20 Years of Travel #20: Washington, DC

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Over the summer I began a series called my 20 Years of Travel. As 2018 comes to an end, I am concluding the series with my home away from home – Washington, DC. This place means so much to my husband and I. Washington, DC (and its surrounding areas) is where my husband earned his PhD; where I got my first professional job; where we made lifelong friends; and where we met and fell in love. Since this place means so much to me, it is hard to sum up all the wonderful things to do and see in one blog post, but I’m going to do my best.

SIGHTS/MUSEUMS/MONUMENTS:

  • Capitol Building (pictured above)
  • Library of Congress
  • National Mall
  • White House
  • Smithsonian Museumsmy favorites include The Air and Space Museum and the American History Museum
  • Some Other Museums not included in the Smithsonian –
    • National Art Gallery
    • Archives
    • Holocaust Museum
    • Spy Museum
    • Newseum (my personal favorite)
  • Monuments (not listing all of them – just ones near National Mall & a couple in Virginia)- highly recommend doing a nighttime tour
    • Washington Monument
    • Jefferson Memorial
    • Vietnam Memorial
    • Korean Memorial
    • WWII Memorial
    • Lincoln Memorial (pictured below)
    • Roosevelt Memorial (my personal favorite)
    • Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (pictured below)
    • Arlington Cemetery
    • Iwo Jima Memorial (I like this area because it is elevated with great views of the National Mall area.)

OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES: (see additional items under “DAY TRIPS” below)

  • Parks
    • Rock Creek Park
    • National Arboretum
    • Great Falls Park
  • Potomac River
    • Ferry boats
    • Sailing
    • Kayaking
    • Paddleboarding

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DC SPORTS TEAMS:

  • Baseball: Washington Nationals – Nationals Park
  • Basketball: Washington Wizards (men) & Washington Mystics (women) – Verizon Center
  • Football: Washington Redskins – FedEX Field
  • Hockey: Washington Capitals – Verizon Center
  • Soccer: DC United (men) – Audi Field & Washington Spirit (women) – Maryland SoccerPlex

FAMOUS HOTELS:

  • The Willard InterContinental Hotel – famously known as being the location where Abraham Lincoln, prior to his inauguration, hid due to assassination threats, and where Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his “I Had a Dream” speech. For booklovers like me, many famous authors have stayed here like Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, and many others.
  • Mayflower Hotel – known for hosting many political events throughout history and also known for some infamous sex scandals.

THEATERS:

  • Ford Theater – Well-known as the theater President Lincoln was attending when he was assassinated.
  • Performance Theaters
    • Kennedy Center
    • Warner Theater
    • National Theater
  • Music Venues
    • Jammin Java (Virginia)
    • Black Cat (DC)
    • Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse (Virginia)
    • 930 Club (DC)
    • Wolf Trap (Virginia)

BOOKSTORES: 

  • KramerbooksSecond Story books
  • Politics & Prose – opened a new location on the Wharf that is wonderful
  • Busboys & Poets
  • Capitol Hill Books (my favorite – love getting lost in this bookstore)
  • Second Story Books

Food: (these are just a few of my favorite and notable places)

  • Ben’s Chili Bowl268472_10150246351517986_7747990_n
  • Old Ebbit Grill
  • Dukem Restaurant (Ethiopian)
  • Elephant & Castle (British) – I feel I have to include this one because I waited tables at the Pennsylvania Avenue location before landing a salary job in DC.
  • The Inn at Little Washington – just received DC’s first 3-star Michelin rating. (For full article, click here.)

BREWERIES:

  • Capitol City Brewing Company (DC)
  • DC Brau Brewing (DC)
  • Heaving Seas Alehouse (Arlington, VA)
  • Old Dominion (Hyattsville, MD)

CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL:

A gift from the Japanese in 1912, 3,000 cherry blossom trees line the Potomac River near the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial. Every spring thousands, if not millions, of people come to view the cherry blossoms in bloom. While the cherry blossom trees only bloom for about 1-2 weeks, there is a month-long Cherry Blossom Festival during this time that includes parades, fireworks, music and many more events. You can find out about this festival and get a more accurate bloom timeline on the Cherry Blossom Festival homepage.

DAY TRIPS:

  • Mount Vernon (VA) – this was President Washington’s estate.
  • Monticello (VA) – this was President Jefferson’s home. I highly recommend a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway to get there from DC (pictured below)
  • Ocean City (MD) – my favorite ocean spot getaway
  • Harper’s Ferry (WV) – where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet, and where John Brown led a raid to end slavery prior to the American Civil War
  • Antietam Battlefield (MD) – very interesting Civil War battlefield for American history buffs

Some other great suggestions for day trips can be found at Pink Caddy Travelogue’s post Best Day Trips from DC.

