New York City 2017: Day 1

First things first… it’s COLD in New York City this weekend! After weeks and weeks of abnormally warm temperatures in the northeast this fall, the weathermen have been warning of the oncoming arctic blast for days. And of course, today was the day I planned all of my outdoor activities. But the cold didn’t prevent me from enjoying the sites.

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Manhattan at Dusk

Let’s back up for a minute. Last night was not a great night for sleeping. Between the cacophony of horns and sirens sounding 17 floors below me and a strange bed, I took a series of naps rather than one long sleep. And while we’re in rewind mode, it’s probably a good time to talk about one other “issue”… I find myself in a bit of a dilemma when it comes to the first (and my favorite) meal of the day here in Manhattan. You see, Manhattanites seem to enjoy putting breakfast off til mid-morning. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I am up with the birds (it’s a rare day that I can “sleep in” past 5:00AM). And unfortunately, the “good” breakfast places here don’t open until 8:00 AM during the week and 9:00 AM on the weekends. Who eats breakfast that late in the day?? If you’re worried that I had to forgo breakfast altogether, you can relax. I had a delicious pain perdu at Maison Kayser just a few blocks from my hotel.

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Statue of Liberty

After breakfast, it was off to visit two iconic New York tourist attractions – the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Did I mention how cold it is today? Perfect weather for a boat trip (or not!). I switched my 9AM ticket to 10AM so I could climb up as far as the pedestal in the Statue (tickets for the crown are sold out months in advance). It was freezing and the wind was whipping, but what an experience! The view over the Manhattan skyline was incredible! A short boat ride from Liberty Island is Ellis Island. I really wish there were about half as many people at Ellis Island as there were. It’s pretty hard to read everything with hoards of people blocking the view. Still, it was a memorable experience learning about the millions who first set foot in America on that island.

After the boat ride back, I walked a few blocks to the 9/11 Memorial. I read a lot about the museum before coming here and decided it sounded too intense/emotional for what is supposed to be a fun weekend away. The memorial was impressive, but I thought seeing FDNY Ten House (the closest station to the twin towers and the one which suffered the most loss – both in lives lost and the firehouse itself – on 9/11) was much more moving.

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Brooklyn Bridge

My last tourist activity of the day was a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I was well aware of the potential crowds on the bridge, but I was still able to snap a few good pictures. Once I got to Brooklyn, I meandered through some side streets to Brooklyn Bridge Park for photos of the Manhattan skyline before heading to Grimaldi’s for some authentic NY style pizza. Truthfully, I’d be hard pressed to pick it, or any other NY style pizza I guess, out of a lineup of pizzas. But it definitely hit the spot! I snapped a few more photos of Manhattan at dusk before heading back to midtown. A quick stroll through Times Square, and a stop at Magnolia Bakery for a sinfully delicious red velvet cupcake, and I was back at my hotel before 7 o’clock. Time to rest up for tomorrow’s cultural adventures!

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Grimaldi’s Pizza



New York City 2017: Day 0

If you know me at all, it’s safe to say you’re probably wondering what exactly the person who hates cities is doing spending a weekend in the busiest of them all: New York City. Well, let me enlighten you. I’ve officially dubbed this my “Year of Travel”, and intend to go somewhere every month from now until August. But why New York? Growing up in Connecticut, I’ve visited NYC several times on day trips. My stepmother and I used to come here every December for a day of checking out the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and seeing the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. I’ve seen Central Park and Times Square. But I’ve never actually done the full tourist thing in the Big Apple. I’ve contemplated a day trip the last couple of summers, but for some reason never actually made it happen. So now I’m making it happen.

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My ride to the Big Apple

I debated the merits of every possible mode of transportation to New York City, and finally settled on flying, thanks in large part to a healthy supply of JetBlue points in my account. Sure, I had to go through security (thanks to TSA Pre-check that has now become a breeze) and get to the airport early, but a 45 minute flight trumps a 4 hour train ride any day. And since I’m all about doing the tourist thing this weekend, I also managed to navigate the NYC subway system to get from LaGuardia Airport to my hotel. It wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I expected and the subway cars and stations are surprisingly clean. Before I knew it, I was stepping out onto the busy streets of Manhattan.

