This is a guest post by Sherry Dryja. Sherry blogs at Jet Planes and Coffee and is most at home when traveling the globe, meeting new people, and exploring their communities. She and her husband spend half the year visiting places near and far. Each location is experienced to the fullest by taking tours, eating where the locals eat, and soaking in as much culture as can be found in museums, theater offerings, markets, and festivals. Jet Planes and Coffee documents her travels while sharing what she learns along the way. I have truly enjoyed reading her articles and have gained both knowledge and inspiration from reading them!
Forget about renting a car. Book your stay in the heart of a city and get walking! Walking is one of the best ways to learn about a place and get fit at the same time. Below are six tools to make…
For a while now, I have been reading, learning from, and living vicariously through the adventures of fellow travel blogger, Traveling Chicha. She always has great ideas and advice for living the life of a road warrior. Her writing style is part-journalist, part-storyteller, a style I strive for on my own blog here.
You can imagine how honored I feel, then, to be a guest blogger on Traveling Chicha! Tomorrow is the big unveiling of the article I wrote for her blog, to be published while she is out gallivanting the globe. I hope you steer your browsers there with me tomorrow to read my article, Six tools for integrating walking into your travels.
And don’t worry. I’ll provide a reminder in case you forget. (grin)
Several weeks ago, I began a search for the perfect summer travel shoes. Good travelers know that shoes take up way too much packing space, so it was important in my endeavors to search for that one pair that could do it all, without leaving bleeding blisters to contend with. One challenge for the summer, however, is finding sturdy, comfortable shoes that are fashionable, can be worn without socks, and can transition from a walking tour to a sit-down dinner.
Many suggestions were made, lots of shoes were tried, and now I have the results of my often painstaking, blister-inducing research. Below are five tips for finding the perfect summer travel shoes with my final recommendation for the one.
1. Look for suede or soft leather uppers
Suede and soft leather mold to the foot rather than rub against it. Patent leather, hard leather, and stiffer, coarser fabrics located anywhere near the heels or ankles may start off feeling comfortable, but when heat, perspiration, and miles combine, blisters are sure to follow.
As an example, I wore the Merrells pictured below for a two-mile walk for coffee. At first they seemed fairly comfortable, but by the end of the first mile, I had blisters on the backs of both heels and the undersides of my ankles. The fabric on these shoes is very coarse. The stiffness and height of the ankle collar and heel support dug into my skin. By the time I finished the second mile, my feet were bleeding. I have not worn them since.
2. Avoid slingbacks and thin straps on sandals
Slingbacks and thin straps not only cause blisters, they can dig into toes and heels, leaving the skin with terrible gashes. Ouch!
I love these heels from Aquatalia, but I can’t wear them very far before the cut-outs start to dig in. The shoes themselves are comfortable, but the longer I walk in them, the more my skin rubs against the cut-outs in the leather. Within a half-mile walk to the theater, I had blisters the shape of some of the cut-outs in these cute shoes–but trust me when I tell you, my foot was far from cute when it was all over!
3. Make sure the shoe is flexible
The stiffer the shoe, the more likely you are to develop blisters and callousesat the points where the shoe should naturally bend (near the joints of the toes and ball of the foot). If you cannot bend the toe toward the center of the shoe without a lot of effort, that shoe is stiff and inflexible. Put it down and walk away.
One example of this was a pair of TSUBO brand shoes I tried. The support and cushioning inside the shoe were good, but it was incredibly stiff and unbending. As I foolishly walked two miles to dinner in them, the plasticky top of the toe box creased over my big toe and created a nasty blister. Sadly, they were also stiff around the ankles and heels, so I got blisters there too.
4. Give your toes some wiggle room — but not too much!
Toes shouldn’t squeeze together into the shoe, nor should the shoe be so large that it dangles off your foot when you walk. A tight toe box can rub your toes and cause blisters and callouses, if not also other aches and pains, whereas a floppy, wobbly shoe (such as a flip flop or a shoe that is too large) is not stable enough for two-mile walks over uneven terrain. Make sure the shoe fits secure, but not tight. Don’t wear flip flops or other shoes that you have to hold on to with your toes.
