He got a job!) so I’ll be mostly in charge of walking the dog during the week now, which will definitely help with this goal.

blog-3428667

Schedule four blog sessions this month – I’ve been trying to increase the number of posts I do each month, but life keeps getting in the way (no firm deadline…that’s the problem😉). I signed up for an online blogging course way back in August but haven’t started it yet, so I am going to schedule four times on my November calendar where I will sit down and spend one hour on the blogging course! (If anyone out there wants to be my accountability partner and hold me to this, I’d be ever so appreciative!)

Find fabric and order two new chairs – We are in the middle of a living room refresh (our new couch comes on Thursday!) and I’ve been searching for a pair of swivel rockers to put on either side of our fireplace. I found the chairs, but am not enamored of any of the fabric choices, so am currently searching for fabric that I love. Wish me luck!

black-1845799

Have friends over for a bonfire and roast some marshmallows – A couple of weeks ago, I hosted some girlfriends for a backyard fire and s’mores – it was a such a relaxing evening and I’m not sure why we don’t do it more often. I’m going to plan another evening this month – there’s just something about sitting outside when there’s a chill in the air, bundled in a blanket, roasting marshmallows and chatting around a fire.

So there it is…no big travel plans this month, but lots of nesting in preparation for the holidays. And I’ll be sure to throw in a spontaneous adventure or two for all of you!

 

 

 

A Day Out at Fontevraud Abbey (Wednesday Wanderings)

F Abbey in arch

When we went to France in August, we had one day to fill between our arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport and our stay in the Dordogne region (to read about our stay in the Dordogne, click here and here). I had just read a fascinating trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine, so we decided to spend our free day at The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud.

**Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres – reading about a place before visiting brings it to life for me. Anyone else out there feel the same? What are some of the best historical fiction books you’ve read recently?**

We only booked our flights about three weeks out, so didn’t have great transportation options. We ended up taking the RER B from the airport to the St Michel-Notre Dame stop in central Paris, then (after a brief visit to Notre Dame, which was nearly empty at 8 am on a Saturday morning) we rode Line 4 of the Paris Metro from St Michel to Gare Montparnasse, after which we took the TGV train from Gare Montparnasse to Poitiers. In Poitiers, we rented a car and drove to our Chateau B&B near the Abbey. It sounds harder than it actually was, but it was still a multi-step process that took a good chunk of our arrival day, so we were ready to relax when we got to our B&B!

**If we had booked farther ahead, we could have taken the TGV directly from the airport (Terminal 2) to Tours, which is much closer to the Abbey than Poitiers.  However, the TGV was sold out from CDG and I couldn’t find an available rental car in Tours; one of the pitfalls of booking last minute!**

chateau B&B 2JPG

We arrived at Château de la Roche Martel in the late afternoon, and were given a brief tour then shown to our room. The historic property was built in the early 1400’s and has an addition from the 1600’s. It’s a historically quirky place and the owners, a Viscount and Viscountess, are careful to share that it is not a luxury hotel (no A/C; does have private bathrooms) but rather a privately owned chateau where they are delighted to welcome guests. I spent a relaxing couple of hours enjoying the garden on a chaise with a good book, and found myself wishing we had booked more than one night. Next time!

view from chateau b&BThe view from the garden at Château de la Roche Martel

Our hostess offered to make us a dinner reservation nearby, and she recommended the Restaurant Le Montsorelli  on the terrace at the Hotel Le Bussy.

chateau montsoreau 3Our view during dinner at Le Montsorelli

Watching the sun set over the Loire River, next to the Chateau Montsoreau, while dining in the garden of the restaurant, was the perfect beginning to our French adventure!

loire sunsetSunset over the beautiful Loire River

 At breakfast the next morning (the food was AMAZING, wish I had taken a photo), my husband, son and I shared a fascinating discussion of US politics with our hostess, a retired couple from New Zealand and a young couple from Moscow (one of the best parts of staying at a B&B is the fellow guests that we meet).  After breakfast, we packed up and headed out to the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud.

fontevraude-abbey-2.jpg

Founded in the 1100’s and now the largest remaining monastic city of the Middle Ages in Europe, Fontevraud housed, in four separate priories, monks, nuns, women who retreated here after the deaths of their husbands (as did Eleanor of Aquitaine), and a hospital for lepers, all overseen by an Abbess.

