Thursday, July 30, 2015

Block Island

There are two islands off the coast of Massachusetts, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, known for their famous residents and vacationers.But there is a little known island off the coast of Rhode Island, Block Island, that flies under the radar and is definitely worth visiting. There are 500 lucky souls who reside there and a definite Victorian, New Englandy vibe.

We boarded a traditional ferry (there are hi-speed ferries, also) on a sunny morning at Point Judith (Narragansett) for a smooth 55 minutes to take us 13 miles off shore to the island. The ferries dock at the small "town" of Old Harbor which consists of a few restaurants, quaint victorian hotels and shops. It was lunchtime so we went to Ballard's which has an outdoor patio and very meaty lobster rolls. After eating, we hit up the first rental shop we came to to find our transportation to see the island. You can rent bicycles, mopeds or cars. Since there were three of us, it was most economical to rent a jeep. We rented a silver, open top jeep and headed out to explore.

Our first stop was the North Shore Lighthouse (which was closed). We took a short walk along the beach and took off to find the other "town" on the island, New Harbor. New Harbor is the main hub for the marinas for the island and also a few hotels It was a sailing regatta weekend so there was lots of activity at the marinas and several tents being set up for the after parties. Lots going on.

Our last stop before returning the jeep was the piece de resistance - Monhegan Cliffs. Said to resemble the cliffs of Ireland, these cliffs - with a lighthouse overlooking them - are one of the highlights of Block. There is a small parking area and many, many steps down to the beach. There were some brave surfers surfing, a few people lying about the beach and several rock cairns that beachgoers had built. Going down the steep staircase was easy. Going up - not so much.

We returned the jeep after using it for only two hours (we had paid for three but didn't really need more than two) and returned to Ballard's so my daughter could get one of their "drinks in a pineapple" at the Tiki Bar on the beach. Quite different from the lunchtime crowd, there was now a loud party going on at the outdoor bar and everyone was definitely having fun. We jumped back on the ferry for our ride back to the mainland. And that was our day on Block Island. If you are in Rhode Island, get a ferry ticket and head out for the day. If you want to spend a few days on a rolling hill, rock fence New England island then Block is your place. It's a beauty.

I'm linking up! Please check out Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and a Southerner,Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections En Route and Friday Postcards at Walking On Travels for some travel inspiration!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Kayaking Alaska's Sitka Sound

I heard them before I could see them. A very loud boom followed by a large spray of water. Then a glimpse of their sleek gray bodies. We heard them a few more times before they were too far away to hear. I was sitting in a double kayak ( also known as a "divorce kayak" I'm told) with Mr. UR and our friends Wayne and Jo  in the Sitka Sound in Alaska. We had arrived in Sitka by ferry the day before. On a whim we called Sitka Sound Ocean Adventures to see if they had any openings on their kayak tours. We were in luck and they did. So the next morning we met our excellent guide Mitch and after a short safety demo we headed out into the sound on a misty and drizzly grey day.

We were sitting in the sound looking at all the kelp and listening to Mitch tell us his story of moving to Alaska when we heard them. They passed about 100 yards away moving along the channel as if it was a whale highway. There are a variety of whales that travel the Sitka sound - humpbacks, greys and orcas. It was hard to tell by sight what kind they were but I saw sleek grey, no black or white, so I'm guessing our first sighting were greys.

After that incredible experience, we started paddling towards our lunch spot. This time we saw the spray from their blowhole before we heard it. The whales were much further away, probably about 300 yards and the weather was getting choppier so it was tough paddling. They appeared to be playing in the water with lots of spraying going on. We did our darndest to get closer but it was rough going. But we were running out of time. Our kayak tour would be over and we needed to get to our meet-up place so we paddled on.

Sitka Sound Ocean Adventures met us at the beach with a healthy and delicious lunch. We ate and then they transported us and the kayaks by boat through the sound. We saw otters and passed by the Sitka harbor with it's cannery and fishing boats.

We paddled about 7 miles in all and I thought I wouldn't be able to lift my arms the next day but lo and behold, I could! It was, hands down, one of the best experiences ever. I would do it again in a heartbeat! Kayaking with whales - you can't beat it!

Full disclaimer: We paid for our tours with Sitka Sound Ocean Adventures - nothing was complimentary. I just really, really liked them. And I can't recommend them enough.

1. Sitka Sound Ocean Adventures provided us with kayaks, paddles, kayak skirts, wet weather clothing, lunch, transportation back to Sitka and ginormous homemade cookies to munch on while we paddled. You can find out more info here.
2.We booked our kayak tour on a whim but I would recommend advance reservations if you know that is what you want to do.
3. They operate guided tours, multi-day tours and have kayak rentals.
4. Enjoy!

