To spend quality time in at least one area of every state. Quality time means exploring the area; rest stops, gas stations, airports or train stations do not count. The goal is to explore the natural and cultural environments of these regions. Each location visited has a story, pictures for my amateur hobby addiction, and maybe a piece of jewelry/art.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Storm at Folly Beach

I am jumping trips again... I want to share this picture that circulated on ABC news because it was mine!  I was excited when I was contacted by ABC New York after posting this shot on Instagram... it was taken Friday, June 17 at Folly Beach as a microburst began to blanket the area.  Finally out from under the pier, it was finally cooling off to a decent temperature, little did I know, over my shoulder, this was forming... As you can see, over the water, the sky is clear, and that was what I was looking over as I read my Kindle.   The winds picked up and my date started screaming that we needed to leave; I turned around to see this.  It looks like something out of an apocalypse movie.     We packed up, and I snapped a few shots as we were hightailing it to Rita's before the storm opened up... and when it did, it rained so hard, it came through the ceiling of the outdoor bar area and knocked out the power for the entire area.  It was doozy!

Friday, June 10, 2016

That Caribbean Blue is Hypnotizing!

I thought I was prepared for my first trip to the Dominican Republic.  I did what you needed to do - I registered with the State Department and read all of the alerts, stocked up on mosquito spray and repellant bracelets, I got sun block and special SPF lip balm as well as aloe for the post-sun hydration.  I packed an umbrella since it was suppose to pour.  And I packed my camera equipment (though I forgot my waterproof bag for my phone so I could take it into the water with me for easy pictures). 

I was a good girl scout - medicine, proper clothing, hat, sprays... and yet, I am I certain I came home with Zika and I have spent a week with a peeling forehead.  I am certain that the sun at the equator laughs at sunscreen and singes even my Italian hued skin, and the mosquitoes on the island cackle at our mainland attempts of interference.  I was bit right next to my bracelets on areas covered in spray.    There was no winning. These little buggers got me right through my clothes.  They were relentless.  They hurt.  They left red swollen mounds all over us.

Oh well.

Didn't matter.

The scenery was beautiful anyway.

From the moment we stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac (yes, there were no gate ramps), we were greeted with butterflies and sun.  I could not believe the numbers of wings fluttering all around us.  I haven't seen that many butterflies outside of a butterfly exhibit in ... well... never.  Wings of all colors - it was beautiful.  The terminal was right off a postcard of an island building with its palm leaf roof and a Caribbean band playing, inside, while we waited for our luggage.  Already the sweet sounds of vacation were beckoning us to relax. 

We headed off to the Westin Punta Cana for 4 days/nights of Caribbean charm.  I honestly don't know if I was ready for how beautiful the spot was.  In fact, from the moment we stepped off our shuttle, we were showered in amazing hospitality and gorgeous scenery.  The sweeping views through the open air lobby, over the pool to the ocean were swoon worthy.  As a desk-jockey is DC, I was more than a little jealous that some get to have these kind of views while working (me, I stare at a concrete side of a building).   

Here, our plan was simple - sun, fun and exploration.  I had booked us 2 side trips and planned to stay local for the other 2 days in the resort area.   The Westin upped our ante by adding the most amazing suite into the mix.  They placed us in the top level corner suite, overlooking the ocean and the infinity pool from our 270 degree view balcony, that wrapped around a room larger than my condo!  The room was perfect for relaxing mornings, where you could walk up looking into that perfect turquoise water, waiting for your mind to wake up.  The room was perfect in the evening, with views of the large pool lit up and glowing.  That room... I could not thank the Westin enough for that experience.  And the staff took it a step further with a birthday cake for my brother and snacks to feed his bottomless pit of a stomach.