Pretty flowers and gate F Abbey

Originally in an area of France belonging to the King of England, the English royals were great benefactors of the Abbey (hence the distinction The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud). Eleanor of Aquitaine, a complex and strong woman way ahead of her time, struggled with the constraints placed on her because of her sex. She was the heir to Aquitaine, but as women were thought unfit to rule by themselves, she was married off at age 13 to the future King Louis VII of France. After 15 years of marriage during which she only gave birth to two daughters, King Louis annulled their marriage and she then married King Henry II of England, who was eleven years her junior.  She had eight children with Henry, including King John and Richard the Lionheart. After Henry died, she spent the last 20 years of her life at the Abbey, and is buried there with Henry II and Richard the Lionheart, as well as King John’s second wife, Isabella of Angouleme.

Eleanor of AquitaneEleanor of Aquitaine and her second husband, King Henry II of England

After the French Revolution of 1789, the monastery was dissolved and the last Abbess was evicted in 1792. Napoleon turned it into a prison in 1804, in which capacity it served until 1963, when the French Government restored it, opening the Abbey to the public in 1975.

Cloisters 2 F Abbey

As we wandered the grounds and explored the buildings, it was easy to imagine the life of the nuns, going about their daily routines of work and prayer in silence. Did you know they went to EIGHT services a day?? The cloisters still exude peace and serenity, and the crowds were minimal, despite it being the height of tourist season. The Abbey hosts cultural performances, exhibits and events throughout the year, and also serves as a conference center with an onsite hotel, a restaurant and casual cafes.

Best Cloister Garden F Abbey

We finally had to drag ourselves away from this fascinating place…but will be back to explore more of the Loire Valley at some point!

 

7 Easy ways to help Get Out the Vote (that don’t involve talking to people)

vote is voice hats

For those of us in the United States, Tuesday November 6th is Election Day. I’ve been spending lots of time this month working on getting out the vote; I’ve even *gulp* gone out canvassing! Like most people, I was super intimidated at the thought of getting involved and TALKING TO PEOPLE (it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it’d be), so thought I’d share some easy ways to help get out the vote that don’t require voter interaction!

poll greeter

Wear a “Vote” button, hat, or tee shirt – An internet search shows thousands of buttons, car magnets, and tees with messages about voting! You choose the message you want to wear and when you want to wear it. I ordered this tee and this tee and am going to wear them on the days I know I’ll be running all over town. I don’t want to get into any confrontations with people, so chose a simple, non partisan message.

vote buttonHelp make buttons – ever wondered where all those buttons come from that everyone’s handing out around election time? Volunteers make them! Just call your party’s county office or your favorite candidate and say “I’d like to help make buttons” – easy peasy!

postcards

Write postcards – this is a super easy way to help! The postcards to voters project is nationwide, but many candidates and local party offices/precincts have initiated their own postcard writing campaigns. You can gather friends for postcard writing parties or do a few at a time during commercials while watching TV; handwritten postcards are a great way to reach voters! My precinct wrote postcards before our primaries, and several folks came to vote with postcards in hand – so very rewarding to know our efforts mattered!

Share information about voting on your social media – You may have friends and neighbors who don’t know how to make sure they’re registered to vote, whether your state offers early voting or what the locations and hours are for voting. Its easy to share factual information like this in a non-confrontational way, along with a reminder that its important that we ALL vote, regardless of our party affiliation.

door hangers2

Drop off door hangers – Our precinct printed door hangers with info about early voting locations, the slate of candidates, and other issues on the ballot. We’ve had volunteers driving around neighborhoods and putting them on doors, as another way to contact voters.  I’ve done several neighborhoods and rarely does anyone come to the door when I’m there.