Although the leather is super soft on the 1-inch pumps by Cole Haan shown below, they are just narrow enough to pinch my toes and cause discomfort over the course of an afternoon. If your foot is particularly narrow about the toes, this style of shoe might be just the thing for you this summer. My toes, on the other hand, had to cram themselves into a tight space. Although the leather has some stretch and give, I still ended up with a blister on my smallest toes because it was too tight.
The ECCO sandals below are some of my favorite shoes for wearing when I know I’m not going to be going very far–less than a mile. Beyond that, though, they require too much effort to keep them on. My toes start to ache and the strap that goes in between my toes starts to rub.
5. Look for rubber soles with texture for traction
Textured rubber soles grab the earth and keep you steady, unlike smooth, inflexible wood or some other hard materials out there. Rubber soles are also the best for cushioning the hard earth beneath your hard-working feet.
The Ecco Yucatan sandals are the near-perfect specimen for summer travel shoes. If they weren’t so sporty I could wear them inside restaurants and other fancy establishments. Still, they come so close to perfect that I chose them as a summary example, before revealing to you my final choice for THE summer travel shoe.
First, notice that they are made of soft leather and fabric uppers. Their straps are thick and padded–no blisters. They are also adjustable at the heel, the top of the foot, and the toe areas, so I can tighten or loosen them depending on what my foot needs. The soles are made of lightweight rubber and the bottoms are textured so I never worry about losing my footing, whether I’m walking down a broken sidewalk to the Farmers Market or along a gravelly trail in the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. The only thing keeping them from being perfect summer travel shoes is that I wouldn’t wear them with a dress or skirt to a sit-down restaurant in downtown Toronto, St. Paul, or Austin.
My top pick for the perfect summer travel shoes
It is without further ado that I introduce you to the most versatile summer travel shoe I could find: the Naot Kayla sandal. It’s not the most gorgeous shoe I’ve ever owned, but it is the one I pack when I am packing the lightest. They rank up there as the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn.
The leather straps are soft enough and thick enough that they do not dig into my skin. There is an adjustable strap that goes over the top of my foot, so I can secure it tighter or loosen it up. The leather gives way to my feet and hugs them gently. I have walked miles in these shoes and never gotten a blister. The footbed is made of cork, latex, and suede, so it molds to my foot, providing personalized support. The soles are textured EVA, so they are shock-absorbing, as well as stabilizing.
My feet have also never felt fatigued or achy after wearing these shoes. My biggest complaint about them is a complaint I make about any sandal: they are masters at collecting rocks when I walk over gravelly pathways. Still, they can truly go the distance when walking all day. Their style is as flexible as their soles. I can go anywhere in them and experience pretty much any activity under the summer sun. And that is what sets them apart: the Naot Kaylas are a pair of shoes I can wear in a variety of situations.
Now it’s your turn
Have you found a perfect pair of summer shoes that can walk the miles and see you through lots of situations? Post the information here and help us compile a better list for travelers around the world.
Austin, Texas is a city on the move. Everywhere you look, people are walking, biking, running, and Segwaying around town. And that doesn’t include those in Lady Bird Lake who are kayaking, rowing, and paddle-boating. Sidewalks are prevalent, even across the bridges that span the lake, which divides downtown from the hip neighborhood known as South Congress (SoCo). It’s as if, from the ground up, the city’s planners wanted people to get out and experience the city with all their senses–not just from the isolating seat of a car.
Austin has a myriad of activities, events, and sights to see, all within walking distance of downtown. It has a high walking score of 89, which makes it an easy place in which to get 10,000 steps a day, and a no-brainer for those of us who plan travel with walking in mind.
Hubby and I were in Austin for the week of May 6th through the 13th. Although we ate like kings and sometimes came home looking like wet rats thanks to some downpours, we managed to have the time of our lives and get at least 10,000 steps each day.
A bonus for visiting Austin was the opportunity to reconnect with some friends I hadn’t seen in nearly 12 years. Thanks to my friend Heather, who lives in Austin, we got to enjoy the city from a local’s perspective while reigniting old friendships. (Thanks, Heather!)
Where we stayed and why
The Four Seasons Austin was our chosen destination for this trip. It is located at 98 San Jacinto Boulevard, right on the banks of Lady Bird Lake, and within walking distance to pretty much anything we wanted to do downtown. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the hotel is pure luxury, with a relaxing spa and a team of helpful concierges on staff.
