Return of the Summer Bucket List

Looking for inspiration about what to do this summer? Try a making a to-do or ‘Summer Bucket List.’ Here’s a peak at mine.

Back from hiatus is my own summer bucket list. And, a short diatribe on why the term ‘bucket list’ is probably not very inspiring.

The dictionary defines ‘bucket list’ as “a list of things a person wants to achieve or experience, as before reaching a certain age or dying.” I’m totally on board with a running list of things you want to experience. But do we have to have ‘before you reach a certain age?’ (Don’t even get me started about dying.) Why do we have to make everything a race or competition? Why can’t it be a life list, or notes on things a person wants accomplish, explore or see?

While I am TOTALLY guilty of using the word bucket list, the more I think about it, the more I realize it doesn’t capture the essence of what I’m doing. I create short lists and notes about what I want to see, hear, explore and do because… well, let’s face it, without a list I’m inclined to forget most of it and spend my summer weekends on the couch. (In my defense, it can get crazy hot and humid in Washington DC). How’s that for brutal honesty?

Unfortunately, bucket list and even summer bucket list are catchy and people readily understand the root of what you are talking about. And, no matter how you define Summer -the time of year where you can wear white, three months of no school, those warm and sunny days that come before winter- Summer is a time where everyone wants to get out and go.

Generally speaking, I prefer not to travel too much in the summer. Most of the destinations I’d like to be at are too crowded and the cost of June, July, August travel is prohibitive. Instead, I lay low and relax. But that’s no reason not to get out and do things.

My Summer Bucket List (yep, still cringing about using that phrase) took a hiatus last year. I had too many things going on and was too caught up in overwhelming sadness and dealing with the blows of life. It happens. I knew I’d never do anything I wrote down. Knowing this turned out to be a critical turning point. Instead of setting myself up for failure, I decided to start looking inward and work on myself. So in a manner of speaking, taking a break actually helped me get my groove back.

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The 2017 Summer Bucket List. As of this publication, I’ve already nailed two on my list. (Yes, if you follow my adventures and writing, there is a duplication from the 2015 list. I never quite got to Gospel Brunch at the Howard Theater.)

Enough with the personal stuff. This year’s list is healthy mix of things to see, explore, do and listen to around the great Washington DC area. I also added a few personal things, stuff that is important to tackle but for whatever reason, I get a mental block when I think about them.

If you are in Washington DC and looking for adventure, message me here. I’m always looking for someone who’s willing to expand their horizons and trying something new. I’m told I’m also pretty good at helping people plan a visit here.

Three Things To Do On/Around Chincoteague

For a quiet island along the Mid-Atlantic Coast of United States, Chincoteague and its neighbor Assateague, are jam packed with activities. A person who visits here and complains of boredom or not enough to do, is wildly off the mark.

 

Once you’ve decided what time of year to visit, the Chincoteague  website is a great starting place to keep planning your visit. As far as things to do, options range from seeing the ponies of Chincoteague, visiting the wildlife refuge, hitting the beaches, crabbing/clamming, hiking, fishing, go-carts, miniature golf, etc. If you factor in what’s off the island but accessible with a car, the options become overwhelming.

To help, or because we all have a little FOMO from time to time, here are my top three picks for how to spend a few days on Chincoteague.

  1. Book an island cruise. There are several cruise operators on the island, we used Daisey‘s and were happy with our excursion. “Cruises” are done on a pontoon boat, so its flat and generally means no need to worry about sea sickness.The boats will take you to the north area where ponies live. While its possible you’ll see them on beach, this is a great way to see them in their natural state.  Depending on your Captain, you could also be treated to the history and lineage of each of the ponies. On the cruise you are also sure to see birds and dolphins so pack your good camera.
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  2. Go to the Library. When was the last time you went to a library? Years I’m guessing. The Chincoteague Island Library, formerly a barber shop, is an independent library supported by donations and grants. But the beautiful architecture and attention to detail inside the library make this worth a visit. The children’s area will make you want to grab a book, a cozy chair and stay for a while.
  3. Hit the (Dog) Beach. Interesting fact: pets are not permitted on Chincoteague or Assateague. Apparently not even the car. But, the Guard Shore Beach is a great, hidden spot about 20 minutes away that you can visit with your dog. I wouldn’t recommend it for laying out in the sun, but dogs will love the sights and smells. If you watch the water closely, you’ll also see crabs scurrying around, or in some cases, fighting with each other.
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Honorable Mention(s): NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Although this small museum is geared more for kids and families, it’s a great way to spend a cloudy morning (or afternoon). The Visitors Center is a self-guided tour featuring exhibits about aeronautics, NASA missions and the history of the Wallops Flight Facility. Pro tip: Don’t skip the observation deck for beautiful views around the area.

