Category Archives: Travels to USA

New York City: The Year that Wasn’t

We had big plans. Rent a NYC apartment in the Upper West Side and enjoy all that NYC has to offer – Broadway, museums, incredible dining and entertainment, Central Park, Macy’s Day Parade, Christmas and New Years in the Big Apple. Learn what’s it’s like to live in a really big city that’s always buzzing.

It started off well. We committed to a year lease in an apartment in the Upper West Side at the corner of Central Park and mid-town. It was Fall, the leaves were turning bright orange.

We saw Bruce Springsteen and several others on Broadway. We visited all the major museums and enjoyed the Macy’s Day Parade by stepping just outside our apartment.

As Peloton enthusiasts, we even worked out at the Peloton studio with one of our favorite instructors (Ally Love).

Christmas came quickly and we were beginning to feel like a local — finding our favorite restaurants and finding nooks and crannies of Central Park that tourists probably won’t see.

We brought in the New Year and watched the fireworks over Central Park.

A New Day

The end of year came and we headed back to warmer weather in Florida. We excitingly started making plans for Spring and Summer 2020 in NYC. We bought tickets to lots of Broadway shows – Westside Story, The Music Man, and more. We bought tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld and to a Kenny Chesney concert towards the end of summer.

It was March 2020 and we traveled back to NYC to see Jerry Seinfeld. Just days before our travel, we heard about this new virus called Corona Virus and the possibility of it spreading to America. Broadway was still open and Jerry Seinfeld had not be been cancelled — surely things are OK, we’ll keep our plans.

A day after we arrived, things were starting to get real. Seinfeld was cancelled and so was all the Broadway shows. We quickly hopped on a plane back to Florida to wait it out. It took a while until we could return. Governor Cuomo did an amazing job of keeping things locked down until the viral surge was under control.

We returned mid July but NYC was not the same. The streets were empty, you rarely saw a taxi, no horns were blaring and the city was no longer buzzing. Restaurants were outside dining only or take out. Even Time Square was eerily empty.

We decided to make the best of it. We ate in and took long walks in Central Park. We saw pretty much every square inch of the park and it is beautiful.

Closing out our New York City Adventure

During all this craziness, we learned that our son Cameron and Kara were pregnant so we would become first time grandparents. They live in Maine and we want to be close to them so we decided to give up our NYC apartment and get a place in Kennebunk Maine (more on that later).

In September, we returned to NYC for one last visit before leaving for Maine. We spent about a month in NYC and it had changed since July. More people were out and about but people were socially distancing and wearing masks. Broadway was still closed but restaurants were beginning to allow a smaller crowd to enter (still mostly outside seating). But the streets were starting to buzz again, taxis were back and the familiar horn blowing and city noise was returning. We ventured out to take in some sights that we missed earlier in the year.

Summing it Up

Although the universe had a different plan for us than envisioned for our year in New York City, we still thoroughly enjoyed it. New York City is such a great city and we are happy we had this experience. I will leave you with a couple of final images.

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Discovering the Northeast USA during the Pandemic

It was early March and we were narrowing down our international travel plans for 2020. China and Tibet seem interesting. We were visualizing the Great Wall and visits to Tibet monasteries. Then the pandemic hit. China and Tibet will have to wait.

Fast forward 4 months and we are living in a new normal. Never thought we would wear masks, avoid hugging friends, stop eating in restaurants, or generally avoid others.

After things calmed down (before the flare up in July), we decided to travel domestically to see more of the Northeast. We started in Maine where our oldest son lives. We traveled responsibly — vigilant in wearing our masks, keeping our distance from others and ordering take out. Here’s what we saw…

Maine

Maine is a beautiful state with awesome foliage, mountains, lakes, streams and access to the Atlantic Ocean. Beautiful light houses protect its rocky shores.

Our son and daughter-in-law have an amazing farm on 11 acres, complete with a barn, horse, goat, barn cat, and lots of flowering plants.

We had plenty of time to work on projects together. One of our fun projects was building a table together — very rewarding.