**Full disclosure: I did have one lady come to the door while I was approaching. I just said “I’m dropping off some info about early voting” – easy peasy!**

Put a sign in your yard – If you have a particular candidate or issue you’d like to support, ask for a sign to put in your yard! Candidates LOVE this, particularly if you live on a street that gets lots of traffic, as name recognition can make all the difference in who gets the vote.

Text voters – Lots of organizations/candidates use texts to get their message out. You can sign up to help text voters. Most use apps with pre-scripted messages that conceal all phone numbers for privacy reasons (yours and the people you are texting). While there is no face to face interaction, I’ve received both positive and negative replies. I handle the negative ones by texting back “So sorry to bother you! I’ll remove you from our list right now😊” This is super easy – the app I’m signed up on loads the message and all I have to do is tap “send” – I can send about 800 texts in an hour or so!

**And two bonus ideas if you don’t mind a little voter interaction…**

Phone banking – Many people these days don’t answer their phone if they don’t recognize the number, so you’ll mostly be leaving voicemails. Candidates and political parties focus on calling folks who they believe will support them, so you’ll generally be calling people within the same party. You will be given a script and a list of numbers; everything is loaded on a website to make it as easy as possible. You can do a few at a time (while waiting in the school pick up line, folding laundry, etc.) or a bunch all at once. If someone does pick up, you’ll usually have a positive conversation!

booth at pride

Staff a booth at a festival or fair – I’ve worked my party’s booth at two different fairs and festivals this month, asking people if they’re registered to vote and handing out  voter materials. I’ve had some great conversations and love that I’ve been able to provide help to folks who were unsure about their registration/polling locations/issues on the ballot. I’ve broken down and cried with a couple of women and been the recipient/giver of hugs  – it’s been an amazing experience!

 

A Day Out on the Glen Burney Trail (Wednesday Wanderings series)

Glen Burney Trail

Happy Wednesday! My husband and I spent today hiking in the North Carolina mountains with our dog.  I love having these midweek adventures with him; it will be one of the things I miss most when he goes back to work!

Perfect pose!My favorite hiking buddies!

We chose the Glen Burney Trail because it showcases several waterfalls and was only about a 90 minute drive from Winston Salem. An extra bonus is that the trailhead is located a block from Main St in downtown Blowing Rock, so it would be super easy to add in some shopping, strolling and eating to round out your day! We didn’t spend any time downtown today, but I’ve loved my meals at The Speckled Trout in the past. And if you really want to indulge, Westglow Resort and Spa is just a few miles outside of Blowing Rock; my husband gave me a day package there for Mother’s Day, and it’s incredible!

hiking 4

But today we just hiked and enjoyed the gorgeous sunny fall day. The trail is an out and back 3 mile route, which goes downhill on the way out and then heads straight back up. I was definitely glad I had my trekking poles with me. It wasn’t super strenuous by any means, but the poles take some of the pressure off my knees when going down steep steps. We had to scramble a little bit crossing the stream, as the bridge is washed out, but some kind soul laid a plank in exactly the right spot to help us out!

crossing bridgebridge 4

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen my recent post about being a “river through the forest” kind of girl, so today’s trail was just what I love – we meandered through the woods beside the stream and passed several beautiful waterfalls.

scooby 6

waterfall 5

Scooby enjoyed exploring as well and happily posed for multitudes of photos (be sure to check out the last photo – I caught him mid-shake and it’s hilarious!) So much fun to hike with this cutie!

Can I jump?Can I jump, Mom?

hiking 1

mid shake!

What are some of your favorite hikes in the Boone/Blowing Rock area? Let me know in the comments below!

