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A Look Back at 2016

The more I travel, the more I find that each year tends to group itself into themes. As I look back on 2016, the three themes that my travel seemed to rotate around was taking return trips, visiting national parks and traveling consistently through my continued #take12trips challenge. I have talked about return trips in the past and how the benefits of returning somewhere with a new perspective can often be just as beneficial as viewing a totally new destination. I’ve struggled with return trips previously, but fully embraced the concept this year and enjoyed showing family and friends around some of my favorite places.

The national parks theme came about quite organically with the centennial celebration of the National Park Service. The #nps100 campaign swept not only the country, but drew millions of visitors from outside the US to invest their time this year in one of our greatest attractions. My main takeaway from my visits to six national parks this year was that I want to see more of them. They are expansive and awe-inspiring and I just cannot get enough!

And lastly, I am thrilled that the campaign that Clare started back in 2013 to travel consistently throughout the year and to incorporate local travel more frequently continues to drive forward my itineraries for the year. At times when I find gap in my travels, I often look to what I can do in my own backyard that I have not done previously and there is always plenty to fill that need!

So without further ado, here is my 2016 wrap-up!

January

Each year, I find that January is the hardest month for me to get away. After the craziness of the holidays and the consistent cold weather, it is challenging to pick up and go somewhere. Luckily, we picked a local trip right across the water to the JFK Library. It was embarrassing not to have been to the closest museum to our house and was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

A Saturday afternoon at the JFK Library

A Saturday afternoon at the JFK Library

February

February brought a blend of new and old. We headed up to for the long weekend in the middle of the month and experienced record breaking low temperatures. Luckily we were in a place where beer and pizza reign supreme which was the perfect fuel for the frigid weekend. We loved the artsy feeling of Burlington, the incredible food scene and of course, part of the reason we went was for Max to collect some highly desirable beers along the way.

Covered bridges in Burlington

Covered bridges in Burlington

Just two weeks later, we were back on the road to Providence, Rhode Island, the capital of the smallest state in the US and a city which is often overlooked by neighbors Boston and New York. The main driver for visiting was to check out the Dean Hotel, a cool and minimalist spot with a karaoke bar and beer hall within its confines. We loved our stay, the delicious food scene in Providence and the plethora of arts and library activities to keep us occupied!

Book dreams in Providence

Book dreams in Providence

March

The focus of March was a return trip to one of my favorite US cities – New Orleans. Having visited three and a half years prior, it seemed like a good time to return with my husband and friends! None of them had been to NOLA previously, which allowed me to take them back to some of my favorite places and explore some new ones! Just like I remembered, the food and music was incredible and we rented a AirBnB in order to make the most of our time together by being in a common space. Due to this being a return destination for me, I was able to travel deeper in NOLA instead of frantically trapesing around the city to see as much as possible. Beignets and po’boys remained on the menu from my previous visit, but we did try some new restaurants – La Petite Grocery for dinner and Kenton’s for brunch should be on every visitor’s list!

A trip to NOLA would not be complete without beignets at Cafe du Monde

A trip to NOLA would not be complete without beignets at Cafe du Monde

April

I kicked off April in New York City, a place that is dear to my heart because it is the home of some of my best friends! It was a convenient location for our college roommate reunion weekend, and I was able to do something new when we crossed over the Brooklyn Bridge for brunch. As a Brooklyn newbie, I loved the neighborhood feel and how it felt worlds away from Manhattan. I will definitely be back soon to explore more! At the tail end of the month, I crossed off something that has been on my “Boston Bucket List” since I moved into the city almost 5 years ago – a lobster roll at the infamous Neptune Oyster. Long listed as the “best lobster roll” in Boston despite being amongst the Italian restaurants in Boston’s North End, we knew we had to try it for ourselves and finally put in the commitment for the 3 hour wait. It did not disappoint and we rank it right up there with the best in the city!

Local oysters at Neptune

Local oysters at Neptune

May

In mid-May, I was spontaneously able to head to the Equinox property in Manchester, Vermont for the weekend with a friend! Since it was last minute, we had no real agenda except to go with the flow, which we did a very good job of! Gourmet meals, drinks by the outdoor fire pit, hiking as well as some relaxation at the spa made for the perfect getaway to a place I will most definitely be returning to sooner rather than later!

At the end of the month, we took off for our big trip of the year – Ireland. While it was a return destination for me, there was nothing better than being back in one of my favorite places (with 100% sunshine nonetheless) driving along the coast and listening to Irish tunes in the pub.