I also got a chance to work on my handicap with some nice golf courses around this area. They allow you to ride a single cart, golfers don’t shake or high five and we kept our distance. The new normal I guess.

Upstate New York

We’ve spent lots of time in New York City but never Upstate New York. Looking at the map, we spotted 11 elongated lakes resembling fingers — appropriately named the Finger Lakes. We had never heard much about them and was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful this area of the country is.

Many of the Finger Lakes are lined with a scenic drive along its shores with lots of wineries (great Rieslings) and craft breweries.

Astonishingly, this area has a large Amish population and you will invariably see them in horse and buggy along the roads.

The Hamptons (Long Island)

This was our first time visiting the Hamptons — New York City’s playground for the rich and famous. It was a bit different than I had visualized. It is densely populated with trees and the few roads in and out don’t provide a view of the beautiful beaches. It does not feel like a tropical area but has lots of shopping and upscale restaurants.

Once you get to the beaches, they are wonderful. Being from Inlet Beach, we are used to sugar sand beaches — these have a similar consistency with a yellow hue.

But this area has a lot of charm and I can see why it’s a relaxation spot for New Yorkers.

Apparently, it’s also legal to be chauffeured around by your 4 legged friends.

New York City

Our final stop was our beloved New York City. Things have really changed since our last visit. There are almost no tourists, so there are no crowded streets, few sirens blaring and almost no horns honking. Imagine that. No museums are open, restaurants are order out or outside seating only and Broadway shows are closed. Everyone wears masks and are diligent about social distancing. Andrew Como did a great job managing the pandemic and we feel as comfortable here as we do back home.

With everything closed, we’ve spent a lot of time walking every inch of Central Park.

Black Lives Matter. They always have.

My Photography

I am often asked what type of camera I use to capture my photos. I mostly use my iPhone XR and a Nikon D500 if I need a long distance lens (but I rarely use it anymore). I’ve learned a lot about photography and it is more about your approach than what camera you choose to use. Once you learn the basics of composition and post-processing techniques, you can create stunning pictures that tell a story.

A year or so ago, I learned about an online photography class offered by Emil Pakarklis and it took my photography to the next level. If you want to hone your camera skills, it’s invaluable. Check it out here: https://iphonephotographyschool.com/author/emil/.

All of the pictures in this blog post were taken with my iPhone XR.

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7 Places You May Want to See in Northern California

If you’ve wanted to visit Northern California, here are 7 spots you may want to visit:

  1. Sonoma and Napa Valley
  2. Bodega Bay
  3. Fort Ross
  4. Armstrong Redwoods
  5. Mount Shasta
  6. Muir Woods Redwoods
  7. Stinson Beach

Sonoma and Napa Valley

If you’re in the mood for wine tasting, consider making Sonoma your hub. Cheaper than staying in Napa, it has amazing wineries and is a short 25 minute drive to Napa. A couple of our favorite wineries in Sonoma were Jacuzzi and B. R. Cohen.

Jacuzzi Winery in Sonoma
B. R. Cohn — Owned by legendary manager of the Doobie Brothers band

Since we were staying 3 weeks, we rented a beautifully appointed rental home situated on a couple of acres surrounded by vineyards. We would wake up each morning to hot air balloons and jack rabbits scouting food among the vineyards.

This was the view we woke up to each day:

Notice the hot air balloon in the horizon

We also visited Napa. One of our favorite spots to visit is Frog’s Leap. Not for the wine so much, but for the farm surrounding the winery — it is beautifully done.

It also has some reasonably priced golfing — some built around vineyards. I golfed Eagle Vines Golf Course and the 2 pm tee time cost less than $30. Most tee boxes had views of vineyards that can be reached with your drive if not careful.

Bodega Bay

Just an hour drive from Sonoma is Bodega Bay — the iconic beach town where Alfred Hitchcock shot the 1963 movie “The Birds”. A coastal town, we rented a beach front house with amazing views.

Although it is about 20 degrees colder than Sonoma (in the 60’s), it was nice to wake up with these views.