After our first day of taking in the sun and mosquito feeding (at Playa Blanca, where the insects ate more than we did), we were ready to tackle our first excursion to another island - Saona Island.  We hopped the tour bus (after waiting for a while in "island time") and were transported East National Park.  From here, we boarded a high speed boat and jettisoned off to into the perfect waters.  On our boat, a "pirate" and our tour guide whipped out the rum and started liquoring up our tour-mates quickly.  Me, not only do I not drink, but this is not my first rodeo - I know better... so while many of those crazy folks had a jolly good time drinking their rum and cokes while bouncing on the open water, we chose to stay hydrated... salt and sand do take a toll if you are not careful.  Our first stop, the natural pools off the coast of the park.  Here you were far enough away from the coast to be out of the mosquitoes'' span.  The pool area was filled with boats and party goers  - the scene looking like something out of a spring break movie.  Tour-guides diving and looking for star fish (these lucky creatures not infected with the pacific wasting disease annihilating the populations of sea stars), and hold impromptu photo sessions with every tour participant.  We were given some time to frolic in the water  before we boarded the boats again to head to Saona. 

The island is an ideallic setting of soft white sands, beautiful blue waters and swaying palm trees.  Throw in peddlers hawking hats, bags, jewelry, lobsters, coconuts and pineapples and you get the picture.  I had plans; I wanted to explore the park.  I read there were trails.  I learned that this was a preserved tropical forest and it was a good opportunity to observe local birds and see some native flora.  Yeah - that was the plan.  Plans change!  Plans change in the name of  mosquitoes.  After leaving my brother at the beach, I took off with my camera and made it about 15 minutes before I was sure I lost a pint of blood.  I got bit 4 times while taking one picture.  My arms looked like I was suffering from some strange bump disease.  And did I mention that they hurt?  Wow, these little suckers pack quite a punch.  After a few up-tree shots, and a failed attempt to catch a  killjoy in her nest, I gave up and headed back to the surf.  There, my itches were soothed, and we bobbed in the waters until it was time for the BBQ.  There was lots of good food offered up - good thing too since the bottomless pit was hungry.  After eating, what I think was 3 plates of port chops, chicken, rice and fruit, as well as slurping down a pineapple worth of  virgin pina colata, we went back to bobbing in the water.  I broke the seal on the peddlers, breaking down to buy some cute larimer trinkets... after that offering, every one came to us.  My mistake (but the necklace is cute!)

Time to leave.  And everyone had to board the speed boat to transfer to the catamaran boat (while bobbing in the water) - oh, the things that would never happen in the States.  But, everyone made it.  We sailed back to the main island, while people drank and danced (and some got sick).  I don't know what they remember, but me - its the sight of that beach.  What an amazing contrast to the sights we saw on the way to the park.  The national park/tourist protection really makes a difference.  The condition of the park was pristine.  The condition of the areas we drove through - sad, littered and abused.

Once back, we realized that hanging out in the water with our sun glasses on meant that aloe I packed was necessary... so we slathered up and headed to dinner by the water... where we dined on more BBQ. YUMMMMMMMMMMMMY!

(Day 3 & 4 to be continued)

Fallen Behind Again

WOW - time has flown.  I have started two trips to summarize some weekend trips and I never finished them.  I have to admit, with work picking up, my condo board taking up much of my time, coupled with my art history classes through the Smithsonian, I am BEHIND.

My goal is to get caught up in the next week.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
To do that, I am going to go backwards.  I returned from Memorial Day weekend with a fresh pool of beautiful pictures from the Dominican Republic.  There, my brother and I traveled to a few national parks, some historic sites, took a hike through the Ecological Park and enjoyed the gorgeous Caribbean blue waters.  Weeks before that international excursion, my boyfriend and I road-tripped from DC to Scranton, PA for a very atypical weekend getaway; there we visited more national park sites and historic sites, hiked to a cool waterfall and played a serious game of advanced miniature golf. 

And before that trip, I took a trip to Florida to see my mom and take in some elegant orchids at the botanical gardens and visit
Coral Castle in Homestead, FL
the infamous Coral Castle. 

Reaching all the way back in April, I have half written posts about trips into NYC to see a show, a trip to Richmond to escape DC's festival weekend, a trip to Winchester for the beginning of Apple Blossom Festival ....  Like I said, I have been negligent in my writing. 

I wish there was an easier way to do this.  Guess that is why blogging is a job for so many...

