Travel: A Hidden Gem

Watkins Glen State Park is a hidden gem of nature I had never heard of before, until recently. Okay, so maybe it’s not quite as hidden as I hear it is actually one of the most famous New York State Parks and the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks, yet somehow this amazing oasis of unparalleled beauty had managed to stay out of my radar my whole life.

It first came to my attention (barely!) a few months ago when I pinned a photo of one of its gorgeous cascades to my Travel board on Pinterest. However, even though the beauty portrayed in the photo captured me and it surprised me to read in the caption this was actually located in New York, I didn’t pay any further attention to it. I simply pinned it as yet another place on my travel bucket list that I’d like to visit “someday”.

Little did I know at the time, that for once “someday” wasn’t a vague word to describe a time in the very distant future, and that I would actually be visiting such wonder of the world before the year’s end. It wasn’t even that I planned to visit Watkins Glen State Park this soon, as I didn’t even remember ever pinning a photo of it, let alone its existence, but through various circumstances I found myself visiting the Finger Lakes area a few weeks ago and ended up exactly there in an almost spur-of-the-moment excursion.

I call this park a hidden a gem not only because I went my whole life unaware of it, but also because I’m extremely surprised that its popularity is sort of mild. Sure, there were other visitors exploring the park and hiking its trails while we were there, and I’m sure they get a good flow of tourists all throughout the summer, but its beauty is so incredibly magnificent it should be renowned around the world! It should be a household name, right up there with the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. It may not be as impressive in size, but its beauty will blow your mind.

I have traveled and explored many places in my lifetime, and I can honestly say this place astounded me. I didn’t even explore the whole park, but just the 1.3 miles of the Gorge Trail going over and under tens of waterfalls was enough to fall in love. Even a few weeks later, I still find myself looking at the photos I took of them, again and again. I just can’t get over it. And I’m pretty sure you won’t get over it either if you ever visit the wonderland that is Watkins Glen State Park.

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Travel: NY Photo Diary

I got back from NY a couple of weeks ago but I’m still very much in a New York state of mind, so today I bring you my photo diary from this last trip to one of the most exhilarating cities in the world.
For the first time ever, I ventured out of Manhattan into the increasingly popular Brooklyn, and I am very pleased I did. It’s funny how just crossing one bridge can feel like entering a completely different world, despite their similar old time charm. I only got to roam thru a bit of Prospect Heights and its beautiful Prospect Park, which you can almost consider the Central Park of Brooklyn, before heading straight for some famous Brooklyn pizza right under the Brooklyn bridge and then taking a ferry back to the city. All I can say is, I’ll be back Brooklyn, I’ll be back.
As for Manhattan, I got to finally see the 9/11 Memorial since on all my trips over the last few years, it had always been under construction. It is beautiful and touching as it should be. I also got to see another Broadway classic that has been on my list for a while, Mamma Mia! and I loved it, which I knew I would because I love the movie version just as much. Still, I gotta say Wicked continues to my favorite among the several musicals I’ve been lucky to see.
Another first on this trip was visiting Central Park during dusk. I’ve been there many times before but never when the light is fading and the park is significantly less busy. You get a completely different feel for it without all the hustle and bustle going on. I gotta say I did miss the street entertainers and artists one can usually find on The Mall walk during the day, and I wasn’t very happy to see some rats starting to come out to look for their dinner.
Anyway, after not being able to visit the Top of the Rock on my previous 2 trips because it was so overcast, I decided to make up for it by hanging out there for a while…that while turned into 3 lovely hours of admiring the city from all angles, enjoying a beautiful NY sunset, and getting delighted by all the twinkling city lights. It felt so good to stop for longer than a New York minute to take it all in. Whenever I’m in New York, I’m always rushing trying to make sure I get to see as much as possible, so slowing down was nice for a change. Note to self, remember to do that more often on my future trips.
Oh, New York, New York, how I miss you already! I guess for now I’ll have to settle for looking at these pictures and going over all the memories in my head (and my heart!) time and time again.