The Links at Bodega Harbour offers spectacular views of the bay — this was a really fun golf course to play and if you play after noon, it’s not very expensive.

There are ample hiking opportunities in Bodega Bay, here was our view from one of our hikes.

Fort Ross

We decided to drive north along the coast from Bodega Bay and we stumbled on Fort Ross. This was a great find, an old fort built my the Russians who occupied this land from 1812 to 1841. If you are in this area, it is certainly worth a stop.

Armstrong Redwoods

In less than 45 minutes, you can drive from Bodega Bay to the Armstrong Redwoods. This impressive park has lots of huge redwoods and fun hikes.

Mount Shasta

If you’re feeling adventurous, take a 5 hour ride north to Mount Shasta. We dedicated a weekend to it. It is a beautiful mountain with great hiking but it also is a sacred site because it is a Chakra Center of Gaia. Just like our bodies, Earth reportedly has seven chakras, or energy processing centers and Mount Shasta is one.

While we were there, I was practicing creating long exposure shots with my iPhone and I took this picture on one of the hikes. Long exposure gives water a silky look. If you want to learn how to do this — shoot me an email.

Muir Woods Redwoods

Even more impressive than Armstrong Redwoods is Muir Woods Redwoods. This park is much bigger and you must purchase a ticket before you get there (you can do this online). It has miles of trails via boardwalk — if you are in the area, this is a must!

Stinson Beach

A short distance from Muir Woods is Stinson Beach — a beach with a bohemian vibe. If you are in the area, it’s worth hanging out here for a few days.

3 Fun Short Stay Activities in Lake Tahoe

Each summer we try to escape the heat and humidity of Florida. We first hung out in Denver, spending time with our youngest son, visiting old friends and playing a little golf. Lynn had never been to Lake Tahoe so we spent a few days enjoying lake views, golfing, and sampling a few wines.

Taking in Lake Views

We stayed in Squaw Valley — a 15 minute drive from northwest Lake Tahoe. This area is bike friendly so we rented bikes and cycled down the trail that goes from Squaw Valley to to Lake Tahoe. It was Sunday and there were lots of people floating down the river in tubes and rafts (you can rent these at the base of Lake Tahoe).

As you cycle along the river, you see scenic bridges, people enjoying the water, and families having picnics.

Once you reach Lake Tahoe, continue the trial south to enjoy beautiful views along the lake. A good place to stop for brunch is Sunnyside Restaurant. Located right on the lake, it has great food and lake views.

Another way to take in the views is to drive the perimeter of the lake. There are hiking spots along the way if you want to stretch your legs. The drive around the lake will take you about 3 hours but you will want to make some stops along the way. We spent about 5 or 6 hours, stopping to eat and and take short hikes.

One of our favorite stops was Sand Harbor on the Nevada side. It has a Bar and Grill but also has a few beaches with beautiful views of the lake. It gets crowded so its best to hit this place early.

If you’re into hiking, consider taking the gondola at Olympic Village in Squaw Valley. This is where the Olympics were held in 1960. Once you reach the top, there are tons of hikes for all skill levels. There is also a small museum with memorabilia from the 1960 Olympics.

You will also get views of the lake from up top.

Taking in Olympic Village

Olympic Village normally has something going on each weekend. When we were there, California wineries were hosting a wine tasting. This was ideal because we were visiting Sonoma soon and wanted some suggestions for wineries to visit. There were also musicians playing and people out enjoying the weekend.

Golfing Squaw Valley

I played The Links at Squaw Creek in Olympic Village — it is a course surrounded by 6 majestic Sierra peaks. The course was designed by Robert Trent Jones and offers a challenging round due to its narrow fairways, hidden greens and thick grass bordering every fairway.

I played alone towards the end of the day and it was a challenge to know where to hit the ball because of the hidden greens and dangers on both sides of the fairway. I lost about 6 golf balls because I just was not sure where to aim. If I had played with someone that knew the course, I would carded a much better score than 94! But this was a really fun course.

I’ll leave you with a final picture from the course. You traverse most of the holes along a boardwalk that keeps you out of the high grass along the fairway. Challenging. Beautiful. Incredibly Fun!