I do encourage you to visit my Instagram page - DCJerseyGirl since that is where I post many notable pictures from these trips.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Stopping to the Smell the Roses in a Convention Center Filled With National Parks

The Philadelphia Flower Show is an institution in the City of Brotherly Love.  Unfortunately, I never made the time to go when I lived in that area and have missed it for various reasons over the years (as it has grown in popularity).  This year, when I learned that the theme would be based on the national parks, I knew I had to go.  And the fact that I had yet to do a Philly weekend with my boyfriend... well that was a perfect excuse.

The best way I could describe the scene in the convention center is master gardener/landscape architects interpreted some of the parks greatest hits and unknown gems through botany.  Half the convention hall floor was filled with large scale exhibits of scenes in the national parks.  Here you would gaze upon the famous of Yellowstone and Yosemite, walk along the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and NJ Coastal Heritage trails, Look upon the mountains in interpretations of the Rocky Mountain and Smokey Mountain, see some lesser known gems like Lincolns home, enjoy the water views of Acadia, the views in trees like at Redwood, and we got into the urban parks - Independence, Gateway, Golden Gate, the National Mall.  And if these installations were not enough, the rest of the flower show had more.

There were pressed flower designs done by students to represent park badges and postcards.  There was a miniatures exhibit to showcase tiny flowers and skills with scale, you had arrangements with colonial dishes and others to interpret national monuments.   The National Park Service was out in full force with scenes showcasing the nation's best idea in short film format in what was like a cabin in the woods (surrounded by a babbling brook, a Bison (the Department of Interior's official seal) and a bear).  Rangers gave lectures on park features and were all around to answer question about the parks displayed and depicted.  I was in park lover's heaven!  An added plus - all the parks of my youth got plenty of love - I was so excited to see Delaware Water Gap get some love.  And Sandy Hook made a special showing and didn't get overshadowed by the Statue of Liberty (the share a park designation)!

The flowers were overwhelming in their beauty even after a week of showcasing it was hard to know where to turn.  It was a rainbow of color.  There were so many cascades of color that my camera quickly ran out of battery.  And the crowds?  Wow, the place was packed.  But beyond waiting in lines to walk through some of the parks, traffic moved... no one exhibit hogged (though a few did skip the line to snap a picture here and there).  And if you needed to rest your feet - you had choices beyond park lectures... the Philly Zoo was there for animal demonstrations for the kid in all of us. An artist was on hand painting detailed flower watercolors. Food was everywhere (yummy Philly pretzels and Little Italy's cannoli)  You could go upstairs to the specialty booths - where we headed to visit the butterflies!  And then there was the market place... lots of venders.  You could rest you feet in any number of places selling patio gear.  You could buy plants and flowers galore.  You could buy art for your garden.  Gardening gear?  Check!  Tools?  Check!  Need a sauna?  Check!  Walking stone?  Yep, that too.  It was all there.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Winter Break - Seeking Out Desert Heat

I escaped the sudden brutal cold in the mid-Atlantic and traveled to the dry heat of the desert.  I when I say heat, I mean it, as the thermostat read over 90 once of the days on my visit to Southern Arizona.  I love to take advantage of a good United sale and snatch up reasonable fares ... a this trip to Phoenix fit that bill perfectly.

My first stop (after the insanely long lines at the rental car center), Saguaro National Park in Tucson.  That's roughly an 1 1/2 hour drive from Phoenix.  And that meant I got there just in time to watch the sun set over the desert and mountains.  I love how accessible this park is - one of the 2 units is right outside the city limits.  There is no excuse to miss this park when in the area.  And while it has been a few years since I have looked upon this stretch of the southwest... it is majestic, it is magical.  Walk among the cacti and listen-there is life all around you.  As the sun sets, the sky lits up in beautiful strips of pink and purple.  The mountains glow and then dim into a black outline in the sky.  The towering saguaro freckle the landscape casting shadows to show how anthropomorphic their forms can look.  I love visiting this park, because even if you only have 2 hours there, you can still walk away feeling like you visited another world.  It was the perfect spot after spending all day in a plane and a car.