All distances and step calculations mentioned below are measured from the front door of the Four Seasons.
Groceries and other necessities
Royal Blue Grocery: There are two of these little bodega-style general stores located within a half a mile of the hotel. They carry all sorts of goodies for lunch and breakfast, including specially made salads and sandwiches in the refrigerated section. They also carry all the ingredients to make your own sandwiches and salads, along with pretty much any other kind of food or beverage you’d be in the market for. I preferred the lighter, fresher feel of the one on Congress to the one on 3rd Avenue, but both carry a bounty of grocery goods.
Royal Blue Grocery on 3rd Avenue: .4 miles from the hotel (800 steps one way)
Royal Blue Grocery on Congress: .5 miles from the hotel (1000 steps one way)
Whole Foods Market: Most metropolitan areas in the United States have a Whole Foods these days, but there is only one Whole Foods which can claim flagship status. That store is located at 525 N. Lamar Boulevard and is 80,000 square feet of natural and organic goodness. Their produce department alone makes even the gloomiest of people happy with all its fresh smells and bright colors. We were in the market for fruit, veggies, yogurt, and unique lunch items. Indeed, Hubby found a new favorite dark chocolate while there–Taza stone-ground organic chocolate.
Check out their calendar for special events that happen on their rooftop plaza, such as Sunset Supper Cinema.
Whole Foods Market on N. Lamar: 1.2 miles from the hotel (2400 steps one way)
Second Street Market: It’s not much to look at, but this dingy little store came through for us on a number of occasions. Our first night there, we weren’t sure yet what Royal Blue would have on hand so we stopped in for some sodas and bottled water. Throughout the rest of the week, Second Street was where we went when it was pouring rain outside and half a mile seemed too far to roam for odds and ends. Don’t count on them for a lot of selection. They truly are a convenience store and not meant to supply a household with groceries. They are located at 200 San Jacinto Boulevard.
Second Street Market: .2 miles from the hotel (400 steps one way)
Caffee Medici:This cute little coffee shop is located at 200 Congress Avenue, right next door to Congress restaurant (see restaurant info below). It has an urban vibe to it and they pride themselves on providing one of the best cups of java around.
Caffee Medici: .3 miles from the hotel (600 steps one way)
Houndstooth Coffee:At nearly four miles away from the hotel, Houndstooth Coffee is, admittedly, a little too far even for us to walk. Still, I was taken there during my art tour of the city and I enjoyed it enough to pass it along as an option for coffee.
The Coffee Cup: This little shop was located within the Four Seasons complex on San Jacinto Boulevard and Cesar Chavez Street. Convenience is what made it so appealing.
The Coffee Cup: .0 miles from the hotel. (Approximately 100 steps one way.)
University of Texas Fitness Institute: If you are like my husband, and you have been on a weight loss journey recently, you may be wondering to yourself, “What exactly is my body fat percentage”? Look no further than the University of Texas Fitness Institute for a Body Composition Analysis.
For $90 each, we got a full-body scan using a bone density scanner (DEXA). After the scan, we were given printed results and a consultation with a fitness expert, who walked us through our results. The body composition information is broken down into arms, legs, trunk, hips, and abdomen. We also learned how our bone density was stacking up. As a woman in her 40s, I was very relieved to see that my bone density is quite good, but the fitness expert reminded me I will need to add some weight bearing exercises if I’m going to keep it that way.
For Hubby and me, this was a huge affirmation that we are on the right path. Now all we have to do is add some weights to our routine and we’ll be good to go!
The Fitness Institute of Texas: 1.7 miles from the hotel (3400 steps one way)
Car2Go:Although we never needed a car while we were in Austin, if we were in the city for longer than a week, I could see the advantage of registering with Car2Go for $35 in order to use their little Smart Cars parked all over town. For rates and more general information on how it works, check out their website. Their main office is located at 800 W. 5th Street, Suite 100B.
Car2Go: .9 miles from the hotel (1800 steps one way)
Olivia: My friend Heather has lived in Austin for 15 years and she knows all the good spots. Olivia is one of them. She picked us up at our hotel and brought along another friend of mine for a mini high school reunion! This was the perfect spot–it had big open windows to let in welcoming light and a fun menu to explore.
