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Culture, Destinations, North America, Travel Tips

A Day in the Park

October 26, 2017 • By

I’ve lived in New York City the greater part of 16 years and I never tire walking through Central Park. It’s my favorite spot to seek solace and tranquility in an otherwise hectic environment.

Fantasy Aisle, Central Park, the heart of New York City

Central Park, the heart of New York City

With summer bleeding into fall, I explored the park with a new lens. I entered 72nd Street on the east side (off limits to cars on weekends) and joined the hoards of runners and bicyclists moving uptown along their respective paths. It was hot and humid and I admired the fitness levels of those zipping past me. People dressed in sponsored training attire, fathers and mothers pushing strollers, friends talking to friends and others like me making the most of a morning in the park.

Fantasy Aisle, Early morning runners and walkers

Early morning runners and walkers

The falling leaves signal the change in seasons as shady areas succumb to open patches of golden yellow and blazing red. The squirrels don’t mind because this is their territory and they out number people. They move quickly popping in and out of pathways diving into the leaves–they are not shy.

I venture off the crowded pathway into the “Ramble” where winding walkways lead to a man-made forest within a city. The sounds of fire engines and traffic disappear and I weave around huffing and puffing in silence until I spy a couple kissing passionately. I startle them. How long have they been hiding? This is the perfect place to seek shade, read a book, grab a pair of binoculars and bird watch. I hesitate but then continue with my goal to make the 6.02-mile loop around the park.

Next, I take in an adult soccer game on the Great Lawn. They see me lurking and put on a good performance before I find myself zig-zagging on another walkway to reach the Shuman Running Path bordering the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. The direction for runners and walkers remains unchanged year after year and I make a mental note to voice my opinion.

Fantasy Aisle, The pesky Central Park squirrel

The pesky Central Park squirrel

At the north end of the reservoir, the city skyline comes into view. There is a slight fog obscuring the tallest skyscrapers but it provides a simple backdrop to the simplicity of the calming water and the fall foliage. I walk half of the 1.58 mile-loop and exit to a bridge I’ve crossed a hundred times. It’s an antique straight out of the chalk drawing in the “Mary Poppins” Jolly Holiday scene.

Fantasy Aisle, Gothic bridge, connecting the Reservoir to the Tennis Courts at 94th Street

Gothic bridge, connecting the Reservoir to the Tennis Courts at 94th Street

I take a quick bathroom break at the tennis courts and watch a match in progress. The courts both clay and hard are filled with people of all ages and levels. If only I brought my racquet, I could practice my serve.

My feet ache for a timeout but I push myself through the Conservatory Garden. A beckoning bench reads, “Take time to sit and smell the flowers,” useful and timely advice.

Fantasy Aisle, Conservatory Garden located on the Upper East Side of the park

Conservatory Garden located on the Upper East Side of the park

Now on the West Side of the park and the sun bearing down on me, I wipe my sweat and duck into the North Meadow walking briskly to Belvedere Castle and the Shakespeare Garden. The tourists are awake and occupy the castle’s landing with cameras and tripods. I check to make sure the turtles are still roaming freely at Turtle Pond and remember my first performance of “Much Ado About Nothing” during the 2014 season of Shakespeare in the Park.

Fantasy Aisle, Empty swings await

Empty swings await

Fatigue sets in and I’m counting the 40+ blocks I need to finish the 6.02-mile loop. The joy has vanished from my face and my walk transformed from a leisurely activity into a mission of sorts. I notice a woman on a swing and move to take her picture but pause. We exchange pleasantries and I admit I haven’t sat on a swing in ages. She tells me to give it a try and I do. I’m kicking my legs faster and faster and soaring into the air. We swing together but not in unison. She is in her 60s I guess and loves the park for the swings. She stops, waves and bids me a good day. I let my hair blow in the wind and push higher and higher until I am scared and slow my pace. A child inhabited my body and I jump off the swing making a skittish landing on the sand. I recover. That was fun.

Fantasy Aisle, A beautiful bride poses at Bethesda Terrace and Fountain (lower passage) in Central Park

A beautiful bride poses at Bethesda Terrace and Fountain (lower passage) in Central Park

Central Park serves as an open-air museum and events center to New Yorkers and its guests. There is something for everyone whether it’s catching rays of sun in Sheep Meadow, paddling a rowboat on the pond near the Loeb Boat House, pledging wedding vows at the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain or listening to the talented musicians scattered along Literary Walk.  A day in the park is only the beginning.

When I bought a park map from Karina, a 24-year-old student from the Bronx, I asked her what she enjoyed most about the park and she answered, “Literary Walkduh. I finished my adventure along the Mall admiring the statues of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott and talking with Shayneh Starks, a native of Newport Beach, CA who has been visiting Central Park for the last 20 some years. She sits and listens to the magical music of Ralph U. Williams who is a talent on the saxophone. We discuss her first visit to the park with her mother when she was 21-years-old and I tell her I love zooming around the park on my bike but early on weekends before the tourists arrive. I ask her what she likes most.  She pauses and with passion and a smile answers, “The best part of Central Park is the fireflies.”

Fantasy Aisle, The Mall and Literary Walk, a favorite of many in Central Park

The Mall and Literary Walk, a favorite of many in Central Park

I agree. I thank Shayneh for the conversation and hunt for an empty bench in front of Kerbs Boathouse. The next few hours I bask in the sun reading my book and forgetting I live in a city with 8.5 million people.