Amazing Snow in Telluride, Colorado

Although I had just skied in Breckenridge a few weeks earlier, some friends (Bob Swainhart and Diane Caroll) graciously invited us to visit Telluride.

On the day we were traveling, there were travel advisories for Denver, Colorado because of the Bomb Cyclone. Most flights were canceled in and out of Denver but luckily we were flying into Montrose — but we had amazing snow and incredible beauty.

Unlike my recent ski trip to Breckenridge, temperatures were moderate (upper 30’s) so it allowed us to hike, snowshoe and ski.

The day after we arrived, the sun came out and we took advantage of hiking around town.

Sking was also amazing — big snow and blue skies. It was so great that Lynn decided to bring her skis out of retirement and give it a whirl.

I had just boasted about not falling from skiing in the past 3 years. As always happens when I boast about anything — karma bits me in the keister. On my first run down a double blue mogul, my right ski snagged the top of the mogul and I came tumbling down. However, Bob and I got vindication when we slew this steep mogul:

This snow was some of the best I’ve skied in for a long time.

On our last few days, we decided to snowshoe. I’ve only done this a few times, but I really enjoyed it. We hiked from the top of Mountain Village down into Telluride Valley.

On our final night in Telluride, we experienced the worm moon. What a great way to cap off a great week in Telluride.

Thanks to Bob and Diane for inviting us!

3rd Annual Ski Trip: Breckenridge/Vail/Keystone

In February 2019, we had our 3rd annual ski trip — this year we decided to take on Breckenridge, Vail, and Keystone. All 3 resorts received around 300 inches of snowfall this season so the snow was immense and fluffy.

With the extra snow came cold weather. Most days it was in the teens so riding the chairlifts up was a bit frigid.

We decided to stay in Breckenridge because we could quickly ski Breck — Keystone and Vail are a short drive away. Our rental had a great view of the slopes and a nice hot tub to rest the sore muscles at the end of the day.

Here’s Tom Helderle getting ready to shred the mountain:

Summary

Skiing Vail was on our coldest day but we still shredded the back bowls. Breckenridge’s ski day was a bit warmer so we took advantage of some fast runs. Keystone has the steepest blue runs of all 3 resorts, we really enjoyed the barrelling down the mountain.

Here is a video of this year’s fun:

Bet you’ve never heard of Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon!

Born and raised in Georgia, I never once heard of Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon. I learned about it from Roadtrippers.com — a website that points out cool places to visit along your road trip route.

In fact, it is in Lumpkin, Georgia — only about an hour and 15 minutes from the town I grew up in (Donalsonville, Georgia). After learning that, I found out my Dad had never visited either so we knew we had to take a road trip!

This little gem is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia. It was formed due to erosion — created by poor farming practices in the 1800’s.

The canyon is made of clay and other marine sediments and the contrasting white coloration is caused by water seeping over the clay. Throughout the canyon are crevasses worn away by erosion. You can explore these crevasses and will immediately notice a 10 to 20-degree cold temperature change.

The hike down is about three-quarters of a mile. They also have a 3 and 7 mile loop trail. Since my Dad is 82 years old, we figured the 1.5 mile round trip was plenty. We knew if you took the 7 mile loop, we would be rewarded with views of about a dozen rusty 1950s-era automobiles. Due to the environmental damage that removing the vehicles would cause, park officials have decided to leave them alone.

We decided not to do the long hike (we did not want to do that to my Dad), but here are some pictures I found that show them (thanks to Trover for these pictures):

Bruce Springsteen, Hamilton and more in NY City

For about a year, we talked about visiting New York City with our good friends Bob and Diane. Lynn and Diane were longing  for the big city —  culture, shows, fine dining, museums, shopping and miles of daily walks.

Bob made it happen – he gave Diane tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway for their anniversary so we were all in for taking a bite out of the Big Apple.

Broadway Shows

Hamilton on Broadway

The impetus for our visit was to see Hamilton on Broadway. Bob researched the musical, listened to the soundtrack and educated us about the show before we even left for our trip.