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Big City Views

And that’s the story of how I’ve come to be sitting in a hotel room in midtown Manhattan on a random Thursday night in November, ready to set out on a weekend adventure in the Big Apple!


Lake District 2017: Day 7

My decision this morning was to go out and do everything I could today, since it’s my last day of vacation, or take it easy and go for a nice drive instead. Spoiler alert: I kind of did both. I didn’t do the longer drive I had planned, but did hike one of the iconic peaks in the Lake District.

I started off toward Keswick (in the northern Lake District; pronounced kess-ick) around 8:30AM. Keswick is about 16 miles north of Ambleside. I had planned to head directly to Cat Bells, but it was pretty cloudy, so I started at Castlerigg Stone Circle. The stones are thought to date from about 3000 BC and are set against the green hills and farmland just east of Keswick. Then I headed to the town centre, where it was market day. About 50 vendors were set up around the town square, with everything from produce to Cumbrian sausage to arts and crafts. I wandered for a little while then headed to Cat Bells.

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Cat Bells

Cat Bells is one of the most well known (and most climbed) of the peaks in the Lake District.  With a height of 1,480 feet, the climb is about 1 mile with several rocky scrambles to the summit. Since I didn’t arrive until around 11:00AM, I ended up parking about a half mile from the trail and adding a little extra calorie burning to my day. The trail is exposed the whole way up, and the wind was whipping across the mountains. I met a nice couple from Yorkshire on the way back down and chatted most of the way back. I decided it was time for a snack after the hike, so I drove to Buttermere and enjoyed a scone and hot chocolate at Syke Farm Tea Room. By then it was starting to drizzle, so started back toward Ambleside. On the way, I crossed Honister Pass (with it’s well-known slate mine) and stopped for pictures at Ashness Bridge and Surprise View.

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Ashness Bridge

Then it was off to the Wainwright Inn for dinner again.  I ended up sitting with a couple who were “on holiday” from the Nottingham area; she is a teacher here in England and we compared school systems and chatted over dinner. Tomorrow it is back to reality (and my own bed!). Aside from a few errands on Saturday morning, I literally plan to spend the weekend curled up on the couch catching up on my DVR shows. 🙂

Lake District 2017: Day 6

It happened. I started thinking about home today, and now I want to… yep, go home. Maybe it’s because today was another cloudy, overcast, dreary day in the Lake District. I didn’t sleep well last night (I blame it on a slight overindulgence in cider last night), but was still up before 5:00 AM. I spent the morning doing very little before having breakfast and setting off on the 9:50 AM boat from Waterhead Pier to Bowness-on-Windermere. I could just as easily driven the 5 miles, but finding parking (or more accurately, paying for parking… most lots have pay machines which only take coins and you need about £4 or £5 worth) is proving to be a bit of a challenge.

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Once I arrived in Bowness-on-Windermere, I immediately headed for the hills east of town. My first stop was Pine Knott and Brant Fell, both overlooking Lake Windermere. It wasn’t long before I was heading up through the forest and away from the bustle of Bowness-on-Windermere (in fact, Brant Fell is often referred to as Brant Fell Above the Bustle). There were some brighter patches in the sky, but for the most part the sky was overcast and stayed that way all day. Even though Brant Fell sits 629 feet above the town, you could still hear traffic noise from Bowness-on-Windermere and nearby Windermere. I sat for a while at the summit before making my way back down into town.

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Far Sawrey

Once I was back in town, I followed the lakeshore to Ferry Nab (stopping for a soft serve cone with a Cadbury flake; British ice cream is so much richer than what we get at home!) to catch the ferry across the lake to Near and Far Sawrey. The ferry is operated on underwater cables and takes about 10 minutes to make the crossing. It is also the only ferry in the Lake District that carries cars. From the ferry landing, it is about 1.5 miles to Far Sawrey, and another 0.5 miles past that to Near Sawrey. I had driven through both villages on Sunday, but this time I wanted to explore on foot. Unfortunately, it is quite an uphill walk to Far Sawrey and my legs have done way more uphill walking this week than I’ve done in months. I had been planning to stop for a scone, but I didn’t have much of an appetite and my ice cream was enough to keep me going.