Next time we’re in town, we’ll return to Olivia. This time, though, I’m going straight to dessert. The entrees were good, but the creme brûlée was sincerely the best I have ever eaten! (Thanks, Heather, for sharing it!) Sorry. No pictures were taken of the creme brûlée. It vanished before any of us could think of it! We did manage to get a shot of Hubby’s beautiful beet and goat cheese salad, though!
Olivia: 2.4 miles from the hotel (4800 steps one way)
the backspace:Hubby found this pizza joint online and I’m glad he did. After walking all over the city on a rainy day, this tiny restaurant, with its brick oven glowing behind the bar, was a comforting place to dry off and unwind. We stuffed ourselves silly on delicious appetizers of local squash, pumpkin seed pesto, and pecorino romano, as well as, warmed marinated olives, lemon, mint, and oregano. When our margherita pizza came out we discovered we had just enough room to eat the whole thing! The backspace is located at 507 San Jacinto.
The backspace: .3 miles from the hotel (600 steps one way)
parkside:Parkside is the sister restaurant to the backspace. They are located right next door to one another and owned by the same chef, Shawn Cirkiel, an Austin native. Since the backspace was so good, we decided to give parkside a try with my friend Heather on our last day in Austin.
Although parkside is known for its raw bar and oyster menu, we experienced the other side of the menu: excellent comfort food. The spring potato soup surprised me by being cold, but the flavors were so delicious that I couldn’t put my spoon down until I had eaten every drop–and I don’t usually like cold soups. Both Hubby and Heather ordered different salads: the butter lettuce salad for Heather, and the spiced beet salad for Hubby. Both mmm’d and ooo’d over their salads before continuing along that theme with their entrees of Dewberry Farms Chicken (for Heather), and Grilled Salmon (for Hubby). I loaded up on carbs that night by ordering and sharing a variety of sides: macaroni and cheese, polenta, grilled asparagus, and my all-time favorite, fried okra.
The picture below was taken after dinner when we were “fat and happy”, as they say.
parkside: .3 miles from the hotel (600 steps one way)
Congress:This was one of my favorite restaurant experiences outside of the ones shared with friends. The restaurant itself is understated elegance. There are magical teardrop chandeliers swirling and dripping from the ceiling. The chairs and tufted banquettes lend an air of comfortable sophistication as they are clad in what looks to be creamy linen. Warm woods frame the doors and cupboards, grounding the lighter, airier tones around the dining room.
The menu is either three-course or a seven-course chef’s tasting menu. No matter which you choose, be sure to go hungry because, by the time we got through the second course, I was stuffed. I’m still thinking about the tomato, plum, buratta salad I had at Congress. Buratta seems to be all the rage these days, available in nearly every high-end restaurant around the country. Chefs Bull and Meeker, though, separated Congress from the pack with their deliciously salty version combined with juicy tomatoes and plums.
If luxurious surroundings and thoughtfully delicious food weren’t enough, the service at Congress was some of the best we’ve experienced in a long time. It is what set the place apart for us. It made us want to stay and stay. Our water glasses were never empty and our other beverage glasses were refilled regularly with our drinks of choice. We never felt like we were overwhelmed by the service, but we also never lacked for anything either. It was just a very pleasant, delicious evening.
Congress = .3 miles from the hotel (600 steps one way)
Gordough’s: Okay, so I was good the whole time I was in Austin. I split entrees and dessert. I made sure to get at least three servings of fruit and vegetables each day. All that goodness deserves a little bit of bad, which is why I had to go to Gordough’s, the food truck specializing in big, greasy, made-to-order donuts.
Yes. They are good. No. I did not eat the whole thing. Fortunately, I had my friend Heather there with me so we could split it. Even then, though, we didn’t eat the whole thing. The “Dirty Berry” donut, with its grilled strawberries and melty fudge was just too much of a good thing.
Gordough’s = 1.4 miles from the hotel (2800 steps one way)
Things to do
Art in Austin
As I mentioned in my previous article, art is a big deal in Austin and it is not to be missed. Below is a list of places I visited, thanks to the connections and coordination of the magnificent concierge at the Four Seasons, Daisy Undercuffler. For more information about these places, please see the article I wrote devoted to Austin art.