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I hope you have enjoyed a look at my 20 favorite travel spots in the 20 Years of Travel series. If you want to see the complete list, please visit my Travel page. Hopefully the next 20 years will be just as exciting, as I explore more of the world!

HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

 

 

 

 

20 Years of Travel #16: Iceland

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The  series continues by featuring Iceland. In 2011, we took a family vacation to Iceland. Since then, Iceland has become a favorite and popular travel destination as it should be. Here are my favorite highlights from our trip all around the island.

Reykjavík

Start and/or end your time in Iceland exploring its capital city.

——Music Scene——

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When you think about Iceland, do you think about music? If you don’t, you should. It is not just the home of Björk. Check out 12 Tónar, which is not just a music shop but also a recording studio.

——Puffins——

257484_10150214019212986_68884_oWho doesn’t want to see these adorable animals?! You can take the Puffin Express to get a good view of these interesting looking creatures!

Blue Lagoon

For a little relaxation, soaking in these hot springs is well worth the money in my opinion.

Thingvellir National Park

Here you will not be standing on a tectonic plate but will be walking on the Almannagjá fault line between the North American and Eurasian Plate.

Waterfalls

There is no shortage of amazing waterfalls in Iceland. Here are just some that we got to see.

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Viking Houses

In the rural areas, you can see remnants of a strong Viking past.

Horseback Riding

You will definitely want to ride the unique Icelandic horses. Not only are they beautiful creatures, but they have an interesting quick-step trot.

Geysirs & Hot Springs

You will find these in Thingvellir National Park, Blue Lagoon, and other places.

Glaciers, Volcanoes & Icebergs

In 2010, Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted causing many problems not just in Iceland but around Europe. Due to a large ash cloud, air travel was restricted on the European continent and around 100,000 flights were canceled. Bárðarbunga erupted in 2014. We heard a bit about Hekla, while we were in Iceland as some natives believe that we should expect a potentially bad eruption from Hekla soon. From research I have done, Hekla usually has a large eruption in the 40s both in the 1840s and 1940s. We shall see if that trend continues. Meanwhile, that particular volcano once spread lava over a vast part of Iceland, which has now turned into fields of moss (pictured below). These volcanoes are covered with massive glaciers. The melting of these glaciers have created lakes with chunks of ice (like icebergs) in them.

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ATV Tour

At the last minute, we got to do a ATV tour in through the mossy lava fields.

Coastal geology

You can tell by looking at the cliffs on the coasts of Iceland that Iceland used to be part of the mainland not an island. Part of the coast even looks like the Giants Causeway in Ireland (see picture below).

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Our trip to Iceland was amazing. It is such a beautiful and peaceful place. There is a reason it has become a hot travel destination in the last few years.

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HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

20 Years of Travel #6: Lucca, Italy

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with an obvious location, as it was our home for 3 years: Lucca, Italy (in the Tuscany region). This is actually a difficult post to write, because how can I put down into words how much Lucca has meant to us.

I’m going to start with the obvious….
Food/Wine

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My husband and I loved starting every day by going to our local cafes for our cappuccini

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and pastries…normally a cornetto or sfloglia. We would frequent Piccola Soave during the week and Da Sara on the weekends. It is worth mentioning that food shopping can be a bit different there. If you want the best vegetables, you go to the vegetable stands; for the best meat, you go to your local butcher (pictured on the right – preparing our turkey for our Thanksgiving celebration); and for the best “unsalted” bread, you go to your local bakery. The food there is so flavorful and fresh.

You can’t visit or especially live in Tuscany without having some wine! It is really hard to

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find bad wine there. Plus, for €3 you can get a great local wine that would cost 5x that in the USA. The nearby hill-town of Montecarlo has its own wine festival and is home to the well-known Fattoria di Fubbiano winery. However, the hills around Lucca provide some of the best wineries. We enjoyed our trip to Fattoria Sardi, but our ultimate favorite place for wine is the Fabbrica di San Martino. We’ve been there many times and never leave without cases of wine. Even my friend, who is not a wine drinker, found a wine she loves there.13055839_10153604589492986_7423048710852422585_o (1)

Favorite eatery options:

  • Risto-Bar il Caffe on Corso Garibaldi – was a favorite spot for lunch. I BIG hello to the owners: Roberto and Sabrina. I miss your food and company so much!!!
  • Trattoria da Ubaldo – it is possible that you may find a local comic book series that features the owner of this restaurant. He is an interesting character and a favorite with the locals.
  • Ammodonostro – provides a great sharing meal that includes bistecca alla fiorentina.
  • Osteria Miranda – located in Piazza Santa Maria is one of the few restaurants around that serves our favorite San Martino wine.
  • Trattoria da Leo – a favorite restaurant of the locals. Make sure to have the table wine and the after dinner refreshment of limoncello and grappa that is offered to you before you leave.
  • L’isola Che Non C’era – a great place to take a lunch break while your shopping on Via Fillungo.
  • Le Bonta – everyone in Lucca has their favorite gelateria (gelato stand) and this is ours. It is located right outside the Lucchesi walls.

Our second favorite thing about Lucca are the festivals, holidays and celebrations…

Festivals

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During the summer and fall, it feels like Lucca has a festival or celebration almost every day. Drums and flag throwing are included in many holiday festivities. These are some of our favorite celebrations:

  • Luminaria di Santa Croce – a candlelit procession takes place from the Church San Frediano to the Cathedral of San Martino (Duomo – pictured above). This processional represents the miracle of the Volto Santo (holy face crucifix) relocating 17011_10153061958712986_8573529136269828547_nfrom San Frediano to the Duomo.
  • Lucca Summer Festival – a large summer music festival that has brought many bands and musicians. During my time in Lucca, I got to see Stevie Wonder, Elton John, the Eagles, Backstreet Boys, the Script, Gary Clark, John Legend and Lenny Kravitz (pictured on the right).
  • Effetto Cinema Notte – a celebration of cinema with musical performances all around the town from movies like Grease, Labyrinth, Chicago etc.
  • Verdemura Lucca – a portion of the Lucchesi wall is set up to sell plants and flowers and other organic products. It always made me wish I had more of a green thumb.
  • Lucca Film Festival – where directors are honored for their work and cinematic features. David Lynch and George Romero were previous honorees.
  • Il Desco – a market to sell local foods and wines.

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Favorite Highlights of Lucca

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So many wonderful things to see and do in Lucca. If you like churches, there are more than a hundred of those in this tiny walled-city. Here are some of our favorite things to see and do in Lucca:

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  • The Lucchesi Walls – Lucca is a walled-city. These walls are more than 500 years old.13407250_10153717328072986_8324403784892229909_n The top of the walls have been converted into a park for pedestrians, runners and bikers to wander around the city. My husband and I use to walk the walls almost every night. My friends and I would also take a walk around the wall after enjoying a hearty lunch.
  • Cattedrale di San Martino (Duomo) – the main catthedral of Lucca. This is also where you can view the Volto Santo (mentioned above).10516688_10152228726137986_4388737566867241416_n
  • Home of Giacomo Puccini – Lucca is the birthplace of the famous opera composer, Giacomo Puccini. Puccini created operas such as Madame Butterfly and La Boheme. I highly recommend seeing one of the daily Puccini performances. The singers are just amazing!
  • Museo di Arte Contemporanea Lu.C.C.A. – This is the Lucca Center of Contemporary Art. I got to see a display of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work, who was a famous French photographer. The museum did a good job displaying such a large collection.
  • Villas & Palaces – Within the city center, you can visit Palazzo Pfanner and Palazzo13466250_10153717336682986_5258876858347279934_n Orsetti. Outside of the city center, you can visit popular villas, such as Villa Mansi and Villa Torrigiani.
  • Torre Guinigi (pictured on the right) – This is a tower in the center of Lucca that has a botanical garden on the top. It is a bit of a climb but worth it.
  • Lucca Italian School – When I first moved to Lucca, I decided to take a two-week Italian course at the Lucca Italian School. While I was nervous at how intense the classes were, because I didn’t know any Italian at all, I was blessed with a great class filled with wonderful people that I still communicate with on occasion. This course includes classroom work in the morning and then an afternoon excursion (field trip to nearby location) or event (cooking class, movies, etc.). It was a great experience, 1932335_10151990359127986_922716397_nand one I would recommend even if you are just coming to visit for a few weeks. This is the best way to immerse yourself in the town and Italian culture.
  • The Anfiteatro (pictured on the right)- a piazza completely surrounded by apartments and restaurants.
  • Shopping on Via Fillungo – there are many popular and also boutique shops on Fillungo. However, my favorite place to shop is a leather store called Officina della Pella, located right off of Piazzo San Francesco.
  • Chiesa San Michele (see picture below) – This ornate church is located on what used to be the town square. It is nice to just sit in one of the nearby cafes that overlook this church, but on a side note: you will pay for the view.