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The walk between Near and Far Sawrey

In Far Sawrey, I visited St. Peter’s church, then kept following the walking paths to Near Sawrey. From there, I planned to walk to Moss Eccles Tarn and then back to the ferry. I managed to turn off the road past where I should have and followed a trail that eventually ended up there, but was the very long route. The Tarn was pretty, but I only snapped a couple of pictures and then kept going. By the time I got back to the ferry I was completely exhausted. I walked briskly and made it back to the main pier in time to catch the 4:00 PM boat back to Waterhead. It was freezing on the boat. I don’t think it got out of the 40s today anyway, so add a little wind off the water and I was chilled to the bone!

I thought about going out for dinner somewhere tonight but quickly decided I’d rather stay in. I had a chicken sandwich at the hotel bar and then moved to the comfortable couches by the fire to top it off with a sticky toffee pudding (definitely my dessert weakness on this side of the pond). I plan to tune in to some British TV and then head to bed early.

Lake District 2017: Day 5

I popped out of bed at 5:00AM as usual, and managed to put another 8 miles on my hiking shoes today. After a sunrise walk by the lake and breakfast, I started off the morning in the direction of Glenridding and Ullswater, going over the Kirkstone Pass from Ambleside via “The Struggle”. The road is twisty and narrow (and up to a 25% gradient!) as it rises up to the highest pass in the Lake District. Once over the pass, the road winds its way down to the village of Patterdale and then Glenridding.

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Ullswater Steamer

For some reason I had in my mind that Glenridding is a larger town, but it’s actually just a small village. I parked in the car park at Glenridding Pier and bought my ticket for the 9:45 Ullswater Steamer to Howtown. The boat ride was 35 minutes, covering a distance of about 8 miles. I had picked up a walking guide at the pier, so I had a route to follow from Howtown. My first order of business was to climb Hallin Fell. At only 1,273 feet, it’s not exactly a tall mountain, but is pretty much straight up a grassy/rocky path. The top of the fell afforded a 360 degree view of Ullswater and the surrounding peaks. I didn’t see another person the entire way up or down.

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Old Martindale Church

After making my way back down the fell, I headed for the Old Church in Martindale. The church dates from the 16th century and is very unassuming tucked up against the hills. I probably could have skipped the rest of the walk and just headed back to the pier, but I pressed on around the base of Hallin Fell, most of which follows along the lakeshore. I made it back to the pier just in time to catch the 12:55 boat back to Glenridding. It was warm out hiking in the sun, but a lot colder on the boat! My reward was a Welsh Rarebit at the Fellbites Cafe in Glenridding.

Once I was done with lunch, I decided to drive the three miles to Aira Force (waterfall). There is a boat that goes too, but I would have to rely on the boat schedule if I went that way. There are several loops to do at Aira Force, each including a bridge over the falls. I went all the way to the top (2 miles) and back, making figure eights across the bridges. The main attraction is Aira Force, a 70 foot waterfall on Aira Beck, which flows into Ullswater from Stybarrow Dodd.

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Kirkstone Pass Inn

I was feeling tired after a second day of walking, so I made my next stop the Kirkstone Pass Inn at the top of the pass on my way back to Waterhead. Dark wood beams, comfortable red cushioned seats, and a warm fire were the perfect spot for a treacle sponge cake and cider. When I set off again, it was back down the struggle into Ambleside. I edited pictures for a while and then grabbed my laptop and book and headed across the street to the Wateredge Inn bar to finish off the day by the fire with another cider (alas, the same kind I just had this afternoon, but I made do… 🙂 )

Lake District 2017: Day 4

Well, I didn’t run a marathon today, but it certainly felt a bit like it. Instead I hiked/walked about 12 miles over a fell, through a village, and along a coffin road. I didn’t set out to do quite so much walking, it just sort of happened. I tend to have trouble with decision making (ask anyone who knows how many things I buy and then end up returning to the store…), so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I only had a general sense that I wanted to visit Rydal and Grasmere today and do some kind of walk.