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Island Creamery, rated the best ice cream parlor in the US, is a great place to stop and treat yourself. This family run shop features homemade ice cream and waffle cones (duh) as well as coffee and espresso’s. Note: the selection of non-diary treats is limited so bring your Lactaid.

The Year of No Summer Bucket List

You may have noticed, I’m late publishing my annual Summer Bucket list.

I’ve always had secret lists of fun adventures for the summer. Two years ago, I started sharing and writing about them. I enjoyed the local outings and weekend getaways. It’s fun to explore your own backyard. And, it was a lot of fun to see who was interested in joining along (and for what). You think you know a  person and POOF, suddenly they are all in for gospel brunch? Who knew?

For reasons outside this space, I didn’t actually finish my summer bucket list last year. I’ve reflected on this a lot and can say it truly, even deeply, bothers me. But I can’t seem to figure out why it bothers me so much.

Its possible that as an organized, list maker type of person, I have a gnawing feeling about unfinished business or broken commitments. It’s possible life got in the way. I had a lot going on last summer and at some point, the stress and emotional baggage I was carrying led me to shut down. Its possible, as a Type-A, hard charging person, I have a residual a sense of failure over these self-set goals. The truth is probably a hybrid of all of these things. While I continue to obsess, dissect and dwell on this (as opposed to allowing myself to move on), I have become more self-aware of my limitations as a result.

That’s a gift because late last fall, I was thrust very suddenly into the role of caretaker. (I’d love to share more, in fact it would be cathartic. Its not my story to share and I certainly don’t have permission to do so.) In this role, which most of time makes you feel like a failure because there is little you can do to heal a person, I’m painfully aware that writing a list of fun things to do, knowing that most of them won’t be possible, is … well, its pretty damn depressing. Whoever said being more self-aware was good, may not have been in this position.

It’s a one step forward, two steps backwards kind of thing . Some days you see the light at the end of tunnel and breath deeply. Other days, you feel shut in a dark closet, your hands groping the walls in a desperate search for the door latch. Things will improve, I know they will. It just takes time. And while I wait for them to improve, I don’t have the mental capacity to be side tracked by in town excursions, trips overseas or around the U.S.

Until things are “back to normal” rest assured, I’ll be day-dreaming about places to go and things to write about. With any luck, the summer bucket list will be back in all its glory next year.

 

 

 

 

Planning for a Trip to Kilimanjaro

Exactly one year ago, I completed the number-one item on my bucket list; traveling to Tanzania, and summiting Kilimanjaro.

Anyone preparing to climb Kilimanjaro (“Kili” as it’s called) can find an abundance of information on the Internet. In fact, there is so much information it’s overwhelming.

Add to that friends, family and strangers who’ve never climbed a hill offering their best intentioned “helpful suggestions” about what they’ve heard about what to pack, proper physical preparedness, and who knows what all and your eyes may very well cross.

I listened to it all because, frankly I was a little intimidated. I’ve hiked Nepal, Colorado, New Hampshire, the Inca Trail, etc. Still, I knew enough to know to take it seriously.

I was right.

Among the “challenging” vacations I’ve taken, Kili was by far the most physically demanding. Psychologically, it rates third, but this is not a trip to take on a whim.

Unless, of course, whim is the usual way you approach things. For others visiting Tanzania for the first time, I jotted down a few insights from my experience. I winnowed it down to the things and tips I found valuable.

But first, let me set the stage. To view Kili from the right perspective—consider it’s the same perspective as viewed out of a Boeing’s window.

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This is the view of Moshi and surrounding areas roughly half way up Kilimanjaro. Breathtaking (literally and figuratively)!

If it’s not the view out of an airplane window, sooner or later something about Kilimanjaro’s landscape will remind you of somewhere else you’ve been. Because climbing it means traveling through a little bit of everywhere, and a series of climates from sea level along the way up to 19,800 feet.

Beginning at the equator, ascending through lush rainforest, then on to grasslands, then alpine deserts, and finally arctic summit. Temperature variation ranges from hot and humid, to “I can’t feel my face or my legs…we have to go back down?”

