A walk around NYC in spring

My husband and I went to New York City in April while visiting my grandparents. We took the bus from New Jersey and were in the thick of the city 30 minutes later.

New York City

New York defied any pre-conceived notions I had. In my mind, New York City is the American city, but stories of crime, hardship, “the American Dream,” never-ending noise and lights, poverty and luxury, all merge together and make this an intimidating place to me. I thought the streets would be dirty and the people unfriendly but New York City was such an enjoyable place.

The weather was wonderful and it truly felt like spring. After a harsh winter, the city and its inhabitants breathed a sigh of relief and contentment as Central Park grew greener and flowers bloomed along the High Line under a clear sky.

New York City

We just walked and walked – more than 8 miles that day. When we were tired, we sat and watched the people and traffic go by. The best things to see in the city were the people and the architecture; there was so much variety and color. I saw people dancing on roller blades, kids and adults running to pop bubbles, newlyweds taking photos, hundreds of kilt-wearing Scottish-Americans parading through the streets, a hot dog salesman trudging up 9th Ave with his cart and somehow making all of the lights.

New York City is a mass of vaguely ordered chaos. The streets are numbered but they’re bustling. The crosswalk signs flash red but people dash across the street anyway. Travelers corral into the correct lines at the Port Authority terminal, ready to break free and berate the tardy bus driver. It was easy to fade into the background and just watch the tide of humanity rush by.

New York City

Places:

The High Line: A fine place for a walk where you’ll see some unique people and buildings. We got off at Gansevoort Street and strolled around the cobblestone streets for a bit.

Times Square: We were tourists, so we had to. The highlight was the huge Toys ‘R’ Us store, which features an indoor Ferris wheel, an animatronic T-Rex, and several LEGO displays of famous landmarks. I didn’t realize this while we were there, but the store is actually closing and Gap will be moving into the space. Not as much fun.

Smithfield Hall: It’s hard to pick a restaurant when New York City has so many options and you’re bad at making decisions anyway. I pulled up Yelp for some help and we ate at this restaurant/bar for lunch. The burgers were good, a pint was a reasonable price, and soccer was on TV. Good choice!

Central Park: Another place we had to visit, especially since it was such a beautiful day! Find a spot to sit and watch the world go by.

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Natural beauty on Alcatraz

The weather on my  trip to Alcatraz in August was beautiful – warm, sunny and bright – somewhat of an anomaly when you think about typical San Francisco weather. It really made the flowers and scenery of this craggy island stand out against the dark interior of the former prison located there. I bet the view on a clear, sunny day made imprisonment even more unbearable.

Alcatraz, San Francisco

Alcatraz, San Francisco

Alcatraz, San Francisco

Alcatraz, San Francisco

Alcatraz, San Francisco

…and inside:

Alcatraz, San Francisco

I hope you enjoyed these pictures! And just for kicks, here are a few more nature shots from my San Francisco trip.

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

 

 

An urban mountain retreat in Asheville

I can’t believe it took me so long to visit Asheville, North Carolina. I’ve been around other parts of the state’s mountains – Boone, Grandfather Mountain, the Blue Ridge Parkway, secluded forest cabins, comfy bed and breakfasts – but for some reason I only just got to Asheville.

Asheville

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains next to the French Broad River, Asheville was easy to get to from Raleigh but felt a world away. It was no problem walking or driving around downtown, which is pretty small. My husband and I stayed in a wonderful bed and breakfast on the outskirts and walked into town, which is full of great restaurants, art galleries, shops and breweries.

AshevilleOne of the main attractions near Asheville is the Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned house in the United States (it’s more like a palace). Tickets are expensive but worth it – we spent the whole day touring the house, wandering the gardens, and eating at the restaurant housed in the former stables. The Christmas decorations and massive Christmas tree had just been put up, so the house was even more impressive than usual. One of my favorite rooms was the indoor pool, a truly lavish addition to a house built more than 100 years ago.

Biltmore Estate, AshevilleI’m a little late getting this post up. We went to Asheville in November, and since then I’ve had a job change, been sick more than I’ve been healthy and dealt with the holiday hassle. Better late than never, I suppose.

Asheville was fun and a perfect weekend getaway for us. We had a relaxing few days of eating, drinking and exploring the city while taking in the beautiful scenery. I’ll be back!

Links:

On being reluctant to travel in my own country

I’m from the United States, and I’ve lived here my whole life. Even though the country is huge, you’d think that in the past 23 years I would’ve seen a fair amount of it. Not true.

The view from Blowing Rock in the mountains of North Carolina.

The view from Blowing Rock in the mountains of North Carolina.

I’ve thought about this off and on since my first dip into international travel six years ago. It’s puzzling, for sure. Why have I been to five other countries’ capitals but not my own? It’s certainly easier and cheaper in many ways to travel within the US as an American, but when I think about “traveling,” my mind automatically jumps to foreign destinations. I’m sure I’m not the only one who does that.


I think two basic mentalities contribute to my thinking:

“More of the Same”

I’ll admit, I find it much more thrilling to visit a new country than another state. There are different languages, currencies, modes of transportation to experience. Usually there’s a long flight, which to me conveys, “Hey, we’re actually going somewhere!”

Traveling domestically is the opposite of that. The people speak the same language, there’s no currency exchange, and you’ll see the same chain restaurants and stores (mostly). It can seem like a new location is way too similar to wherever you started out from, and that’s just not as exciting.

I travel internationally to experience new things and get out of my comfort zone, and sometimes a trip across the state border seems like it can’t deliver that.

A unique take on the Mona Lisa at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

A unique take on the Mona Lisa at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

“Family Vacation Blues”

Growing up, most of our trips were family vacations, either going to visit relatives or the four of us heading out on our own. We also traveled a lot for sporting events, like me and my brothers’ swim meets. The sports left me too tired or busy to do any exploring, usually, and I don’t really count those as trips.

Family vacations to visit relatives in New Jersey or Florida were spent hanging around the house, preparing meals for the group or maybe going to the mall. Occasionally we went to amusement parks, the zoo or the beach, but I don’t remember exploring the cities or visiting many tourist attractions that had any “cultural” value.

Sightseeing was not the main focus of these family vacations, which is fine – I feel very fortunate to see my extended family fairly often – but I think that contributed to this notion I have that domestic travel is somehow sub-par to international travel.


I’ve been trying to dispel that notion. Now that I’m older, with a car and a (meager) income, I can head out on my own for some fun. My husband and I are fans of weekend getaways – we love Living Social for that. Our recent trip to San Francisco was the first trip in a while my family took to a new destination just for fun – no extended family to visit.

Inside the Currituck Beach Lighthouse.

Inside the Currituck Beach Lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

I’m making a personal resolution (starting now – who needs New Year’s?) to begin thinking like a traveler even when I’m at home in my own city and country. It’s certainly easier to travel at home. No passport, no customs, no language barrier, and usually airfare is much cheaper. Maybe I’ll visit the state Capitol Building, which I haven’t been to since a field trip in the second grade, or I’ll plan a getaway and explore a side of my own country I’ve never seen before.

I’ll be putting this vow into play with an upcoming belated birthday trip to Asheville, a city in my own state I’ve never been to, which is renowned for its natural beauty, fun-loving atmosphere and artistic scene. And beer.