(Disclaimer: I am including step information for these art locations, but I did not walk to most of them myself. Now that I know where they are, though, I feel very comfortable doing it next time I’m in town.)
Gallery Shoal Creek is located at 2905 San Gabriel Street = 2.9 miles from the hotel (5800 steps one way).
Blanton Museum of Art on the UT Campus located at 200 East Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard = 1.4 miles from the hotel (2800 steps one way).
Austin Postcard Mural is located on the building of Roundhouse Relics at 1720 S 1st Street = 1.5 miles from the hotel (3000 steps one way).
The Stevie Ray Vaughan statue is located along Lady Bird Lake Trail off of South 1st Street. That is .8 miles from the hotel (1600 steps one way).
The Willie Nelson statue is located at 310 Willie Nelson Boulevard. That is .1 miles from the hotel, or 200 steps one way.
Following is the continued list of art spaces recommended by Daisy at the Four Seasons, as well as Judith Taylor at Gallery Shoal Creek, and Lisa Rogers at the Davis Gallery. I was not able to visit these places during my time in Austin, so I have not included the step counts. I did, however, include the addresses for each so the next time I visit Austin, it will be easy to look up distances and calculate steps. (Remember, 1 mile is approximately equal to 2000 steps.)
Arthouse at Jones Center provides exhibitions, educational opportunities, and special programs for experiencing modern and contemporary art. It is located at 700 Congress Avenue.
Wally Workman Gallery currently represents 56 local emerging and established artists. It is located at 1202 West 6th Street.
Austin Art Garage has an appealing philosophy: “We’re just two guys that wanted to make it easier to find and purchase original art without entering a world of debt. …[We] aim to expose emerging artists while giving customers a no-hassle system to find and purchase a variety of affordable one-of-a-kind art works.” They are located at 2200 South Lamar Boulevard.
The Visual Arts Center, located on the UT campus at 2300 Trinity Street, is where emerging artists, faculty, and students come together to share their art. (Check their website for hours. At the time of this writing, they were closed for the summer.)
Mexic-Arte Museum is “dedicated to enriching the community through education programs and exhibitions focusing on traditional and contemporary Mexican, Latino, and Latin American art and culture.” It was designated by the State Legislature of Texas as the Official Mexican and Mexican American Fine Art Museum of Texas. Visit it at 419 Congress Avenue.
Flatbed Press is a multi-use space which includes a publishing workshop as well as an art gallery. It is located at 2830 East MLK Boulevard.
Central Marketis a grocery store where you can see the large mural of local artist, Malou Flato, while picking up some produce. It is located at 4001 North Lamar Boulevard.
East Side Austin Showroomis a restaurant that supports local artists and apparently mixes a great cocktail. Add to that the fact that it keeps to Slow Food standards and this place seems to embody everything great about Austin. Can’t wait to try it out next time. It is located at 1100 East 6th Street.
Other things to do in Austin
Congress Avenue Bridge Bats: From March to mid-November the largest urban colony of Mexican free-tail bats in North America takes up residence under the Congress Avenue Bridge. Each night around sunset, between 750,000 and 1.5 million bats make a mass exodus from their perches beneath the bridge to go hunting for bugs. There are several ways to watch these little night flyers as they head out on their expeditions. Below are my recommendations.
Lonestar Riverboat Cruise: At $10 per person, this is a fairly inexpensive way to get up close and personal with the bats, right in the sight lines of their departure. Hubby and I chose this cruise line because it is family owned and their website indicated that they support local charities. Otherwise, there did not seem to be much difference between them and the other cruise line on the lake, Capital Cruises.
We were not disappointed. Half an hour before the bats were supposed to leave, our riverboat took a jaunt around Lady Bird Lake before heading to the Congress Avenue Bridge, where we watched the tiny little bats drop from their perches and fly away. Both cruise lines are located along the lake just behind the Hyatt Hotel. We walked from the Four Seasons, across Congress Avenue Bridge, down the steps and west along the trail until we came to the Lone Star Riverboat dock. Located around 208 Barton Springs Road, it is .6 miles from the Four Seasons (1200 steps one way).
Walk along the lake trail: All along Lady Bird Lake there is a walking trail. On our last night in Austin, I took a walk with my friend Heather just in time to watch the bats leave for hunting. We were on the north side of the lake and caught great glimpses of bats swooping overhead. It is my understanding that the south side of the lake has an even better view of them, but I was perfectly happy with what we saw.
