travel

End-of-Summer Trip, Booked: Guatemala

I’m so excited. This weekend, I booked my end-of-summer trip: I’m going to study Spanish in Guatemala! I’ll spend one week in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second-largest city, living with a family and taking classes at Proyecto LingГјГ­stico Quetzalteco de EspaГ±ol. Then, I’ll be up in the mountains for another week, at their second campus, the aptly named La Escuela de la Montana, on what used to be a coffee plantation. (I would love to spend a month or longer there, but I do have a full-time job–I was lucky enough to get two consecutive weeks off!)

I’ve wanted to take a Spanish immersion trip for years. In fact, one of Mal’s friends recommended to me the school I’ll be attending…two years ago. I’ve studied Spanish a little on my own and with a tutor (i.e., my friend Glenn), and taken a few lessons on trips to Central and South America. But my proficiency–or lack of–is still abysmal. I can only semi-understand people if they speak extremely slowly. And then I can barely respond–and when I do, it’s in the present or future tenses. I actually think it’s pretty sad that I’m almost 30 years old and can only hold a conversation in one language.

Two summers ago, Mal went on a month-long trip to Bolivia to work in children’s hospitals and learn medical Spanish. Her proficiency was way better when she returned. I’m not expecting to become proficient or even conversant after my two weeks in Guatemala. But I would like to come back with a better grasp on the language–and then continue to build upon that at home and on future vacations.

This will also be my first solo trip in years–my last one was Hong Kong, six years ago. Due to Mal changing jobs and moving back to NYC, she’s unable to take vacation time off. (We’re postponing Slovenia and Croatia, our original end-of-summer trip, for next year.) And most of my other friends had booked their vacations ages ago. (Confession: I did consider crashing a friend’s three-week trip to Ecuador.) I was initially a tad nervous about traveling on my own again, but mostly I’m just very excited. Over the past few months, I’ve been shaking things up. I’ve started working on several personal projects and supplementing my already-enjoyable daily routine of ballet and hobbying with activities that I’m rediscovering–like running that 10K and just running, in general, andВ taking myself out to dinner afterwardsВ (thereby eating up all the calories I worked off). Embarking a solo trip seems like the next logical step.

I am sad that Mal won’t be coming with me, though–and I’m trying not to feel too bad about that. A few years ago, we decided to visit all of Central America together. So far, we’ve taken week-long trips to Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. It’s going to be strange going to Guatemala alone, but I likely won’t have enough time to do much traveling. So I’m hoping we can return together and really explore the country.

…and by that time, hopefully I won’t have to rely on her to do all the talking for us!

Have you taken an immersion trip? Or traveled in Guatemala? I’d love to hear your experiences!

(Image via Wikipedia)

Wanderlust Links

No traveling for me, this weekend. I’ll be here in NYC celebrating a best friend’s birthday (happy 3-0, Duh!) and hanging with Mal and Peter who are coming up to house hunt.

I’ll also be spending some time on a few travel projects. Some are work-related, but I’m most excited about a trip I’m planning for the end of summer. I’ve got a bad case of wanderlust and I’m hoping my plan will come into fruition. But until then, I’ll tide myself over with these inspiring travel links from around the web:

A Dutch city with no roads, just canals

whitehaven beachAmazing places for a swim (I’ve been to the one above!)

Quirky, arty hotels

Communal biking–and beer drinking!

The lowest point in North America

Paradise lost atВ Lake AtitlГЎn

Dance inspired by different cities around the world

How are you spending your weekend?

Dogfish Head Brewpub

Four years ago, I read a greatВ New YorkerВ piece about Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head. At the time, I was new to the world of craft beers and had only tried Dogfish Head brews on a couple occasions. But immediately after finishing the article, I wanted to head straight to theВ Dogfish Head brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. I was wowed at Calagione’s imagination for dreaming up different types of beers flavored with tea, juniper berries and all kinds of spices. And I was even more impressed at the lengths he went to create them: sourcing rare wood in Paraguay to build aging barrels, crafting a beer similar to what the Egyptians brewed back in 730 BCE and so on.

I never made it to the brewpub until Mal and Peter moved to Maryland. Dogfish Head is about 40 minutes away from their place and it’s become one of our go-to spots. Not surprisingly, they have lots of wonderfully quirky, experimental brews on tap. The food is good, too–Dogfish Head sources veggies and meat from nearby farms. Plus, beer is a key ingredient in many dishes.

The place is usually packed year-round, all times of day, even though it’s huge–two floors and an outdoor patio. But luckily, it wasn’t insane on Memorial Day afternoon. (I suppose everyone was still at the beach.) We scored a shady spot outside.

mal and peter

heather

Even though I was getting on a bus afterward, the beer menu still tempted me into ordering a drink. (How could I not?) I would have loved a flight, but opted for the Lil’ Tart, a light (only 3.4% ABV!), sparkling cherry wheat beer. Peter, who was not making a 5-hour trip back to NYC, ordered the Red & White (10% ABV), a Belgian-style witbier fermented with pinot noir juice.

dogfish head menu

And since we were coming from a very taxing day of lounging on the beach, we ordered food, as well.

dogfish head

В We shared a pizza (made with unfermented ale, of course) topped withВ prosciutto, goat cheese, arugula and balsamic reduction; a turkey burger and a BLTA (made with house cured bacon).

dogfish head food

It was the perfect way to top off the holiday weekend. I’m looking forward to returning–and getting a flight next time!

dogfish head flight

Off to the O.C.!*

Ocean City

*Ocean City, that is. I’m en route to my summer shareВ Mal and Peter’s and looking forward to a long weekend at the beach! The weather forecast isВ finallyВ warm and sunny, so I’m hoping to spend all three days lounging on the sand and listening to the surf. I’m feeling a bit beach-deprived (especially since the weather in NYC has been so gloomy, lately), so I’m really looking forward to this!