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If you are looking to explore Tuscany a bit, I highly recommend using Lucca as your main hub, as much of Tuscany is accessible via train from Lucca. It is hard to really describe how much our time in Lucca meant to us, and I hope this post does it justice.

For more information about things to do and places to see around Lucca (mostly day excursions we took), see the following posts:

20 Years of Travel #4: Cuba

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My fourth destination on my 20 Years of Travel series is Cuba! As many of you know, as an American, this destination was not open to US visitors during my lifetime until recently. In 2015, Americans were allowed with some restrictions to travel to Cuba, so my husband, his parents and I jumped at the opportunity to visit. At that time you still had to provide an reason for being there, so we were on a People to People Excursion, which was also a photography tour.

I’ve never been on a photography tour like this before. It wasn’t just walk the streets and 10629491_10153326903992986_2203594805029205430_otake pictures. It was get up before the sun to learn how to take sunrise shots. There were no naps on the bus rides, because that was when you learned about your camera’s features and editing features by professional photographers: Brenda Tharp and Jed Manwaring. Then you get to have your photos critiqued (nicely…of course) by the other members in the group. It was a very intensive course, but I learned so much. I hope I am still using at least 10% of what I learned about photography during that week..

Trinidad

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I loved this town. It was comprised of vibrant colors and interesting people. We spent a lot of time wandering the streets here, getting a real taste of the Cuban culture. We found a few musicians, who were very talented. That convinced me that I should check out one12370645_10153326900147986_5447113127593441798_o of the Cuban salsa clubs in the evening, which was interesting and definitely not something I had experienced before. While taking a break on one of our daily walks, we found a man who was telling us about his daily routine of walking many miles down a hill outside of town to come and sell a few bananas for not even the equivalent of $2 US dollars. Then he would walk back up the hill every evening. His shoes were worn almost completely through, and it was a bit heartbreaking. Shoes that cost us $50 US dollars would cost Cubans 5 times that, since at the time they were imported from China. I really felt that I was gaining a huge understanding of basic Cuban life during our time in Trinidad.

Cienfuegos

If you have read Hemingway, Cienfuegos might sound familiar. It was featured in The Old Man and the Sea, which I read for the first time while I was in Cienfuegos. I thought it1933246_10153326904842986_8162388911926568875_o was quite appropriate. This town is located on a bay, so you will see a lot of boats – both yachts and fishing boats. While we did have some luxury time to indulge in some of Cuba’s famous liquor (see photo below), we spent a portion of our time at an art school. These young people were so talented. They just blew me away on how they could take any item and turn it into an amazing piece of art (see picture on the right where they were using just clothespins). They were so happy to tell us about their school and what art means to them.

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Viñales

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This part of Cuba was the biggest shock to me. The lush greenery reminded me of something I would see on a South Pacific Island. I wasn’t expecting this. As we headed 12366043_10153326907947986_173294949960655377_ointo the hills, we saw a lot of farm land and stopped at one such farm. This farm grows crops, raises animals like chickens, and produces coffee (see picture below). The owners of this farm were really welcoming. It was interesting to experience farming without the giant machinery, though it has to be such hard labor (see picture on the left). The land in this part of Cuba seems to get enough rain that an advanced irrigation system is not necessary at least. I felt a little bad for invading on this family during their work day, but they were so friendly and even brewed some coffee for us.

After getting a true taste of rural Cuba, we headed into the hills. If you enjoy biking there are some great biking trails in this area. The scenery is just amazing. While our hotel (Hotel Los Jazmines) did not produce the most comfortable night’s sleep, the views were just stunning (see below). I almost didn’t regret getting up before the sun to capture these amazing photographs.

Havana

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We ended our trip with a few days in Havana. It has been a dream of mine to see Havana12377523_10153326893612986_8703232530813394301_o since I was a little kid (thank you Guys and Dolls), so I was really looking forward to this. Havana is not just a great place to learn about Cuba’s history (though we did visit the Revolution Museum, which was great) and view it’s amazing architecture (see picture on the right), but the arts are prevalent in Cuban culture as mentioned in my Trinidad section. We started our exploration into their arts scene by visiting the studio of Compas Dance. They performed for us as well and just blew me away.