One recommendation I would make is to stand along the edge of the trail, out of the way of walkers and runners, and look up, along the edge of the trees hanging out over the water. Bats zoom and swoop effortlessly, as if hurled around the tree lines, so we had to keep our eyes open to the skies. If we blinked, we would have missed some. We also knew they were coming because they make a signature high-pitched “peep”. There were several people who sat up on the lawn off the trail and they said they didn’t see any bats, so it seems important to step up closer to the water and keep your eyes pointed toward the zipping blurs in the sky.
Bonus: While we were waiting for the bats to come out, we saw some animal that lives in the water–it looked like a beaver–swim to the shore and dive into the foliage along the lake, so you never know what you’re going to encounter when you’ve got your eyes open and Mother Nature is your guide.
This walk took us back behind the hotel and along the trail, about 100 feet from the bridge. We may have gotten 100 steps for that walk, but it is hard to calculate.
Texas State Capitol:Texans are known for doing things BIG and the state capitol is no different. According to the Texas State Preservation Board, it is “the largest in gross square footage of all state capitols and is second in total size only to the National Capitol in Washington, D.C.” It is built up on a hill and Congress Avenue was built such that, for two miles south of it, there is a direct-line view of this massive building.
Although Hubby and I did not take a tour of the inside, we did walk around the outside of it on several different occasions and enjoyed the beautiful, lush grounds. On the State Preservation Board website, there are pamphlets available for download for self-guided walking tours inside the building, as well as outside on the capitol grounds. It truly is an impressive structure.
The State Capitol Building is located at 1100 Congress Street, which is 1 mile from the Four Seasons hotel (2000 steps one way).
Treaty Oak:More than 500 years ago, a grove of trees stood in the area now known as Treaty Oak Park. Back then, it was considered a sacred meeting place for the Comanche and Tonkawa tribes. Today, only one tree of the original 14 remains. In 1927, the American Forestry Association proclaimed the tree to be the most perfect specimen of a North American tree. Before it was vandalized in 1989, its branches spanned 127 feet.
Thanks to the preservation and rehabilitation efforts of many, the tree, which was poisoned with a large amount of incredibly toxic poison and predicted to die as a result, survived and has even gone on to produce acorns again. It is a beautiful tree, thick in its natural state.
To see this 500 year old tree, go to Treaty Oak Park on Baylor Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue. The distance from the Four Seasons is 1.2 miles (2400 steps one way).
The Spa at Four Seasons: After walking all over town, Hubby and I decided to treat ourselves to massages. I also had a manicure and pedicure. The spa is cozy and relaxing. The changing rooms provide electronically locked lockers, and they have showers and a sauna. The treatment rooms I visited, along with the waiting area, all had luxurious floor-to-ceiling windows that brought in peaceful, natural light, as well as views of the overflowing gardens.
The treatments were just what we needed to unwind. My massage was the 80-minute Relaxation Massage with Janet. Hubby went with a more intense Deep Tissue massage. Both therapists coaxed the knots, aches, and pains from our bodies.
I met Pam for my manicure and pedicure. She did a great job of polishing my nails to a beautiful shine and somehow managed to clean up my cuticles without making them peel the next day. I don’t know how she did that, but I am deeply impressed!
Unfortunately, we did not get many steps for walking to the spa since it is on the lower level of the Four Seasons hotel, but given that we walked more than 10,000 steps a day while we were in Austin, I think a little treat was in order.
Austin is a city rich in culture, history, natural beauty, and innovation. For its size, it is fairly safe and is incredibly easy to explore on foot. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that a week is not long enough to see and do everything in this state capitol, but one visit was enough to convince me that it is worth returning to.
Do you have a favorite place to go or thing to do in Austin? If so, share the wealth in a comment below! I love hearing from my readers! You always amaze me with your insights and ideas.
More than 15 years ago, Hubby and I lived in a high-rise condo in downtown Minneapolis. It never occurred to me until recently that, back then, we walked everywhere because of the Skyway system which connects most of the downtown buildings. Those little “high rise habitrails” keep the cold out in winter and the humidity out in summer, and I knew them like the back of my hand. At the time, though, we didn’t have pedometers or a weight problem. We were fit and fabulous in our mid-20s, just settling into married life.