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Overlooking Grasmere Lake from Loughrigg Fell

Loughrigg Fell (pronounced “loff-rigg”) was on my list of things to do this week, so after researching the various routes to the top over breakfast, I settled on taking the trail up from Ambleside. The route is an old bridalway, so it was paved about half of the way. After that, there were numerous side trails and paths that could easily lead you in any direction. I headed toward what I thought was the top, only to discover once there that the summit was actually about another mile away. It was at the summit that I met a few other people, including a family who had come up the Grasmere side. Since I could see Grasmere and it’s lake from the top, I decided I might as well walk down that way, since I planned to visit there anyway. I’d worry about how to get back to Ambleside later.

By the time I got to Grasmere, I was pooped. The route from Ambleside over Loughrigg Fell is about 6 miles and thankfully, I found a tea room in the village to enjoy a scone and rose lemonade to recharge. I stopped in at the National Trust office to figure out how to get back to Ambleside. I knew there was a bus, but that felt like cheating, so I ended up walking the “coffin road” back through Rydal and onto Ambleside and Waterhead. The coffin road is so named because the route was once used to carry coffins from Ambleside to Grasmere for burial. The trail wasn’t overly strenuous, but there were a lot of ups and downs. My legs were protesting, but nevertheless I made it the 6 miles back to Waterhead, where I literally took off my shoes and collapsed onto the bed. Tomorrow will need to include a lot more driving and a lot less walking!

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Langdale Valley

I edited some pictures and made a brief attempt at a nap before heading out for dinner. The sun had finally come out, and it was a pretty ride out to Chapel Stile and the Wainwright Inn. I got to try a new (to me) cider and a chicken and bacon sandwich. I love British pubs. Nothing at home even comes close to the cozy rustic feel, this one complete with pillowed booths and a stone fireplace. After dinner, I continued further into the Langdale valley before turning back towards Waterhead. Since the sun was out, I headed up the road to Borrans Park and sat on a bench overlooking the water for about half an hour before calling it a day.

Lake District 2017: Day 3

Today started off damp and dreary, and pretty much stayed that way all day. I started the morning (after a lovely 10 hour sleep… I’ve slept better the last two nights than I have in the past 6 months!) with church at St. Martin’s in nearby Bowness-on-Windermere. It was an Anglican service, and very liturgical, but it was nice to enjoy the old church and the music. I even got to sample a hot cross bun after the service!

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Hawkshead Village

After church, I set off in the general direction of the Drunken Duck Inn in Barngates (my destination for lunch) and drove through the villages of Hawkshead, Near Sawrey, Far Sawrey, and Outgate before heading for lunch. In all my visits to the U.K., I had yet to indulge in a traditional Sunday Roast. I figured Easter Sunday was a good time to give it a try. The Drunken Duck is set up with a small bar area and then several small dining rooms with tables off the main bar. Families were playing board and card games, and several people were having a drink and reading books. I grabbed a small table by the window and ordered my roast beef. It was a meal with all the fixings… roast beef, potatoes, veggies, Yorkshire pudding, gravy, and Bearnaise sauce. It was heavenly. How have I never indulged in this before??

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Posing for a picture, Hawkshead

After lunch, I was ready for some walking. I went back to the village of Hawkshead and parked the car to explore. Hawkshead is a small village comprised of many tiny lanes and alleyways, a few local shops, and beautiful rolling farmland and sheep pastures. I first walked around several of the shops and then headed for the hills. At the back of the churchyard was a public footpath sign, so I decided to follow it. The path went out into a sheep pasture, where I managed to snap a few pictures of some young lambs and sheep, before curving past farmland and back down into the village. My last stop for the day was a walk near Skelwith Fold before heading back to Ambleside. A cider and dessert in the lounge by the fire capped off another relaxing day in the Lake District.