The musical is about the life of Alexander Hamilton — one of the founding fathers of the United States. Hamilton was the founder of the nation’s financial system and the first secretary of the Treasury.  But his life was full of interesting happenings and was ended tragically in a duel.

What makes the show iconic is that it’s not an ordinary musical. No operatic singing — all songs are rapped bringing a hipness to stage that is unique, interesting and incredibly cool.

If you haven’t seen Hamilton — see it! I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Bruce Springsteen on Broadway

About a year ago, I read the auto-biography of Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run) and became an even bigger fan of his music as I listened to older albums that I hadn’t known about before. 

I really got wrapped up in his music and it became one of the top artists on my personal playlist.When we decided to go to NY, I knew we had to see the Bruce Springsteen musical. It’s been on Broadway for almost 2 years and will be ending at the end of 2018. 

Imagine having Bruce Springsteen over for dinner, sitting in your living room and telling you his life story.  How he started out, the struggles he faced, the rejections, the depression, the meteoric rise to stardom, and the relationships he made along the way. And as he starts telling you his story, he belts out songs you know and love that represent that time in his life.

That’s what the show was like. Set in a small intimate venue, there were no pyrotechnics, no props, and no backup singers. Just Bruce, his story, and his incredible gift of music shared with you.

Wicked on Broadway

We also saw Wicked on Broadway. This is a musical about the Wizard of Oz but told from the story of the Wicked Witch of the West. We saw this before seeing Hamilton and Bruce Springsteen and thought it was one of the best musicals we had seen. Then we saw Hamilton — even better! Then we saw Bruce — the best!

Fine Dining

New York City offers pretty much any cuisine you desire and on almost every block. 

We even found the famous restaurant that was on the Jerry Seinfeld show — you remember the Soup Nazi, right? Here is the restaurant from that episode. I had soup there — it’s actually very good!

Museums

There are so many great museums in New York. We started by visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art (called the MET).

It’s hard to take in The Met in a day — it is the largest museum in the USA and gets over 7 million visitors a year. It boasts art from America, Europe, Egypt, Greece and Islam.  

Diane being creative

We also visited the Museum of Modern Art, it has a great collection as well. It houses the iconic Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh — you know – the guy that cut off his ear and mailed it to his lover to show her how much he loved her

Starry Night prompted Don McLean to write a song about it (Starry Starry Night), listen to it here. Van Gogh also had a similar painting that I like even better:

We also visited the American Museum of Natural History. Similar to The Met — you could spend all day here. It had the biggest dinosaur bones I’ve ever seen. I wish we had more time to experience it all.

Finally, we visited the 9/11 Museum at One World Trade Center. The new One World Trade Center is beautifully designed and inspiring.

Local graffiti artists painted this building

Before entering the museum, you see a memorial called Reflecting Absence that honors the victims of the September 11 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The memorial, designed by Peter Walker and Israeli-American architect Michael Arad, consists of a field of trees interrupted by the footprints of the twin towers. It contains the names of everyone that tragically died that day.

You can spend hours in the museum and learn all about the backstories of heartbreak and experience stories of people that suffered  that day. You also learn about the heroes of the day. Below is a firetruck that was devastated from falling debris.

If you get a chance to visit the museum, please do. It is sad yet empowering — highlighting the resilience of Americans.

Shopping

Shopping in New York is like no other place, they have just about anything you need.  Lynn and Diane had a field day visiting all the shops and I enjoyed the 24 hour Apple store.

Miles of Walking

We stayed in Manhattan and took advantage of Central Park.  You can walk or cycle it. Citibank offers low cost bicycles you can use all day long for $12.

Here are a few pictures from our walking adventures around town.

Annual Skip Trip – Breckenridge Colorado

Last year a few friends and I started an annual ski trip tradition, beginning in Lake Tahoe. This year we decided on Breckenridge, Colorado and it did not disappoint.  If you haven’t been to Breckenridge before, it is one of the coolest mountain towns around. It has a quaint yet hip vibe and incredible slopes.