I needed a good sleep that night because I knew I wanted to stuff my next day with places further
south... as in right up to the border.  I left the next morning and headed to Coronado National Memorial.  The park unit honors the explored Coronado and his quest to find the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola but really explored and mapped the area north of central Mexico.  The terrain is rough, the elevation is high and it is dry.  Nothing say great hiking like those conditions, but he did it in armor, I could do it in my Merrells and my LLBean backpack.  So, off on the trail I went (after driving up the mountain, cuz we don't have donkeys at our disposal) and I hit the trail to the Mexican border.  The whole
way down into the canyon I cursed myself and my sense of adventure knowing I was going to have to climb back up.  And as I neared the border, I was certain I was losing my mind, I heard cows "moo'ing"!  This was not terrain that I would think to find cattle but eventually I was able to spot them down at the bottom of the canyon once I turned on a switch-back toward the border.  I took my border selfie (as the park ranger wanted proof for my park pin award), snapped too many pictures of the landscape and the starting line of the Arizona trail, rested and drank some water before I headed back up.  And then I rested again and again... I had forgotten how high up I was, that incline was hard.  I am not going to lie.  In fact, I had to talk myself into forging on but once I got through that last switchback I was golden.  And that was good, because I was keeping my eye on my watch - I still needed to get to Tumacacori. 

Once safely down the mountain, and awarded with my hiker's pin from the Park Service, I watered up
and headed out to the historic missions site.  It was only 50 miles away BUT being in the remote location I was in, this translated into a 2 hour drive.  I got there with an hour to spare and that was perfect, that was all I needed.  The park site is the historic missions and surrounding structures.  It preserves the local Native American and Spanish missionary interactions, the Mision structure, the orchard ... oh, who am I kidding, it preserves the site where missionaries destroyed a native culture by reeducating them.  Off with those pagan customers and onto the new enlightened ways of the catholic church.  I have such a hard time stomaching these stories.  It angered me in Italy to see how the "my religion is better than your beliefs" destroyed culture and scientific advancement, and I angers me to see it here too.  We never learn from history. And these poor people, whom survived with the land were forced change because newcomers thought they knew better.  Would the world not be a better place if we did not destroy, but instead understood?  I don't know.  I didn't live this.  But I do know that we all need to learn from each other.  Preserving these places is important to tell these stories and remind each other that we can learn/understand and not vilify each other belief systems.

Okay - off my soapbox.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The NorthEast Had Some Snow, I Went to The Big Apple

Winter Superstorm Jonas hit the mid Atlantic on Friday, January 19th.  I had been planning a funfilled theatre weekend for that very weekend in New York; I had shows on my radar that were closing.  I figured I could get out of DC and head to NYC, where the snow count would be less significant and the city was better equipt to deal with the snow dump.  Well, a few things went wrong:  (1)  NYC ended up getting WAY  MORE than the 6 inches predicted and (2) because of the extreme snow the mayor shut the city down.  Yep, NYC was shut down on Saturday, and I was there to play.

I grabbed one of the last trains out of DC on Friday and headed north for a wild ride.  The train was standing room only as we headed into Penn Station  - looks like I was not the only one getting out of dodge.  And while is was only mildly snowing, the train was delayed and train doors froze shut in transit.  Every stop the crew had to pry open a few doors.  And even with all the drama we arrived in the Big Apple only 1 1/2 hours late... enough time for me to drag luggage through the city, to Times Square straight to the TKTS booth.  I wanted to see Allegiance before it closed February 14th and this was my chance.  And lucky for me the show still had some available seats.  I was able to grab a ticket, dash to my hotel, check-in, dump my luggage and run back out to the show.

Typically a musical about Japanese internment camps would not be my first choice for a musical.  I typically love my high flying dance numbers, fun stories and happy endings.  But this show has been on my radar.  The subject matter is timely - in today's political environment there is a lot of talk of people as groups, registrations and citizenship.  When you stop and think about it, there are many similarities to draw.  In this time of the gazillionth revival of LesMis and endless shows based on movies, such a daring show needed to be seen.  It is frustrating that the theatre community wants new material, yet, this show is closing after only a few months.  Come'on people Lea Salonga hasn't graced the stage in a while - she alone is a reason to see this moving show.  And if you need more, Telly Leung will blow you away.  Or you can see George Takei (yes, the guy from Star Trek).  The story is 2-fold: a moving portrayal of how a family was ripped apart by internment, and a wider discussion of internment as an answer to fear.  Again - you need to see this musical.  Its not the strongest new show of the season, but it just may be one of the most raw and real things on the stage in a long while.