 

My October Bucket List

blue glass front porchOctober is one of my favorite months…although it is 88 degrees today, I’m all about fall and am anxiously awaiting its arrival here in North Carolina (I got a quick little taste in Prague last week, where for three glorious days it was in the high 50’s).  Here are some of the things I’m excited for this month…

Digging out my fall clothes – I LOVE being able to wear clothes without sweating! It’s so much fun to play in my closet and say hello to my favorites from last year…I’m super excited to pull out my fall clothes this month! A huge closet purge will be happening – after living in Connecticut for five years before moving here, I have LOTS of winter clothes. But in the South, we don’t get super cold winters, and I’ve about given up on ever moving back to somewhere with colder winters. This year, I’m going to ruthlessly get rid of the thick sweaters I no longer wear and some of my heavier winter coats.

 

IMG_5975.jpgMy two favorite hiking buddies!

Hiking in the North Carolina mountains – Do you prefer the beach or the mountains??  I am a mountain girl all the way – I love hiking and our North Carolina mountains have some beautiful trails! Blocking out at least two or three days to head west and do some hiking with my husband and dog is a high priority for me this month.

vote-1804596.jpg

Working with my local party to Get Out The Vote – for those of us in the USA, midterm elections are November 6th. I spent all of 2017 being angry, then decided that working to help get out the vote was a great way to funnel my anger into positive action. Whichever party you belong to, please make plans to BE A VOTER this year – to paraphrase Barack Obama, “democracy works best when we ALL participate”!

purple reeds

The Chiluly at Night exhibit at the Biltmore – I have been so excited to see this exhibit of Dale Chiluly’s glass in the gardens of Biltmore Estate, but it closes this weekend.  So I spontaneously bought a ticket on Tuesday and drove to Asheville last night….the exhibit was AMAZING and I’m so glad I went!  If you are in the area and have been wanting to see it, I highly recommend it. The night tickets are sold out, but you can still see it during the day through Sunday.

glass ball front lawn**secret tip: You need a wristband to access the gardens after 7 PM, but if you have a daytime ticket, you can hang out in the shops and restaurants until dark and look over the wall to see a few of the pieces lit up in the front “side garden” – there’s also this beautiful piece on the front lawn that you can access up close without a wristband**

orchestra-2098877.jpg

Beethoven’s Fifth with the Charlotte Symphony – My husband introduced me to the joys of going to symphony concerts back in college – and now we go several times a year. This weekend we are heading to Charlotte to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – I’m looking forward to getting dressed up and having a date with him.

Mornings on my porch – Even though it’s still in the 80’s here, the morning temps are a bit cooler and the humidity is lower, making mornings on my porch pleasant again. One of my favorite things to do is to sit on my porch in the morning with my dog, my coffee and a good book. if you happen to pass by, wave and say hello!

IMG_7921.JPGWith Marek, our running tour guide in Prague!

Running – After doing two runs in Prague (including our running tour), I’m looking forward to spending more time running once the temps are lower. Salem Lake and Tanglewood Park are two of my favorite places to run – they both have lots of shade and beautiful fall foliage. Once the leaves start to change, I’ll be out there a couple of times each week!

What are you most looking forward to this month?

Great October Events in Winston Salem, NC

tree-99852.jpgOctober is one of my favorite months in North Carolina!

Happy Saturday!  I’m back from my bike trip and have mostly recovered from jet lag. I have lots of great stories to share from the Czech Republic, but first comes the next installment in my monthly series “Great Events in Winston Salem”.  Lots of awesome happenings this month…the Dixie Classic Fair, PRIDE month, and Halloween, to name just a few! Here is a curated list of fun events in October (if none of these tickle your fancy, just check Facebook events for Winston Salem in October – there are thousands of listings)!

autumn-986343.jpgOutdoor events

October is one of my favorite months in North Carolina – the temps are finally cooling off, so I plan to spend as much time outdoors as possible! Here are some great choices…

Thursdays @ 5 PM – Innovation Quarter YMCA Trailblazers running group – run along the Long Branch Trail then head over to Incendiary Brewing for a post-run pint. Now that my bike trip is over, I want to do more running, so am definitely going to check it out!

