Happy Birthday, National Park Service!

The National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday weekend back in August (yeah, I know, four months ago) and in honor of it, the park service opened all national parks for free! I am a huge park lover and outdoors enthusiast so I took advantage of the free admission and visited a couple of the parks over the weekend. It was my first time ever venturing out beyond Queens on Long Island, so there were lots of new things to see!

My adventure began with a bus ride into Manhattan and then a subway ride over into Long Island City to meet up with a couple friends who were also interested in visiting the national parks. After some delicious bagels from Bricktown Bagel, we hopped into a car and made our way out toward Sagamore Hill to visit Teddy Roosevelt’s house.

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Sagamore Hill is up on the north side of Long Island in Oyster Bay. It’s roughly an hour and a half journey from Manhattan. We had a picnic lunch on the lawn of Teddy Roosevelt’s home and then enjoyed walking around inside. No photography is allowed inside the home, but a quick Google search for images of it reveal just how grandiose the interior design is. Trophies and evidence of Roosevelt’s love of big game hunting are on display throughout the entirety of the house – animal skin rugs in almost every room and large, taxidermy, trophy heads mounted on the walls. It is quite impressive! The coloring inside is dark and rich – dark wood paneling, richly colored paintings and carpets. In a way, the house is a perfect snapshot of a time in history, and not only because it’s a presidential home. It reflects that turn-of-the-century, golden travel era feeling; the home brings you back in time in a magical way.

Outside Teddy’s home are rocking chairs, a wrap around porch, walking paths, and a tall windmill. I didn’t stay long enough to check out the walking paths and nature trail, but it’s definitely on the list for next time!

After visiting the Roosevelt home, we headed into town for some Oyster Bay oysters and fish. With a delicious lunch in our bellies, we continued onward to Fire Island National Seashore.

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Getting to Fire Island requires a boat ride across the bay. After disembarking on the island at Sailor’s Haven, our group headed into Sunken Forest preserve for a walk through the island’s lowlands, bogs, and eventually the beach. The bugs ate a couple of us alive while in the forested sections, but once out on the beach, we soaked up some sun and enjoyed the water with no care for how wet our clothes got (which is an incredibly liberating thing, actually).

As the evening winded down, we took the last ferry back to Sayville on Long Island and headed west back toward Manhattan, chasing the sunset. We stopped for some delicious cold cheese pizza (life-changer, guys) and all was well.

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Flying in a 1930 Biplane

Since dating the son of a pilot, my life has become much more steeped in aircraft, planes, and general aviation.  I have always liked planes – they’re pretty cool, after all, and a huge part of my travels! This past weekend, I had an incredible aviation experience unlike any other.  I was invited to come along on a photo shoot that focused on military veterans after their service.  The veterans participating in the shoot fly vintage biplanes from the 1930’s and 1940’s at the Bayport Aerodrome on Long Island, New York.  Needless to say, it was like aviation heaven!

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The shots for the photo shoot required being in the air, naturally, and I was fortunate enough to score an open seat with one of the pilots going up.  I have never before been in a biplane and wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was positively one of the best experiences ever!  I enjoy “regular” commercial planes quite a bit but this biplane experience took my enjoyment and appreciation of airplanes to new heights (pun intended).

The photographers for the shoot and the pilots discussed formations and directions for what to do in the air – many of the planes do not have radios to communicate to each other, so knowing what to do ahead of time was crucial. Afterward, it was time to jump into the planes!  A wonderful gentleman offered to take me up in his beautiful green biplane from 1930 during the airborne photo shoot – I was very excited!  I sat in the front seat and he piloted from the rear seat. I donned a flying cap with headphones and a mic, and off we went toward the runway!

The runway itself was a grass strip.  The planes all lined up for takeoff and, before I knew it, it was my turn to head down the runway! The propeller spun furiously and we quickly gained speed before finally lifting off the ground.  It was such a bizarre yet incredible sensation! For a few minutes, I had that feeling you get while free falling on a roller coaster – I kept waiting for gravity to kick in and to feel some sort of steadiness or balance (like you do on a large commercial plane), but it never came.  Instead, I quickly adjusted to the bouncing of the small craft and the wonderful experience of truly feeling like I was flying (compared to a larger, commercial plane where you know you are flying but you don’t necessarily feel it). The whole time while in the air, I couldn’t stop smiling.

We flew out over Long Island and then over the water toward Fire Island.  The planes circled the lighthouse on the island a couple times for the photos and then my pilot flew me out over the beach, did some quick turns, and was able to really show me what the plane could do!  It was pretty windy up there, especially since the cockpits are open-topped, and a little cold, too, but nowhere near as cold as I had imagined it being.  After some time flying around up in the air, we turned and headed back toward the airfield.