Our favorite photo of the trip, taken at sunrise in Kinsale

Our favorite photo of the trip, taken at sunrise in Kinsale

June

At the beginning of June, we crossed the border from Ireland to Northern Ireland and since they are not the same country, I can count those as two different places, right? Well, I’m going to anyways because when we got back from this trip we weren’t going anywhere else the rest of the month! Northern Ireland impressed me with its lively cities, stunning coastline and dramatic history. The culture and architecture were markedly different from Ireland in many places, and although it is often overlooked by many visitors to Ireland, I loved it just as much. Belfast in particular was one of my favorite stops on our trip!

Exploring Glenariff Forest Park in Northern Ireland

Exploring Glenariff Forest Park in Northern Ireland

July

July was mostly local with two weekends down on Cape Cod. It was great to have relaxing beach weekends spending time with family, reading books during the day and grilling at night. Mid-July, I did get to travel to the Hamptons for my best friend’s bachelorette party where I not only got to be reunited with her (the best part!), but we also got a picture-perfect weekend on the water!

Bachelorette celebrations in Montauk!

Bachelorette celebrations in Montauk!

August

August saw some more Cape time along with our much anticipated family trip to Utah to visit the Mighty 5 National Parks and Monument Valley in honor of the 100th Birthday of the National Park Services. We were all expecting it to be great, but I don’t think any of us had any idea how great. We were blown away by the beauty in the southeastern part of the US – from sandstone arches to white water rafting the Colorado River to waking up to the sunrise over iconic Monument Valley, each experience topped the next and had us all contemplating which national parks to visit next.

Beautiful views in Monument Valley

Beautiful views in Monument Valley

September

September may have turned out to be my busiest month yet, but that seems fitting because it is my favorite month! Summer crowds and temperatures die down, but the views are still just as pretty! We traveled to Asheville and Great Smoky Mountain National Park to celebrate our first anniversary! We felt spoiled to be seeing another national park so close after our return from Utah and loved every minute of it, especially the sunsets! Asheville was a fun and lively place to be with great restaurants, a pretty epic beer scene and plenty of history to keep us occupied. The next weekend I was off to Block Island, a tiny island off the coast of Rhode Island which I hadn’t been to in years, to meet my college roommate and celebrate a whole decade since we became roomies! The weekend was full of lobster rolls, ice creams and bike rides and was the perfect ending to the summer season. We closed out September with another trip to Cape Cod for our friends’ wedding which turned out to be the picture-perfect wedding weather on the beach.

Taking part in the Asheville beer culture

Taking part in the Asheville beer culture

October

The wedding theme continued in October with three weddings in the first two weekends of the month, but it took us back to some of our favorite places of Newport and Cape Cod. It was so fun to be able to celebrate with our best friends in these beautiful places!

Flying high over Newport

Flying high over Newport

November

Woodstock, New York was the destination of choice in November for a college reunion weekend. It turned out to be the most convenient location for all 15 of us traveling from New York City, Boston, DC and even San Francisco and we rented an AirBnB and had a blast just being together and exploring the surrounding location. A 5-mile strenuous hike up Overlook Mountain was a great day time activity and the timing of the weekend before Thanksgiving prompted a Friendsgiving celebration with lots of food, red wine and good laughs! We also unexpectedly got the first snow of the season!

Woodstock 2016 Crew

Woodstock 2016 Crew

December

Last, but not least, in December my mom and I finally got around to scheduling our mother-daughter trip! We’ve never waited this long and we got a bit nervous that we were going to struggle to find a destination when December was a good time to visit, but when in doubt head to the desert. We booked Palm Springs relatively last minute when we realized it checked all the boxes – sunshine, spa, hiking and good food. Palm Springs surprised me with being fun and relaxing all in one! We had the opportunity to head to Joshua Tree National Park for a day, take part in the Palm Springs pool culture and eat at many delicious restaurants, including Cary Grant’s old estate.

Christmas celebrations in California

Christmas celebrations in California

By February of this year, the only trips I had booked were New Orleans and Ireland which left many different scenarios on how everything was going to fall in place. It ended up being just the way I would have planned it – great returns to some of my favorite places, lots of travel time with family and friends, two new states, three new cities, six new national parks and a whole host of inspiration of places to travel in 2017!

What was your favorite place you traveled in 2016?