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Travel: Random Acts of Kindness

I spent the rest of my first week in Europe, in Paris…eating croissant…alone. If you’re a Sex and the City fan (as me!) then you certainly remember those scenes from the series finale, where a nostalgic and melancholic Carrie spends all her time exploring Paris all alone. Well, that was pretty much me in Paris…minus the smoking and fabulous wardrobe. Of course I was still ecstatic to be there, to walk into Notre Dame, to wander thru the Ch√Ęteau du Versailles, to go back to the Tour Eiffel and make it all the way to the top, to spend lovely afternoons sitting at the Jardin des Tuileries or admiring the Seine River; but I would lie if I didn’t admit it got a little bit lonely at times. I mean to make such a big dream come true, to witness such beauty, and to not have someone there to share it with…yeah, it got lonely.
Paris was the only city during my whole trip where I didn’t meet someone new everyday or made friends with fellow travelers (other than my first night there). I don’t know if it was because I didn’t speak the language or because the French can be, ahem, unfriendly, or maybe because I wasn’t sharing a room with other travelers…most likely it was all of the above, but no connections were sparked. I still fell in love with the city, but my time there was for sure one of mixed emotions, bittersweet even.
At some point during that week, I decided that my next destination should be Italy. I sort of knew someone in Milan, who had agreed to let me couchsurf (that term hadn’t even been invented then!) at her place, and after that lonely week in Paris it seemed like the best idea to go somewhere where a friendly face awaited. And that someone was my friend Gaby, who would indeed become a dear, dear friend after that visit. Truth is we weren’t really friends when I first came to see her in Milano. In fact, we had barely met before that. Actually, it was so random how we met that I have to share that funny story, and this is how it goes…
My now husband, who was just a friend at the time, had extensively travel thru Europe for business back in the mid-90’s, and on a long, overnight train ride from Milan to Paris, had met a Mexican girl named Gaby, who was living in Italy. She wasn’t very fluent in English and Gregg spoke barely any Spanish, but a couple of older Argentinian ladies who were also on the train served as translators, and a connection of sorts was made between them. They never saw each other again after that train ride (’til this day they haven’t seen each other since), but email addresses were exchanged. Correspondence didn’t last very long, after a few emails back and forth, they lost contact.
One day, after first deciding to make this European trip on my own, I was talking to Gregg about it and mentioned that being on a tight budget, I was really hoping I could find some acquaintances over the pond, kind enough to offer me a roof for a few days so I could cut down my travel cost. He told me the story of how he met Gaby and said that he hadn’t talked/written to her in years, but that he still had her email address and that maybe I could get in touch with her. And so I did. I don’t know what possessed me to think I could just email a stranger saying “hey girl, we’ve never met before, but can I crash on your couch for a few days this summer?” but that’s kind of what happened. Lucky for me, she still used that same email address, and when I wrote to her telling her how I got it and how I even knew of her, she totally remember Gregg. We started some online communication, and it turned out she was a native of Monterrey, where I was living at the time. She was still living in Italy, but on one of her trips to visit her family in Monterrey, we got together so we could finally meet in person after a couple of months of online chatting. I don’t remember exactly at what point in our correspondence I actually told her about my plans to go to Europe and about the possibility of crashing at her pad if it was ok with her, but I do remember she didn’t hesitate to say “of course you can stay with me in Milan!” Looking back on it, it amazes me how kind and generous she was to me. We never really set any specific dates for when I would visit, we had just left it at a vague “sometime this summer”, so I was a little nervous when I called her from Paris to say “hey, sorry for the short notice, but any chance I can stay there next week?” Again, luckily for me, she was so cool and easy-going, and that ended up working just fine for her.
So on my last day in Paris, I sat on a street bench outside my hotel, trying to soak in all the Parisian air I could before leaving. I was just in the middle of that, when an old Italian man came to sit next to me and wanted to start a conversation. He must’ve been at least 70 years old, and didn’t speak any English or Spanish, but he was too friendly to care about the language barrier. That’s how I discovered that Spanish and Italian are more similar than I could’ve ever imagined, because we managed to communicate just fine with him speaking in his mother tongue and me speaking mine. That’s also when I first realized that after spending a week of several encounters with rude French people, I was in for a treat of hospitality from Italians. He inquired where I was headed with my luggage, and after hearing that I needed to get to Gare du Nord to take a train but had no idea how to get there, he decided he would take me. We took public transport of course, but it was nice not having to figure it all out on my own. He was so kind as to not only getting me to the train station, but also helping me find my train, and then my seat on the train, and he didn’t leave until he made sure I was comfortably situated on it. Just one more random act of kindness and generosity I got to experience on that trip.
I was so excited and ready to move on to my next destination, and so happy to get to travel by train. I grew up listening to train stories from my family because my grandpa and uncles worked on the railroad their whole lives, and now finally I was going to have my very own first train experience ever. And so off I went…au revoir Paree…ciao Milano!

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