I'm linking up with Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and A Southerner, Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections En Route and Friday Postcards at Walking On Travels. Go give them a look see for some travel inspiration!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Chicago's Millennium Park

I've pretty much figured out that I'm as old as dirt. As in, the first time I ever went to Chicago there was no Millennium Park. It wasn't even a twinkle in the eye of the park's developers.But on my most recent visit to The Windy City, I was able to spend a morning strolling around this beauty of an  urban park.

 Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate sits near the entrance to the park. Or The Bean if you are anyone but the artist (Rumor has it that the artist is not fond of the nickname) It's a fun and interactive art installation that you could spend a coupla hours enjoying. Who doesn't like looking at distorted images of themselves in a big bean? And taking lots and lots of pictures of that?

There was a free Yoga in the Park class that morning at the Pavilion (officially the Jay Pritzker Pavilion) and gazillions of people were leaving so after we were done looking at ourselves in the bean, we made our way over to The Great Lawn. There were a few stragglers left and some people just enjoying the lawn.

My favorite part of Millennium Park is Lurie Garden. A five acre garden inside the park, the highlight of the Lurie Garden is the 15 foot high Shoulder Hedge which is dramatically lit at night. There were people sitting along the boardwalk and dipping their feet in the stream and benches for sitting within the garden. Really peaceful and beautiful.

And last but not least, if you visit Millennium Park, you can't forget to stop by the Crown Fountain. Two 50 foot high glass block towers with video images of a cross-section of 1000 Chicago residents with a reflecting pool in between them, this is a popular spot in the park. Every few minutes the video images appear to be spouting water from their mouths and kids and grown-ups alike love to swim and jump in the water.

But the best image from our morning at Millennium Park was the little pair of sandals sitting right in the middle  of the sidewalk about 30 yards from the fountain. It's as if their owners just couldn't wait and had to get in that water and have fun!

Have you been to Millennium Park?

I am linking up with Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and a Southerner, Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute  and Friday Postcards at Walking on Travels so go check them out for some fun travel inspiration!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The U.S. Open at Pinehurst

My dad loved to play golf, he set aside a weekend with his golfing buddies yearly, and he loved to watch golf. Many times he ate his Sunday dinner on the couch watching the end of a tournament or we watched someone win on our little black and white tv in the kitchen. And I thought it was one big snoozefest! Whispering announcers, quiet crowds and not much action.

The 18th green

Then two years ago I was able to attend the PGA Honda Classic Golf Tournament in West Palm Beach, Florida thanks to the generosity of my uncle, who has volunteered there for years. My cousin, who has also attended for years, took my sister and I and showed us the ropes. And y'all. Wow. I had no idea. Most of the crowds were younger than us. No whispering announcers. Lots of rowdiness.It was fun! And you get to be outside all day.(If you look closely at the video of Tiger Woods leaving the tournament you can spot my sister's shoe, her claim to fame - we were right next to his family)

That's 21 year old boy wonder Jordan Spieth, recent Masters and US Open Champion, signing autographs.

The crowd clamoring for autographs

So when Mr. UR scored us tickets to the practice round of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, North Carolina last year, I was ready to go. We parked and took the air- conditioned shuttle bus to the golf course. While we were on the shuttle bus we heard that Phil Mickelson was just finishing up so we hightailed it for the 18th green and were just able to catch him and Rickie Fowler ( look at me learning all the golfers names. My dad would be so proud.) The crowds cleared out and we headed on to meet Mr. UR's brother and sit in the shade for a bit. Cause it was hot with a capital H. About 97 in the shade.

Phil Mickelson

Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson on the 18th green

We watched some of the golf from the stands and then went to one of the air-conditioned food tents where we had a snack. Then some more golf which was finishing up for the day. So we shopped and watched the practice tee and driving range.

They have tents run by the sponsors of the golf tournament that you can visit. Cars to look at, check your golf swing, get your photo taken and that sort of thing. And of course, you can purchase all kinds of U.S. Open merchandise - from hats and shirts to teddy bears and drinking glasses.

The clubhouse

We weren't allowed in the clubhouse as we aren't members and the crowds were a little more refined and less rowdy than the Honda Classic, but it was still fun. One of the things I really like about watching golf in person is that you can get closer-than-this to the golfers. If you buy a ticket to most sporting events, you pay an arm and a leg to sit really close. But at golf tournaments, you pay the same price and can sit or stand as close as is allowed. And best of all, we didn't melt.

Have you ever been to a golf tournament before?

I'm linking up at Travel Photo Thursday at A Budget Travelers Sandbox,Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute and Friday Postcards at Walking On Travels so please go check out their website for some travel inspiration!