This year one of our buddies brought along a GO PRO so we captured video of the trip. We were lucky to get about 8 to 10 inches of fresh powder the first night we arrived.

We stayed in a ski-in / ski-out home we found on AirBnB. It was well appointed and very convenient. We would wake up, have breakfast, put our skis on and hit the slopes without carrying skis to lifts — it was awesome.

The first day of skiing was fresh powder, I really enjoy that. The next day they groomed the slopes so we were able to play in both environments — how cool is that?

We skied all day both days only taking a small break for lunch.

As mentioned earlier, Breckenridge is a really cool mountain town. We found a great breakfast place and an incredible Italian restaurant. We also stumbled onto this shop that had precious gems — they had the largest selection of gems and fossils I’ve ever seen!

I’ll leave you with one last picture — of people taking pictures of people taking pictures…

 

 

Fall in New England

After a hot Florida summer, we headed north for a month to enjoy the change of seasons: Fall in New England is spectacular.  We spent most of our time in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts.

New England Map

Portsmouth New Hampshire

Portsmouth is one of the oldest cities in America, incorporated in 1653. This area is the cradle of the American Revolution. We’ve all heard the story of Paul Revere riding into town shouting “The British are coming” or “The Red Coats are coming” — to warn the Revolutionists that the British were on their way to attack. Portsmouth is where this took place in 1774.

Portsmouth is a coastal city and was an important trade route for the early Europeans and a fishing mecca.

Portsmouth shoreline

There are lots to do in Portsmouth. Portsmouth is a funky city with small cafes, coffee shops, and breweries but its much more. Portsmouth has done a great job of preserving its rich history by restoring and renovating its pre-revolutionary homes and the visitors center is a great place to sign up for walking and biking tours. Portsmouth’s oldest house (Jackson House) dates back to 1664 and is currently being restored.

Jackson House

We toured several houses as well as the iconic Strawbery Banke – a separate neighborhood of Portsmouth featuring over a dozen restored historic homes in Colonial, Georgian and Federal styles of architecture.

Strawbery Banke

Moffatt House

One of the best ways to soak in the history of Portsmouth is on a bicycle tour. In about 3 hours and 13 miles, you take in the best of Portsmouth.

Portsmouth Bicycle Tour

Portsmouth Bicycle Tour 03

Portsmouth Bicycle Tour

Portsmouth Bicycle Tour

Portsmouth Bicycle Tour

If you are a leaf peeper, a 1-hour trip north to the White Mountains rewards you with beautiful fall foliage.

White Mountains

White Mountains

White Mountains

White Mountains

White Mountains

White Mountains

If you travel north of New Hampshire into Maine, you will find the towns of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, where the Bush family spends a lot of vacation time. On the way to Kennebunk is a home that’s referred to as the “wedding cake house”. Can you tell why?

Wedding Cake House

Kennebunk and Kennebunkport sport some of the nicest beaches in New England.

Kennebunkport

Kennebunkport

Kennebunk is a short drive from Old Orchard Beach, a quaint beach town where a lot of New Englanders spend their weekends and summers. Friends of ours (Derek and Susan Langone) own a place here and we were able to have dinner with them in their Danvers home during our stay.

Old Orchard Beach

Since we were so close to Boston, we spent a couple of weekends in Boston. A fun way to explore Boston is through a Duck tour. This is an amphibious vehicle that first takes you through a tour of Boston on land then pops into the bay to show you Boston from the water.

Boston Duck Tour

Boston Duck Tour

Boston Duck Tour

Boston Duck Tour

I also took some time to golf in New England. The courses here are a bit easier than ours in Florida but offer incredible views of the fall foliage.

Golfing New England

Golfing New England

Our final stop was in Bar Harbor, Maine and Acadia National park. It was off season and a bit sleepy but offered beautiful scenery.

Bar Harbor 1

Bar Harbor 2

Bar Harbor 3

Bar Harbor 5

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to New England.  If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a picture of Thunder Hole, a coastal area of Arcadia National Park that thunders loudly as waves come in from the sea.

Bar Harbor 6