With that in mind, the few things I found most important when climbing Kili are:

1.     Plan your trip at least six months in advance. As mentioned, this is not a “last minute” trip, unless you already have everything you need, and maintain a very active lifestyle. I started researching tour companies, gear, training, vaccinations, visa, medical documentation—those little things take big chunks of time. I maintain you need six months to get it everything done and train sufficiently (mentally and physically).

My favorite resource for training is the book Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro . It’s an easy read that is direct, and accurate. I customized my training based on what the authors did. Helpful Hint: Do cardio wearing your daypack to help your body adjust to this added weight, feel and wear before you climb. I also urge adding yoga, stretching and weight training.

2.     Bring used gear to the climb. Allow time to break in gear, and to get comfortable with it. Take time to organize and test all gear in as many types of weather as you can find. Pick the coldest day to walk in your Summit down jacket, wearing a properly weighted (35lbs) daypack. Or walks in rain gear, adding a rain poncho to keep everything dry. This also helps to mentally prepare for what’s ahead.

I believe there is a psychology behind packing (and over packing). The more gear is used before a climb, the more confidence there is in it, and the less one needs—or wants. Superfluous items are just added weight.

3.     Choose your travel companions wisely. Your success and safety directly relate to the tour company you select and your climbing guide.

Our guide estimated there are about 300 tour company’s operating in Tanzania. Anything over ten requires good old-fashioned “elbow grease.” The website Kili Adventures has lots of traveler reviews on the different outfitters, look at Trip Advisor and network your friends for recommendations.

Specifically examine: were travelers satisfied with their experience, the service and search for those intangible things especially important to you. I decided to travel with a company that provided jobs to Tanzanians. I also wanted a team that had worked together. Finally, I was interested in being exposed to local customs and culture.

Before booking, here are a few questions to ask the operator:

·      How large can I expect our group to be?

·      How many guides climb the Summit with travelers?

·      How many times has your guide summited?

·      If you have a specific a medical condition, asthma let’s say, ask if the operator has experience in and is comfortable dealing with that issue.

We had three different conference calls with our travel operator to review the above, and travel insurance. Don’t be bashful.

4.     Shyness will be overcome, or it will do you in. I’ll put it this way. Altitude sickness cannot be described. To experience it, as I did, is an entirely different perspective. You shift from livin’ the dream, to waking up in a nightmare. Symptoms can include sleeplessness, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Of all of these, at 16,000 feet, the last symptom is the most miserable. I’m not saying that I experienced it (because that would be embarrassing) but modesty goes out the window and over the side. Not generally life threatening, altitude sickness is serious because it can mean not summiting. Listen to your guide, listen to your body, and then listen to your guide again.

5.     Be thorough and thoughtful about what you pack. You’ll receive packing lists from your tour provider in addition to opinions about what to bring.

The onus is yours to determine what you need. I prefer traveling light so I have room to pick up souvenirs. Of all the things we were told to bring, the five I most appreciated were:

·      Wet Wipes. If you are staying at a hut, you have access to a shower of numbingly cold water. Wipes are a great way to clean up and for emergencies (I’ve been told), so consider wipes appropriate for private parts. A few ten packs are better than a family-sized container.

·      Tent lights. These small, light-weight lights can be found at any outdoor or recreational store. If you are sharing a tent, these help because you don’t have to use your headlamp, and can avoid blinding your tent mate. Also useful for late-night nature visits.

·      (Extra) Camera battery. Cold drains camera batteries. Bring an extra one, or a portable iPhone battery. You don’t want your device to die before Summit night.

·      Electrolyte tablets. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for this last-minute addition to my bag. Be it Gatorade tablets, goop or generic electrolytes, helps avoid dehydration and provides extra energy for Summit night. My tablets were climb saving, and helped prevent even more serious issues of altitude sickness.

Kilimanjaro is truly the adventure of a lifetime. Despite my “extremely mild, nothing to see here, don’t worry about me, I’ll catch up” altitude sickness, summiting was a very proud moment. I’m so glad I did it and recognize my next journey has a tough act to follow.

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Kibo Hut: Base Camp before you start the final climb.

If you plan to climb Kili, I wish you tenacity, perseverance and happiness as you reach Uhuru. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. I’m not an expert, but I love to talk travel, and collect stamps on my passport.

The 2015 Summer Bucket List

Summer! Whether you define summer as that time between Memorial Day and Labor Day (rejoice! You can wear white without worrying if you are breaking a fashion rule), or if you follow the Farmers Almanac more traditional first day of Summer (June 21st: thank goodness I for the extra time to mentally prepare), we can agree the season is here.