Saturdays in Old Salem – Old Salem is beautiful in the fall and on Saturdays, it’s great fun to wander the Cobblestone Farmers Market then wander around Old Salem and walk the Strollway. They have special family activities on Saturdays as well.

Sunday 10/14 – Fall Foliage hike at Salem Lake – from 12:30 – 2 PM, enjoy a guided hike around Salem Lake to enjoy the fall foliage.  Free, but call 336-650-7677 to register.

Tuesday 10/23 – SECCA Slam for Art Charity Golf Tournament – if you love to golf and want to support SECCA, this is the event for you!

 

trivia night.jpgTrivia Nights

I love trivia nights – there’s just something fun about getting a team of friends together and racking our brains for those crazy tidbits of knowledge! Most trivia nights are on Monday and Tuesday, so it’s a great way to start the week with some fun.

If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, you won’t want to miss Joymongers Barrel Hall’s special trivia night in honor of the new season of The Walking Dead starting at 7 PM on Monday, Oct. 1st.

Geeks Who Drink Trivia  This event is held every Monday from 8-10 pm at Wise Man Brewing – you can show up in teams of up to six people or as a single player and they’ll help you find a team!

Finnigan’s Wake on Trade Street hosts Trivia every Tuesday at 8:15 PM. My husband and I won t-shirts one night for coming in last…but we had tons of fun and always enjoy the great selection of beer and the delicious food here!

Foothills Brewpub hosts Trivia every Tuesday (8-10 PM) and Thursday (9-11 PM) – and Tuesday is half price fish and chips night!

 

pumpkin-2327488.jpgHalloween events

Friday 10/5 (and other dates) – Mystery & Mayhem Segway Tour – Every October, Triad ECO Adventures offers our Mystery & Mayhem tour on various Friday and Saturday evenings. Only for gliders with prior Segway experience, these night tours are limited to six people – come hear stories of “Spooks and Specters and Mischief Makers”! (Full disclosure: I am a Segway Glide Guide for this company; book a tour and I might end up being your guide!)

Tuesday 10/23 – SECCA is showing a National Theatre Live performance of Frankenstein – with Benedict Cumberbatch. Perfect for Halloween week!

finnigan's wake hearseFinnigan’s Wake used a hearse in years past for their parties…

Saturday 10/27 – Finnigan’s Wake Irish Pub is hosting a Halloween Party with live music. Costumes highly encouraged – music begins at 10 PM! Finnigan’s gets my vote for one of the best patios in Winston Salem plus they have a great selection of beers on tap.

Friday 10/26 – Tuesday 10/30 – Old Salem hosts the Night Watchman: Legends and Lanterns Tours. Night tours by lantern light through Old Salem hearing tales of ghosts and night time mischief – I’m in!

 

oktoberfest-968232.jpgOktoberfest!

Festivals and Fairs

Sept 28 through October 7th – the Dixie Classic Fair is back for the 136th year (it began as a wheat exhibition in 1882). This will actually be my first year going to the fair – I’ll be working at the Democratic Party booth in the Annex helping to register voters, so pop by and say hello if you’re there on October 4th!

Lots of Oktoberfest celebrations on Saturday 10/6 – Foothills Brewing Company Tasting Room from 12-6 and Joymongers Barrel Hall from 12 noon to midnight.

On the 13th, the Triad German Club is hosting their Oktoberfest Party from 5-11 PM.  Bratwurst, apple strudel and German Beer – what could be better??

gay-pride-2446420.jpg

Thursday 10/4 – Sunday 10/7 – OUT at the Movies Fest – celebrate PRIDE month with this film festival showcasing LGBT films at the ACE Theater on the UNCSA campus.

Saturday October 13th – PRIDE festival and parade downtown in the Arts District. Always a fun event!

grafitti wall.jpgArt and Home events

SECCA (Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art) has an exhibit through November 7th about Cuban Art – this looks super interesting so I’m definitely planning to check it out.