My Favorite Spots in Central Park

The Pond at sunrise.  Take in the view of the Gapstow Bridge and a glimpse of the city’s skyline

Sip a coffee or a grab a drink at Kerbs Boathouse/Conservatory Water

Walk/Run the 1.58 mile loop around the Reservoir

Fancy a game of tennis?

Camp out all night for free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater (I usually cheat and become a member of the public theater)

Take a break at Strawberry Fields and listen to the Beatles greatest hits played by visiting musicians

Enjoy paddle boating at the Loeb Boathouse

Read a book and fall asleep in Sheep Meadow

Enjoy an outdoor lunch at Tavern on the Green

Let someone else do the driving on a romantic Horse Carriage Ride through the park

Breathe in the sounds and sights of Literary Walk/the Mall

Catch a free movie night in the Park

Plan for a Concert in the Park

Snap pictures of the Boathouse and people getting married at the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain

Fun for kids and parents

Make some figure eights at the Wollman Rink

Get dizzy on the Carousel

Pet an animal or two at the Tisch Children’s Zoo

Go paddle boating at the Loeb Boathouse and take in city views

Culture, North America

Goldilocks I am not!

August 28, 2017 • By

Hiking Shenanigans near Hope, Alaska

There are places I read about in travel magazines that I file away in the ole’ noggin of must-see sites.  In most cases, the description matches my expectation and I am glad I made the time.

This trip, I decide to visit Hope, Alaska, a small former gold mining town located on the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet.  It’s a two-hour drive from Seward to Hope, and I’m immediately annoyed I made the trip because there is nothing here but RVs and a couple of closed shops.  Upon first glance, Hope reminds me of a modern day ghost town and I wonder if someone named this place Hope because it’s Hopeless.

Fantasy Aisle

Hope Alaska, a former gold mining town and a weekend getaway spot for Anchorage residents

It’s mid-morning; quiet fills the air and calmness coats the glassy water.  I slowly understand the appeal of Hope.  It’s quaint but I prefer activity to sleepy towns. If searching for a respite from city life, Hope would be the place to go. Its simplified beauty and serenity make it a place where people are one with nature.

I am not sure what do with myself and I drive around to make sure I haven’t missed anything.  I visit Tito’s, the only restaurant open (in fact, the only place to eat) and contemplate my next move.  I pore over my map and decide I will go hiking on the Resurrection Pass Trail.  I could use a little resurrection.  I get to the trail, park the car, sign away my life–name and time of entry with the National Park Service–and hit the trail with little to no knowledge about where I am going or what the trail entails.

Fantasy Aisle on the Resurrection Pass Trail near Hope, Alaska

From Hope to Coopers Landing in Alaska

There is something incredibly appealing about Alaska.  It’s pristine, untouched, beckoning and terrifying. I am on the trail and I’m talking to myself. I notice footprints below and I assume they belong to a moose or bear. I start yelling, “Hey Bear!” Half the time I think my voice sounds like I am calling the bear to greet me, not to scare it away.  I’m staring down as I walk because I am a klutz and prone to tripping…but how am I going to spot bears?  It’s a conundrum, and as I mull it over, I start to daydream. These prints are definitely those of a wild animal and, from what I learned on my safari years ago, they are fresh.

“I will be ready,”  I say to myself.

Fantasy Aisle Kelly smiling near the Resurrection Creek on the trail near Hope, Alaska

Along the Resurrection Creek on the Resurrection Pass Trail

I’m overdressed and the flies and mosquitoes are attacking me. Since I am dripping sweat, the monsters consider me more attractive meat.  I layer down and continue listening to the sounds of the rushing Resurrection Creek.  The spruce and aspen forests and some flowers cover the terrain, but I am mostly focused on why the hell I am torturing myself on this hike.

My mind wanders all over the place:

”I am miserable.”

“I am going to have to pee soon.”

“How long have I been walking?”

“Is it time to turn around?”

“Follow your passion.”

“Is this my passion?”

“You cannot love someone else if you don’t love yourself.”

Fantasy Aisle

A flower that juices contain a phototoxin reacting with skin when exposed to ultraviolet light

And then I think about the fairy tale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” and my internal dialogue continues.  “That’s a bunch of bullshit.  Some mother who lived in a forest made that story up so her kids wouldn’t be afraid to go outside.”

“Oh my god.”

It hits me. I am in a place that feeds on my deepest fears.  I am a self-proclaimed hypochondriac and I am in a state–in a land– where I am surrounded by everyday threats of tsunamis, avalanches, moose, bear, caribou and wolf attacks, and hypothermia.

How am I on this trail alone, with bear spray I am not entirely sure I know how to use when I couldn’t even leave my job to try something new? When I dated someone on and off for 10 years with no future and I was afraid to be alone.  This is madness.

I hear rustling and wake up from my fog.  It’s two hikers.  We exchange greetings and ask if the other has seen any bears. (I’ve learned by now that this is a normal line of questioning in Alaska.)  The couple tells me I should be in good shape because three hikers and a dog are about a mile ahead of me.  I giggle.

“Ok, thanks.”

Fantasy Aisle

My scary “bear” dog print

Those big bad prints belonged to a dog. I cannot stop laughing.  I take the time to pee, squatting as the mosquitoes bite into me and then I turn back. The return walk seems longer than I remember but I am strong and confident.  I can take on the bears.  I shoot a video for my friend who urged me to visit Alaska, still laughing about the bear “claws” I discovered.

After a four-hour-hike, I arrive back to the car and initial my safe return with the ranger’s log. Now, where should I stay tonight?