Summer in the US is synonymous with barbecue and vacations (or staycations). Because I march to my own beat, for me, Summer means the return of my the Summer Bucket List.

Inspired by Carla Birnberg, I made my first summer bucket list last year. It was so much fun, I decided it will be my new “thing.” Here are a few highlights from my inaugural list.

2014 Bucket List Highlights
2014 Bucket List Highlights (from the bottom left, up and around): Pottsville, PA road trip, Ride in 2nd Trek Across Maine, Photography Tour of Central Park, Kayaking on the Potomac River, a National’s game and Visiting the re-opened Washington Monument.

This year’s list is not as extensive as my first go-around. I have a lot of work lined up and don’t want to be disappointed about not getting everything done. I’m already dealing with one failure, why set myself up for another?

But really, the length of the list is not what matters. The list is a collection of things and mini-adventures I want to have. Writing them down and sharing them becomes a device for making it happen. I mean, let’s be real. How many times have you said you wanted to do something and months, even years later, it still wasn’t done. Yeah, I thought so. I’m guilty too.

Instead of lolling around wasting beautiful days, my Summer Bucket List helps me prioritize my weekends, days off and most importantly gets me out enjoying life and all that the greater Washington DC area has to offer. Without further ado, here is the 2015 Summer Bucket List.

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What do you think of my summer tradition? Would you make a Summer Bucket List?

Kalós órises to Greece!

Greece is in the news again. Are you like me where news in countries you’ve visited pops out at you long after your journey? I’ll always stop and read a story about Nepal, Egypt and India and remember another adventure. That’s probably why word of Greece’s recent failure to elect a new President hit me.

Actually, I’ve been watching Greece for a while. I am eager to share my adventures but conscious that the Greece I knew, still using Drachma as it currency, is archaic. And for some reason my travel guide, normally stuffed silly with receipts, brochures and recommendations from locals to jog my memory, is virtually empty. Even without mementos to prompt my memory, it hasn’t made much sense, given the political and economic turbulence, to talk about Greece.

But this summer Jill Abramson wrote about her recent visit to Greece. I thought her story would prove to be more of a catalyst to changing perceptions about the country. I also think she is correct that the slow economic recovery will have pluses for visitors. Not the least of which is smaller crowds at the major sites. I think its possible you could find lower price luxury hotel rates; or you can stay at a lower price (two or three star) hotel like the Metropolis Hotel and use the savings to for more local excursions. Of course all of this is back in doubt with the potential ” Grexit.”

BUT, if you are brave and going anyway, here are my traveler tips, recommendations from friends who recently visited  and other pieces of Greek wisdom

Go to Greece but don’t just visit Athens or the beautiful Greek Isles. I started on the Island of Rhodes and quickly picked up the art of lounging on a beach, relaxing. And seeing beautiful sites, largely untouched by my fellow Americans. Then, I traveled to Santorini, one of the most beautiful, picturesque places I have ever seen and finally on to Athens. I actually recommend starting in Athens and working your way to one or two islands. You’ll feel like you visited different countries when you return and the noise, pollution that are so dominate in Athens will not be so jarring if you are simply passing through on the way home from the islands.

Go to Greece and embrace Greek mythology. It’s simply fascinating to walk among ruins (even if many of them are recreations) and think about what could have been. If mythology isn’t your thing, I’d suggest you skip this country. You’ll be miserable.

Go to Greece and know that the people are warm and welcoming to visitors. Also know that its customary to cat call at single women, even approach and “get in your personal space” to speak with you. Get used to it and bring dark sunglasses so as not to avoid anyone thinking you are inviting the attention.

Go to Greece and don’t be a wuss like I was. Try all of the food, not just the Nescafe that offers you hours of space at the corner cafe. Try the honey, mixed with nuts. No yogurt company can replicate this, it’s delicious. Try the lamb and the seafood, too!

If you love shoes, visit the Poet Sandal maker of Athens. The poetry is not Pulitzer winning but it’s good enough and the shoes are fantastic. They are simple, classic designs each constructed in the shop. I loved my shoes so much I’ve begged people traveling back to Greece to get me more. Sadly, I’m on my last pair right now.

Go to Greece and be aware that across the Islands, it is possible you will meet only one or two other people who speak English. Be prepared to communicate through hand signals or learn a few Greek phrases.