SECCA also collaborates with the Arts Council of Winston Salem and Forsyth County to host a series of screenings from the National Theater in London – click here for the full schedule and details, but October’s line up includes Hamlet, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, and Frankenstein.

Southern Home and Kitchen offers up a huge variety of fun cooking classes, from How to Throw a Cocktail Party to Cooking with Cast Iron. I just bought my first cast iron skillet, so I may have to sign up for that one!

Tuesday 10/2 –  Come join the fun and sing along to Grease at a/perture cinema! Tickets are $18 and 100% of the proceeds will be donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Wednesdays – Did you know that the Central Library on 5th Street has Blockbuster Wednesdays? They show movies for free in the auditorium – click here for the full schedule, but on 10/3 the featured film is Coco (a great family movie), beginning at 4 PM.

What fun things will you be doing this month? Let me know what I missed!

Our running tour of Prague

winged lion prague 2The Winged Lion Memorial – a thank you from Great Britain honoring the 2,507 Czechoslovak airmen who served in the Royal Air Force during WWII.

Hello from the Czech Republic! I’m currently biking around South Bohemia with two girlfriends (follow my adventures on Instagram here) – if you haven’t been to the Czech Republic, add it to your list! It’s a beautiful country with warm, friendly people – we’ve had so many great experiences! We flew into Prague and spent a couple of days there before we started biking. I found this running tour of Prague, and it sounded like so much fun that we booked it for our second morning. Our guide, Marek, met us at our apartment at 7:30 am, and took us around the tourist areas of the city, pointing out landmarks and good places to eat.  We covered about 4.5 miles, but Marek let us set the pace, which as a beginning runner I greatly appreciated. It was a great way to get some exercise, especially after being cramped in a plane for the overnight flight just a day or so before, and as a bonus, we saw the tourist areas when they were blissfully uncrowded! Here are some of the things we saw…

babies with face

The Babies – these sculptures used to be “climbing” up the side of the TV tower in Prague, but now reside in a park on Kampa Island. We never did figure out why they have no faces…if you know, please enlighten me!

lennon wall prague

The John Lennon Wall – a spontaneous tribute to John Lennon when he was assassinated, this wall became an expression of hope for freedom during the Communist years. Every night, the government would paint over the graffiti, and every day, new graffiti would appear. We saw it with one other tourist at 8 AM; later that afternoon, we returned and there were close to 200 people at the wall.

wallenstein gardens 2

The Wallenstein Garden – built in 1623, this geometric, early Baroque garden used to be private, belonging to the adjacent palace.  Now, open to the public, the garden is a peaceful place with free-roaming peacocks, including some rare white peacocks.

white peacock pragueThe white peacocks of Wallenstein Garden

radio memorial prague

Memorial to Dr. Milada Horakova –  a Czech politician, she was convicted of fabricated charges of conspiracy and treason, then executed by the Communist Party in 1950. The memorial is in the form of a microphone like the one she stood in front of during her show trial, where she was given 30 seconds to speak in her defense. It honors her and all those who stood up against totalitarianism.

fruit market pragueA local market, founded in 1232!

And last but not least…

Charles Bridge prague

The Charles Bridge – the most famous bridge and an iconic sight of Prague, the bridge was practically empty when we ran across. Later that afternoon, it was full of caricaturists, souvenir stalls, street performers and tourists!

We loved our running tour of Prague – if you’re a runner, I highly recommend it! If you’ve done a running tour somewhere, let me know where and whether you enjoyed it!

**This post is not sponsored; we just had such a good time we wanted to spread the word!**

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 reasons why women need friendships with other women

amigas with bikesThe Three Amigas – my biking buddies!