Having just celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary, we are, of course, 16 years older. And, if you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you know that we’ve made lots of changes in the last year which have taken us back in time somewhat, to bodies that are fit and free from the rituals of “middle aged medicines”. In fact, we both weigh less today than we did when we first met!
As a result of these positive changes, we’ve been drawn to traveling to places where we can get 10,000 steps a day (or 5 miles) simply by walking to places we need to go, such as restaurants, grocery stores, and cultural sites. Over the next several weeks, this blog will be devoted to sharing everything we learned on those trips, city by city.
The series is called “Walking America” and it takes us across the United States and into Canada. Each adventure will demonstrate the car-free travels we took with resources for planning a similar trip. Just imagine the cash you’ll save not having to rent a car!
Let’s get started.
Walking St. Paul
In early July of last year, we hitched a flight from steamy Phoenix, Arizona to the cooler but more humid Twin Cities in Minnesota. It was the first of several trips we took that summer, but we were not headed to our old stomping grounds in Minneapolis. Our destination was St. Paul, the other sister of the Twin Cities.
St. Paul rarely registered on our list of places to go when we lived in Minneapolis. My impression back then was that it was the boring sister of the two twins. Minneapolis seemed vibrant, sexier. Take, for example, Nicollet Avenue, a long pedestrian-only road in the heart of Minneapolis which, during the summer, boasts a thriving farmers market. Year round, there are shopping and dining options open for shoppers and diners of all financial means. It is protected from hard summer sun by the mirrored skyscrapers. And, on all sides are options for entertainment of all shades and varieties.
St. Paul, on the other hand, was always a jumbled mystery for me. It seemed fragmented and confusing. What I didn’t understand in my youth, however, is that, while Minneapolis is attractive with its youthful glitter and nouveau sophistication, St. Paul is all slow-simmering seduction. It unravels itself to you in quiet, sultry come-ons, keeping hidden under the lushness of her old-growth trees all of her delicious secrets.
St. Paul is the capital of Minnesota. It has inspired famous states men and women, radio essayists, cartoonists, musicians, artists, and novelists. To name a few you may have heard of, there’s Garrison Keillor, known for his tales from “Lake Wobegon”, who still owns a home and a charming bookstore in St. Paul. Charles Schulz, creator of the long-standing Peanuts cartoon, grew up there. F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of such Jazz Age books as The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise, was born and raised there. In fact, you can find a couple of the places he lived still standing and commemorated with a plaque. It seems like everywhere you look you come across another familiar voice inspired by St. Paul.
This city is perhaps best known by its seedy gangster history from the 20s and 30s, when tough guys like John Dillinger and Babyface Nelson hid out there. There are even tours in St. Paul based solely on the exploits of such criminals and, when visiting certain watering holes and coffee shops, if you tap the right shoulder, you’ll get an earful of myths and mysteries associated with this past.
In the two weeks we spent there Hubby and I were seduced by St. Paul’s cool limestone mansions, its smoothed cobblestone alleyways, the stories and myths of its juicy past, and innumerable buildings brimming with character. We were drawn by the delicious aromas wafting down Selby and Grand, and smitten by the intellectual murmurings carried on over meals and cocktails. It is a place with its own rhythm, one which is punctuated by a slow, sultry Jazz saxophone, and it is easy to get lost in the flow of it. Before long, you find yourself tapping your finger and swaying to that rhythm. Then, when the spell is cast, you find you simply can’t get this daring twin out of your head.
Where we stayed and why:
The Berg House is a vacation rental located at 128 Saint Albans St. N in St. Paul. We stayed there because it is within about a half a mile to almost everything we wanted to do. It has three bedrooms and two bathrooms, with extra futons and pull-out sofas for larger families and groups. It has a kitchen equipped with enough essential tools that I made Breakfast Cookies for Hubby when the need arose. All I had to do was buy the ingredients.
Also important to our stay was access to high speed internet and a desk or table on which Hubby could do his work. The Berg House actually has high speed and wireless, along with two office areas with large desks to spread out computer equipment and papers.