Not convinced? Don’t take my word for it. Two friends also visited Greece this fall so I picked their brains. They too were told not to spend too much time in Athens because it was dirty. They say, it’s not spotless (it’s not) and thought of it like Paris. A big city with amazing history and ruins. I agree, but would add the pollution in Athens is strong. If you have breathing problems, be prepared.

They found the people to be wonderful and started their trip in Athens, moving to the island of Santorini which they agree is paradise. In Athens, they suggest Orizontes for amazing dinner and to-die-for views. On Santorini they recommend a catamaran tour (a semi-private all-inclusive tour was 100 euro) and eating at Ambrosia.

Been to Greece recently? Share your recommendations in the comments section.

More On the Little Havana Scene

In my travels I have noticed food tours are becoming increasingly prevalent. Ever since we returned from Spain it seems they’re booming. Maybe that’s the case, or maybe I’m more aware of them. That said, last year there was no food tour of my neighborhood. Now there is.

The question is: Why not? Besides language, food is a differentiator among cultures and a common denominator among travelers. Everyone has to eat, and it is the easiest “most adventurous” element of travel.

A good food tour will include history, influences, and cultural relevance in addition to good food. It’s also a great way to cover ground and find good restaurants. Many ‘traditional’ recipes are rooted in a locations heritage so food tours are also a great way to learn something about your host city or country.

Still, with so many food tours available, look for the ones that promise something beyond food. That’s one reason why I chose the Little Havana Food Tour. It really is two tours in one.

I started my tour at Agustin Gainza Gallery. The working gallery is owned by someone said to be one of the earliest defectors from Cuba, Mr. Gainza. He was a young conservatory artist when he left and continues to paint with a colorful “refined voluptuousness” of dreamscape scenes from the United States. His works are typically done in a series such as the umbrella series or the black monias series, his most famous. Check out his portfolio for samples.

Our guide, Ralph, made arrangements for Mr. Gainza, and his wife who runs the gallery, to speak with us at the start of the tour. He was a humble and charming man, who greeted each of us in turn and told us a little about his paintings.

Seasoned travelers may understandably be cynical about this. Of course, the tour starts in a gallery where you are encouraged to buy something. That was my initial thought, too. But we were never encouraged to buy anything. The visit was a starting point for a food tour, but as a brief cultural immersion it quickly set the tone and to some degree helped to transport us to a different, Cuban Miami. It was an honor to meet someone who actually left everything—an entire life—in Cuba to come to begin again. It was an opportunity to understand the pressures to do this, and the hardships of starting over, beyond the history to the emotional experience.

Of course I bought some small pieces. However, art aside, I think hearing his story helps to ensure that part of Cuba’s history isn’t forgotten.

After stopping at El Pub, we visited the Cuban Tobacco Cigar Company. This is a fifth generation shop; the third generation statesmen sits outside smoking and clearly enjoying…you guessed it, a big cigar. He happily poses for photos with visitors. The Cuban Tobacco Company hand rolls all its cigars on premise.

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The elder statesman outside the Cuban Cigar Company.

 

Interesting fact about these cigars and Cuban cigars. The cigars sold at the shop are all leaves grown from Cuban seeds. There is a loop-hole in the U.S. embargo. Cuban tobacco seeds are supposedly purchased by the U.S. government from the Castro Regime. The seeds are then sold to Costa Rica or Nicaragua to grow tobacco. And that is how this shop in Miami can sell “Cuban” cigars.

Another historical point: the practice of buying the seeds and growing them is diminishing so shops like this are in danger of becoming relics. Although by then we’ll probably lift the Cuban embargo anyway.

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At the Cuban Cigar Company you can watch the cigars being carefully wrapped.

 

We also had the opportunity on the tour to visit Tower Theater. Opened in 1926, this theater’s claim to fame is that it was the first theater in America to show Hollywood movies with Spanish subtitles. “Old timers” used to wait outside for their family, playing dominos to pass the time. You can’t play dominos outside the theater anymore. But, across the street is “domino park,” an area where about 50 men gather and play dominos. And, as I said in my previous post, Miami dominos is practically a contact sport.

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A serious game of dominos going on at domino park.

 

The tour included much more than this. But if I tell you everything, there is no surprise for you when you make a reservation. Which you should absolutely do when you visit Miami. If you missed my first post, the tour is billed at $59 and 2.5 hours long. However, our tour was much closer to 3.5 hours and there is a tip on top of the $59 (and worth every penny). Ralph was a great guide, knew the area in and out, and was a wealth of great stories.

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