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Landing the plane went much more smoothly than I had envisioned it in my mind.  I had anticipated a bumpy and rocky landing, but my pilot put the plane down gently and with ease back onto the grass runway – a sign of great skill and experience!  My only complaint was that I had to exit the plane when we were finished.  I wanted to keep flying!

After the flight, I perused the old planes in the hangars.  One was especially stunning – a black and blue WACO biplane.  The man who owned it asked if I’d like to sit in it, so I did! My cousin captured a great shot:

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Photo by B. A. Van Sise

I am so grateful to have been able to experience such a fantastic flight. Flying in a vintage biplane has only strengthened my love for flying and appreciation for aviation!

 

sarahheart

 

Girls Love Travel NYC Meetup

Less than a year ago, the incredible and wonderful online community called Girls Love Travel was founded. Using Facebook as its platform, Girl Love Travel brings women young and old and from all corners of the world together to share and discuss travel and adventure stories, information, and general positivity.  I’ve been with the community from the very start and am so beyond excited to see it grow (our logo is now a registered trademark! Crazy!). While Girls Love Travel functions mostly online, we do have in-person interaction, too. I first met the founder of Girls Love Travel, Haley Woods, last January at a small meetup in Orlando, where we went to Disney World and had SO much fun!  It was a pleasure to be able to meet up with even more women from the community this past weekend at an event in New York City!

Girls Love Travel organizes events and meetups around the globe as a way for women to connect through travel.  A large meetup was held in Los Angeles not too long ago and, after the success of that west coast event, we decided to have one on the east coast, too.  Last Saturday, we meet up in Brooklyn for a fantastic afternoon of drinks, friends, story telling, and overall fun!!

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I arrived a little early since I live (relatively) nearby.  I took a train into Long Island City, Queens, and walked over the Pulaski Bridge into Brooklyn, where our event was being held.  Our venue was a fabulous rooftop with views of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn.  It was stunning!

I checked in upon arrival and immediately headed to the merch table – there are so many great goodies to be had! The red tank top with our logo had been catching my eye for quite some time, so I was happy to make a purchase.  Not long after, more and more women showed up and the event was really underway!

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We feasted on yummy sandwiches, caprese appetizers, fruit, desserts, and gulped down some Hubert’s Lemonade, wine, and cocktails.  People floated around and exchanged incredible travel stories, divulged travel tips and info, and just got to know one another.  I was so happy to meet a bunch of women who happen to live within walking distance of me.  Girls Love Travel has a great way of bringing people together!

There was a raffle that included a bunch of prizes, a photo shoot for our upcoming 100,000 member milestone, and goodie bags! It was such a fun afternoon that no one wanted to leave – I helped organize an “after outing” with some of the girls in Queens that eventually landed us in Manhattan later that night.  A group of us enjoyed the sunset from Hunter’s Point Park and then took the East River Ferry into the City.  Drinks and dinner at Joshua Tree rounded out the night!

Seriously, it was an incredible day.  I met so many amazing women, shared information, stories, and laughs, and just had so much fun with everyone! There’s definitely a unique bond that Girls Love Travel creates among its members.  If you’re a female who loves adventure and travel, or are even just interested in getting started with travel, check out our facebook page! There’s so much to read about and explore there!

 

Happy travels!

sarahheart

 

Brooklyn Cherry Blossom Festival

Last weekend was the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s annual cherry blossom festival, Sakura Matsuri. It’s a huge weekend with events that include traditional Japanese music and dancing, Japanese foods, origami crafting, cosplaying, and book signings. Plus, there is lots to see in gardens themselves, from the beautiful blossoming spring flowers to the newly green trees, it’s incredible to see and take in.  I’m so glad I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon exploring everything.

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I bought tickets in advance which is a MUST if you plan on going.  After popping up outside the gardens from the subway, there was an immediately noticeable HUGE line forming for ticket sales. Since I had tickets already, though, I was able to go through the “express entrance.”  The trick, however, was to enter through the back of the gardens and not the main entrance.  At the rear, there was virtually no line and I was able to pretty much walk in.  So buying advance tickets and taking the back entrance is definitely the way to go!

I was met with beautiful trees and flowers when I entered. There were a bunch of children’s activity stations set up and I stopped to participate in one (because who isn’t a kid at heart?).  I made an “insect hotel” with bamboo, rubber bands, and ribbons.  It was nice to do a hands-on activity! Afterward, I walked toward the front of the gardens through trees and landscaped areas in order to get to the cherry blossoms.  And there was no way to miss them – they were huge and blossoming!