After the show,  I left the theatre to snow!  It had caught up with me.  But a little snow does not stop NYC.  A friend met me for one of those awesome after show dinners - the kind of stuff that just doesn't happen in DC because nothing stays open!!!  Oh how I love heading home!  After a yummy meal, we parted ways at the subway, making plans for the next day - we had tickets to see Mathew Morrison's last performance in Finding Neverland... or at least we thought we did.

Woke up the next day to the city bustling in the blizzard.  Looking out my 42nd story hotel room, I could make out little people wandering the streets in white clouds.  My friend called to say that she was stuck and could not make it to the city - bummed!  More like, super bummed!  But the show must go on... so I bumdled up and headed outside and back to Times Square.  The sidewalks were clear, the road crews were staying on top of the streets... it was fine.  It was just the sheer amount falling so fast, BUT TKTS was still selling.  All the theatres were open.  Just to be safe, I hopped on over to the Lunt-Fountaine to make sure we were still on... and with that yes, I went to walk and enjoy the views.  The city looked so pretty.

Well, the snow kept falling and the mayor closed the city... that announcement happened less than 1/2 hour before curtain call.  No show for me.  No show for anyone that came to the city for that matter.   Didn't matter that the theatres assured everyone they would go on.  The mayor called it.  And with the announcement that all cars had to be off the streets, he created a playground for anyone willing to walking in Winter Storm Jonas.  So what is a New Yorker to do?  Well, you head to Central Park obviously!  Where else are you going to walk down an urban jungle into the vast park and see people sledding on pizza boxes.  I swear I love this city!  I wandered endless paths, always retracing my steps, because visibility was so bad, I did not want to take a wrong turn.  I mostly stayed on the upper end of the park but did walk to a playground, a picturesque bridge, Strawberry Fields, and down the opposite side to the zoo.  I froze my phone taking pictures of snow covering railings, benches, building and other park structures.    It was truly an iconic city winter moment.

And on my way back through the city canyon/wind tunnel (where you had to walk head first into the blizzard) - I stopped into on of the city's delis that stayed open to feed the masses.  Many cups of tea, the most amazing meatloaf sandwich ever, and some red velvet cheesecake fortified me to walk more in the storm and back to the hotel.

I left the Big Apple Wonderland the next morning - dragging my suitcase 21 blocks to Penn Station  and onto Amtrak.  After stopping many times to de-ice, we were dropped off at Union Station and find DC in worse condition than NYC.  That was to be expected.  I grew up in that region - and we just handle the snow better.  DC could learn a thing or two! 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Beach, 2 Parks, A Science Center and some Funky Golfing

The first 3 day weekend of the year... it's a great way to get away for a few days after the craziness of the holidays. This year, I didn't go too far (but far enough). Just 4 hours down the road to Virginia Beach. I know, I know, heading out to Virginia Beach does not make much sense in January, and typically it would not. This year, however, its been warm. Say it's El Nino, blame climate change, say it's a weird quirk... we all know it is NOT normal to have 60 degree weather in January, but that is what we had (on Saturday).

First stop on this weekend journey was the Coastal Virginia Wine Festival at the Convention Center. Friends know, I am not a drinker and I can't say that I have ever been to a wine festival before.. sure I have be to more than a handful of wineries before, but never something as big as this. I thought it would be fun to check out, taste a few of the sweeter ones (those are my style), look at crafts, listen to music and watch the grape stomp. Well, I found an awesome sangria with Athena Winery - just the winery name alone makes me want to visit - we are talking about my favorite Greek God people! There were some yummy fruit wines from Top Hill Berry Farms (we got a raspberry and a melon) and a great white and red semi sweet Breeze from Davis Valley. It was a great way to sample, because the pours were really just a small sip (just my style). Now, that small sip times 30+ venders times at least 4 tastes per winery meant there were plenty of drunk stumbling people all around. And that leads me to my major gripe of the festival - where was the food? There was a definite lack of food in a place where alcohol was being poured so freely. Not good! Some dip people with free pretzels, one crab cake guy and the convention center snack shop did not provide too many options. So, when my date and I got to the hotel - we headed out to eat. PRONOTO.