Happy National Women’s Friendship Day! I’m so glad there is a day to celebrate the friendships of women, because these are some of the strongest, most important relationships in a woman’s life. In honor of my amazing, incredible girlfriends, here are seven reasons why women need friendships with other women…

Emotional Support – Women are wired for emotional relationships, and we communicate differently than men. Men want to fix things; they see a problem and immediately start thinking of solutions.  Women think with logic AND emotion – sometimes, I just want someone to understand how angry/sad/confused/frustrated I am feeling. If I say “Can you believe this just happened?!”, I’ll immediately get an understanding and sympathetic “AARGH!” right back. And sometimes that’s all I need.

Honest feedback  True friends act as a sounding board and help us figure out how to deal with troubling situations. If I’m tangled up with emotion, my girlfriends can help me clarify WHY I’m feeling the way I am, whether my actions in response to those emotions are reasonable, and which actions might make more sense. And when needed, they’ll just give me the brutal, honest truth, whether it’s “That was a crap thing to do” or “You’re being unrealistic in your expectations”!

women's marchShared experiences led these dear friends and I to the Women’s March in Washington, DC, Jan 2017

Shared life experiences  There are some things that men and women just experience differently, and sometimes we need to tell our story to someone who can understand every step of the way.  Feminine health issues, childbirth, working in a male-dominated field, sexual harassment/assault, or figuring out how to deal with the children and men in our life are just a few examples. To quote one of my dearest friends, “We love each other’s children as if they are our own, and gladly cheer when they triumph and support them and each other when they stumble”. Men can certainly support us and talk about these things with us, but our shared experiences with other women bind us together in a unique way.

Stress relief – Women are nurturers – it’s what we do. We make meals for friends with new babies, have coffee dates where we vent about our current worries, and organize each other’s linen closets (making sure they’re stocked with toilet paper) without being asked. When life is exceptionally crazy, my women friends help take the load off, whether by helping me decorate for a holiday party, pulling me out for a coffee break, talking through my list to help me prioritize, or reminding me to make time for exercise, nutrition and sleep. 

Rellies!Some of my favorite shopping buddies – my family!!!

Common interests – While men and women might share any number of interests, I don’t have many men in my life who honestly love spending a day shopping, chatting and enjoying coffee. I, however, love spending time this way! I like romantic comedies and dramas; my husband and children (both my sons and my daughter) prefer action adventures and westerns. I like to read different kinds of books and do different kinds of workouts than my husband does. I could travel 200 days a year and be quite happy; my husband doesn’t love it the way I do. My husband will do these things with me, of course, because he loves me; and I do the same for him. But doing the things I love with other women who are having JUST AS MUCH FUN adds an extra layer of richness to my life. 

IMG_5070My daughter will forever be my partner in fun!!

Fun, laughter and mental health – To quote a wise friend of mine; “Spending time with girlfriends, laughing and having fun, can be like a retreat and reinvigorate you and make you a better parent/wife/partner, etc”. Women need social connections and to feel part of a larger community; taking the time to be silly, have adventures and laugh with our tribe is a vitally important piece of life. When we do this, we are re-energized and can jump back into our daily life with enthusiasm and patience. 

amy and I keukenhoffThis woman has shared my life since the day I broke down crying from stress in grad school – so many memories we’ve created over the last 30 years!

Self esteem and empowerment – we women are hard on ourselves! We deal with self-doubt and insecurities on a daily basis. My friends help me see my strengths instead of my weaknesses. They will be the first to cheer when I do something amazing, without feeling jealous or competitive. I have learned to be more accepting and compassionate toward myself when I make a mistake, and to appreciate all the powerful things my body can do (bike 240 miles through Austria? Done!) rather than criticizing the things I can’t do (pull ups? no way – and that’s okay!). My women friends know exactly how to build me up when I need a boost, and how to encourage me to reach for a goal that I may think is unattainable. And let me tell you this; if you’re hanging around with women who like to tear each other down, you need to ditch those women and make some new friends – you deserve better!

**Thanks to all the women in my tribe, wherever you are! I treasure your friendship – you have added immeasurable joy to my life!**