How are you spending the holiday weekend?

A Running Weekend in Saint Michaels, Maryland

Last weekend, the fam and I met Mal and Peter in Saint Michaels, Maryland, to participate in the town’s first annual running festival,В featuring a half-marathon, 10K and 5K. We had a great time! Not only did we have perfect weather, but our races went well, too.

The 10K–my race–was first. The course wound through Saint Michael’s cute downtown, opened onto a road flanked by fields, then looped back through residential side streets and a small park. My favorite part was running through a little covered bridge close to the finish line.В Coming from the city, I thought the scenery was gorgeous. (Mal and Peter–now accustomed to seeing farmland everyday–later said they found the course a little monotonous.)

It had been six years since I ran a road race. Before, I never thought about strategy–I just went off and hoped to sustain an even pace. I always felt like I was going to die toward the end, though. This time, I aimed for a negative split. I ran my first mile at a steady jog. As a competitive person, I’ll admit that it was tough to see tons of people blow by me. But I just reminded myself that I’d be passing them later–and that turned out to be true. I stepped up my pace in the second mile and really increased my speed in the final miles. I was especially glad I took it slow in the beginning because the course, while “flat and fast,” was also hot–there was almost no shade and the temperature was in the 70s by the end of the race.

I felt great when I finished–so good, in fact, that I wondered whether I should have pushed myself more.

My time was 57:28, which equals about 9:16 a mile. That’s well behind my best 10K time of 53:31, but I was still happy with my results–not bad, considering I only restarted running 2 months ago! And now that I have a new base time, my goal is to keep running to chip away at it and try to beat my personal record.

Mal and Peter’s race–the half-marathon–started around the time I finished. So we hung around the finish line to watch the runners come in. I’m always wowed at how fast other people are. The top finisher clocked in at 1 hour, 12 minutes–not much longer than it took me to run less than half the distance.

Mal and Peter came in a little after the 2 hour mark. (They ran together the whole time–so cute!)

We rented a cottage for the weekend, which turned out to be way better than staying at a hotel. I felt more relaxed staying in an actual house and being able to make our own dinner and breakfast before the race. Plus, the aptly named River House, which I found via VRBO, was charming and in a gorgeous location. It had an expansive green yard complete with Adirondack chairs…

…sunny sitting areas…

…airy bedrooms…

…amazing views…

…and, best of all, a long wooden dock perfect for sunbathing and sipping drinks–which I promptly did the minute we got back.

The town of Saint Michaels is equally as charming. Boutiques, restaurants, mom and pop shops, a winery and brewery line the quaint main street. We had a great post-race meal atВ Ava’s,В a local pizzeria and wine bar. Their pies were fantastic–light and crispy with fresh toppings. (I hate to admit it, but they topped the pies I’d eaten a few days earlier atВ Forcella, a newish downtown NYC pizza place.) The previous day, we also had tasty sandwiches at the Big PickleВ and great cookies and doughnuts from Sweetie Bakery.

For our celebratory post-race dinner, we headed to the Crab Claw. To get there, we walked through part of the harbor, passing stately waterfront B&Bs along the way.

The Crab Claw is right over the water and has the perfect ambience for a summer meal. The tables are close to the edge of the pier and there are no ropes or guardrails. We joked about falling in–and then a little kid did, while we were eating! His mother and another patron fished him out. According to our waitress, it happens all the time–and the staffers usually have to jump in and rescue them!

Our waitress told us that due to the weather, the blue crabs they had that weekend weren’t the best. So we opted for snow crab. I was initially disappointed–until the snow crabs came out. They were fantastic and cooked perfectly–a great way to close a super-fun weekend.

Have you taken any running trips/vacations? I’d love to hear where–I’m already looking forward to planning another!

Strange and Beautiful Beaches

It’s grey and rainy in NYC today. And after a great weekend of running and basking in fabulous weather (more about that later this week!), I’m dreaming of sunny days at the beach.

So it’s quite appropriate (and a bit of a tease!) that a slideshow I wrote for TravelandLeisure.com came out today. It’s a round-up of the world’s strangest and most beautiful beaches. I had a great time writing the piece and a hard time choosing which beaches to include–I’m always amazed at how many natural wonders exist. Check out some of the gorgeous photos below and read the full story here.

Pink Sands Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas

Thunder Cove, Prince Edward Island

Zlatni Rat Beach, Brac Island, Croatia

Punalu’u Beach, Hawaii

What’s the strangest and most beautiful beach you’ve ever visited? I’d have to say mine is Punalu’u Beach (photo above) on Hawaii’s Big Island. The sand really is jet black and I saw several giant sea turtles!

(All photos via TravelandLeisure.com)