A Weekend in Palm Springs

Once known as a retreat for famous movie stars, a drive through Palm Springs will have you passing streets named after Bob Hope, Gene Autry, Frank Sinatra and many other celebrities who helped make the area famous. However, the iconic desert of Palm Springs is now renowned for its golf, spas, stylish hotels, great restaurants and modern architecture. Read more

My National Park Wishlist

As 2016 comes to a close, so does the year of the National Park Services (NPS) Centennial, a momentous occasion for Americans to celebrate one hundred years of the parks preserving our natural resources. And while the celebration of the centennial was partially to look back and reflect on the progress made in recreation, conservation and preservation, it was also a pledge for future generations to continue the stewardship for a hundred more years and beyond. Read more

Highlights of Northern Ireland

Most first time visitors to Ireland focus their attention on the Republic of Ireland, leaving its interesting, picturesque and less crowded neighbor to the north for a “later visit.” It is understandable as there is enough to keep one busy in Ireland for months on end; however, Northern Ireland deserves just as much attention as it has interesting cities, rugged coastline and many historical sites based on its complicated history.  Read more

A Night in Monument Valley

When planning our trip to Utah, our focus was the national parks. Trying to fit 5 parks in an already condensed timeframe felt rushed, but my brother was adamant on adding Monument Valley to the mix. As a lifelong John Wayne fan, and a Western movie fanatic, this was his ultimate destination and we all obliged him in adding it to the itinerary. What we didn’t realize was that Monument Valley is a magical place. Read more

A Weekend on Block Island

I find the summer season to be fleeting every year. I know many people in the northeast share a similar sentiment as it seems to take longer and longer each year for the weather to warm up and before we know it, its Labor Day! While I try to make the most of the season, there are always a couple of local trips that I put on the back burner when I run out of time, determined to tackle them the following summer – Block Island is one of the trips which has been carried over for quite a few summers now. Read more

An Anniversary in Asheville

Max and I have always been a big fan of celebrating special moments. We’re not big present people, but we love celebrating a milestone with a special dinner or trip and our first wedding anniversary was no exception! Having just returned from Utah, we had limited vacation days to spare so focused on choosing a new US city for both of us which was only a quick plane ride away, could be explored in just a couple of days and had good recreational activities, (e.g., food, beer and hiking). Enter Asheville! Read more

Travel Tips for Utah’s Mighty 5

Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion National Park collectively make up the “Mighty 5” in the southeastern part of Utah. At the end of our trip to Utah’s Mighty 5, the conclusion was unanimous – these five national parks are aptly named. From delicate arches to dramatic canyons to red rocks and sheer cliffs, they are each impressive but remain unique. Read more

Happy 100th Birthday to the National Parks: Utah in Video

The “Mighty 5” National Parks of Utah have long been on my bucket list. It is one of those trips which I carry over each year because I never manage to set aside enough time. As my mom and I were discussing vacation plans for the upcoming year, we decided we had to do a national park trip in honor of the 100th year anniversary of the National Park Services (NPS) and Utah ended up being the decisive winner.  At the conclusion of the trip, I realized I only had two regrets about our pick, 1) not visiting sooner and 2) not staying longer.  We traveled with my family and between all our crazy schedules we only had 9 days of exploring to dedicate to this trip, which only means we have fine-tuned the places we want to return to for our next visit!

With 9 days in Southern Utah we visited 5 national parks, 1 Navajo tribal park, 1 state park, went white water rafting, drove over 1,600 miles and hiked close to 70 miles. While it was a busy week, there was also plenty of time for relaxing and taking in the beauty that abounds in Southern Utah. We were lucky enough to visit during the actual 100th birthday of the NPS on August 25th and it made me incredibly grateful to the early adventurers and conservationists who discovered and preserved these places for future generations.

One of my favorite quotes about the national parks was from Lyndon B. Johnson which I discovered on a plaque as we were getting ready to start the Queen’s Trail / Navajo Loop in Bryce. “If future generations are to remember us more with gratitude than sorrow, we must achieve more than just the miracles of technology. We must also leave a glimpse of the world as it was when it was created, not just as it looked when we got through with it.” In world where technological improvements reign supreme, let’s hope our generation can put an equal amount of focus to preserving these national parks and historical sites for hundreds of years to come.  
 
A little glimpse of our trip to Utah via video below. More details to come on the national parks in the coming weeks!

 

This video is not being monitized. 

Best of Belfast

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Belfast, we sat at a bustling outdoor bar, drinking craft cocktails and watching stylish people come through to meet their friends. The city was alive and it was hard to imagine in that moment that Belfast had ever been anything other than a bright, lively cultural center; however, most people in our generation know the history of Belfast is dark and it is a city which has survived decades as a warzone. Read more