A stage was set up between the rows of blossoming cherry trees and was featuring traditional Japanese music and dancing when I visited. Hundreds of people were seated on blankets beneath the trees, making it somewhat difficult to navigate around and find “space,” but the up-close-in-person views of the trees and flowers were incredible.  The blossom petals swirled in the breeze just as I has always pictured them doing 🙂

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The closer to the cherry blossoms, the more people there seemed to be.  Even the surrounding garden areas near the blossoming trees were full of people (the Gardens closed off certain areas, though, such as the rose garden).  I headed to an upper walkway that provided views of the festival below.  Then I found my way over to a bunch of tents that were set up.  I had been looking forward to seeing what was for sale, and this was the right place! A number of tents sold gorgeous artwork, Japanese food and fare, kimonos, books, kawaii accessories, and tea.  It was fun to tour the tents and check out what was available!

Springtime in general means that lots of flowers are blooming – at almost every turn in the gardens there were brightly colored trees and flowers! The cherry blossoms may have been the main event, but the other gorgeous flowers were just as worthy of peoples’ attention.  There were giant Japanese peonies, full-bloom tulips, roses, and lilac.  It smelled fantastic!

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Because of how popular sakura matsuri is, walking around in certain areas was a bit difficult. The walking paths around the pond were pretty much single-file because of how crowded they were.  Having lots of patience was key to having a good time at the festival.  Thankfully, I wasn’t rushed for time at all so I was able to mosey and meander and take my time 🙂 I’m very happy to have had the chance to experience the festival! I still look back at my pictures of the cherry blossoms and can’t get over how gorgeous they were.  If you have the opportunity to see them for yourself next season, I’d recommend it! (And you can always go the weekend before or after when there are far less people!)

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Pizza, Beer, and The Gowanus Canal

This past Saturday I hopped a train over to Brooklyn and had the most wonderful evening.  My boyfriend and I were celebrating (belatedly) his birthday.  Being the foodie he is, he decided we should try out famed Lucali, a small pizza place at Henry and Carroll Streets. It was the beginning of a fantastic time!

It’s apparently rather difficult to get a seat at Lucali if you don’t go super early and are prepared to wait a couple hours, so we arrived before they opened to put our names on the list. Thankfully, there just happened to be a cancellation for the first seating at 6pm! Otherwise, we would have had to wait another two hours to be seated at 8pm. We were very glad it worked out for us! From our seats, we were afforded excellent views of the small kitchen area where all the pizzas and calzones are coal-fired.

We ordered a pizza with garlic and basil and then half mushrooms. It was decadent.  The crust was thin, the cheese was aplenty, the basil and garlic provided a perfect pairing of lingering flavor, and the grease ran true (as is with all good New York pizzas). I was sad to finish my last slice and certainly sad to leave the restaurant.  If you’re looking for a simply delicious slice, Lucali is absolutely worthwhile.

After pizza, we decided to hit up a bar for drinks before getting dessert.  We ended up at Givers and Takers on the other side of the Gowanus Canal (everyone’s favorite city waterway!) at 3rd and Carroll.  It was around 7pm when we arrived so it was technically still pretty early for a bar.  The atmosphere inside was warm and pleasant.  We had mostly sour beers for awhile and enjoyed watching as the crowd filled in as the night went on.  It’s definitely a neat little place and even has a small outdoor patio area out back.

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With darkness truly settling over the city as the night went on, and now with stomachs full of good pizza and good beer, it was time for dessert – ice cream at Ample Hills.  At Nevins and Union Street, this Ample Hills location has their classic and seasonal flavors available at the counter and a neat rooftop deck to head up to enjoy your ice cream and take in the view. Since it was nighttime, the rooftop deck provided some nice lit-up skyline views.  It’s easy to imagine going up there on a hot summer day and enjoying a cool cone (which I definitely want to do!).  I ordered the Peppermint Patty ice cream and the Night At The Movies limited-edition flavor (for the Tribeca Film Festival) in a sugar cone.  It was uh-mazing.  Ample Hills ice cream never disappoints.  I also picked up a slice of their Ooey Gooey Butter Cake (which they put into their ice cream and is my favorite flavor of theirs) because it’s seriously THAT good 🙂

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The walk back to the train after wrapping up at Ample Hills meant crossing back over the Gowanus for the second time that evening. Legend has it that anything that enters the waters of the Gowanus never comes out the same… or even necessarily alive.  And anything that manages to crawl out of it should pretty much be shot and torched (there are stories of all sorts of odd creatures originating there…).  The pizza, beer, and ice cream was certainly worth the “risk” of crossing the waterway. It was a fantastic evening in Brooklyn and I’m already looking forward to revisiting these places!

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