We also went to visit a Cuban ballet company, where they were rehearsing for a performance of Giselle.

I enjoyed this trip so much! It wasn’t about being a tourist. It was about exploring a culture that had been so unfamiliar to me. Cubans are such hard workers with so much passion. The people there opened up their homes and their hearts to us, and I just couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to finally have explored Cuba.

Stay tuned for the next feature in the 20 Years of Travel series. Until then….

HAPPY TRAVELING!!!

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20 Years of Travel #2: Austin, Texas in 12 Hours

29790786_10155580257592986_4937089739783844434_nI am continuing with my 20 Years of Travel series with one of my most recent travel adventures.

Do I recommend spending only 12 hours in Austin, Texas? NOOOOOO! However, when you just started a new job and only have a weekend for a mini-vacation, you take whatever time you have to enjoy yourself. Since moving to Texas a year and a half ago, Austin has been on my list of places I could not wait to see, and yet it has taken me this long to get there. Thanks to my bestie’s visit, I got to finally go.

We hit the road on Friday morning. As we headed outside of Houston, I had to stop and show my friend (who has never really been to Texas) what a Buckees is. If you have never been to a Buckees either, it is a gas station as well as a great place to buy Texas souvenirs, fudge, brisket and basically anything you might need. It is a must do when you are hitting the long empty roads of Texas.

A couple hours later, we came to the town of Lockhart, Texas, which was our stopping point for lunch. If you are a fan of barbecue, you will find the best Texas 29684155_10155580256852986_6996878003957027781_nbarbecue in Lockhart (at least that is what I’ve been told and have not personally had any BBQ in Texas that has contradicted this statement). Lockhart is the home of Black’s BBQ, a cafeteria style restaurant with the best brisket I’ve ever had (see picture on the right). If the line to Black’s is too long, I was told by a gentleman at another table to also try Smitty’s Market just down the main street (on my bucket list for the next time I road trip to Austin). We were so stuffed on barbecue that when we got to Austin, we decided to just relax by the pool. Most of the country was still under feet of snow, so I felt that if we could get some sun by the hotel pool, why not?! On a side note, anyone that knows what real Culver’s frozen custard tastes like, do NOT go to the Culver’s on William Cannon Drive. You will be sad and disappointed. I don’t know what that was, but it was not frozen custard.

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The next morning, we got a Lyft into Austin and spent the entire day (at least 12 hours) in the city. This is what we managed to do in our one day in Austin:

  1. Breakfast @ Voodoo Donuts. (I was so excited to find out that I don’t have to go all the way to Portland anymore to enjoy these delicious donuts–not that I would mind going back to Portland).
  2. Local Farmer’s Market.
  3. Short walk to the State Capitol (see picture above), where we took a free tour inside the Capitol. I’m going to be honest. We went through two or three tour guides before finding one that could speak audibly enough to a large group so we could all hear. However, that guide was fantastic. I learned a lot more about Texas history and what makes this capital building unique.
  4. Lunch @ Scholz Garten – which claims to be the oldest German restaurant in America. I have not been able to confirm that information, but the restaurant has been open since 1866. I could drink beer and eat spätzle all day every day. Plus, there was some live music in the biergarten.
  5. Book People – A trip with me has to include a bookstore. I had been dying to visit this independent bookstore for a while. It was even more amazing than I imagined. It is large with two floors of books and gifts, a coffee shop, and plenty of space for events, which they have all the time (including book signings, readings, etc.).
  6. 29790108_10155580257852986_3592580044067433490_nA walk along Town Lake — it was a beautiful day with lots of people soaking up some sun and listening to the Urban Music Festival that was being held at the Auditorium.
  7. A stop @ Stevie Ray Vaughn’s statue (see picture on right).
  8. Riverboat cruise (see picture below) – A must see in Austin is surprisingly….bats. Lots and lots of bats. Around dusk thousands (@ certain times of the year…millions) of bats that are hanging out underneath Congress Avenue Bridge, take flight together in search of food. You can view this scene from a riverboat like we did or by standing on the Congress Avenue Bridge. While I am not a fan of bats (I do not think they are cute!), I dislike mosquitoes even more, so eat up bats!
  9. Perfect end of the day dinner @ Home Slice Pizza with dessert @ Amy’s Ice Creams.

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Did we see everything? NO! However, we did see a lot and walked more than 35,000 steps. Austin City Limits and brewery tours will be the focus of my next trip to Austin.

No road trip in spring is complete without stopping on the side of a interstate to smell the flowers (see picture below).

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