My favorite space was the upstairs bathroom. It was recently redone with a claw foot tub and separate shower. The vanity was charming. It appeared to have been a dresser at some point, but was repurposed for the sink and its fixtures. The morning light filtered through white shutters onto the sage colored walls and white tiles and, when listening to Carmen Cuesta’s Mi Bossa Nova album on my iPhone, the outside world melted away.
During our two weeks there the sun shone brightly almost every day. Temperatures flirted with 90-degrees Fahrenheit. We kept cool with plenty of window air conditioning units located throughout the home, and in the late afternoons, we chatted under the trees on the patio.
Just a couple of blocks from The Berg House at 622 Selby Avenue was the Mississippi Market, a natural foods co-op that provided us with fruit, veggies, milk, and all the other necessities we needed to eat breakfast and lunch at home. The Bergs gave us their member number so we were able to get membership rates at that store.
Mississippi Market = 200 steps one way (.1 miles)
Because this was early on in our walking experiment, Hubby was still taking cholesterol medication. We ended up extending our stay but one of his prescriptions ran out while we were there. I was able to fill it about half a mile away at the Walgreen’s at 734 Grand Avenue.
Walgreen’s = 800 steps one way (.4 miles)
On my return walk from Walgreen’s, I stopped in to Caribou Coffee for two Americanos and took them back to The Berg House for both of us to enjoy.
Caribou Coffee is a Minnesota-born chain, which I believe has expanded its territory beyond the confines of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. This one is located at 757 Grand Avenue.
Caribou Coffee = 800 steps one way (.4 miles).
Other coffee places nearby:
Nina’s Coffee Cafe: This is my favorite coffee shop to visit while in St. Paul. It is located in an historic building and named for Nina Clifford, a woman famous for the brothel she ran in the late 1800s. It is also known for being a great place to write and, while sitting back and watching the ebb and flow of its visitors, I can vouch for it being an inspirational place. It is located at 165 Western Avenue N.
Nina’s Coffee Cafe = 1200 steps one way (.6 miles)
Caffe Latte: This cafe has a coffee shop further into the building, on the back side of the cafeteria style restaurant. I have eaten in the cafeteria twice for lunch and had coffee there after dinner elsewhere on Grand. It is a sunny place to enjoy coffee, dessert, and/or breakfast, lunch, or dinner. One thing I appreciate is the variety of options on their menus. There are sandwiches, soups, salads, and pizzas available to people with all eating habits: vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and meat eaters! It is located at 850 Grand Ave.
Caffe Latte: 1,000 steps one way (.5 miles)
Dunn Bros.: Dunn Bros coffee is another favorite place to stop for some java, but it is, unfortunately almost two miles away from The Berg House. We didn’t take any integrated walks there, but it is worthwhile stopping in for a growler of iced coffee should your adventures take you past one. The closest one to the Berg House is located at 242 W 7th St.
Had we wanted to cook more while we were there, my friend Rhonda showed me where the Coastal Seafoods market was with all things fresh fish. It is located at the corner of Grand Avenue and Snelling at 74 S. Snelling.
Coastal Seafoods = 4,000 steps one way (1.9 miles)
Visiting St. Paul is always a culinary delight. We are lucky enough to have friends in the area who know St. Paul’s restaurants very well. My friend Rhonda is an expert in great food. During an earlier visit, she introduced me to Salut and La Grolla, which I, in turn, introduced to Hubby. Fortunately, both of these restaurants are within walking distance to The Berg House. See below for descriptions and distances for these and other restaurants we enjoyed during our stay.
W.A. Frost: Located at 374 Selby Avenue, across the street from Nina’s Coffee Cafe, is a restaurant which describes itself best on its website: “casual upscale American cuisine”. The reason to go there is not only the amazing soups, but the patio. (The other food is good too, but the soup was a stand-out.) Oh! The patio! It is wonderfully shaded all around and a great place to unwind after a long day. The service was so-so. One time we went there, the service was impeccable. The next time it was carelessly slow. Still, we go back because the food is good and the patio is divine.
W.A. Frost = 1,200 steps one way (.6 miles)
Pazzaluna:This yummy Italian restaurant, located at 360 St. Peter Street, is just on the outskirts for the distance Hubby and I will walk for a restaurant. My friend Rhonda took me there during a separate visit a year or two ago. I discovered that, not only could I find many delicious vegetarian choices, I might run into a celebrity! My friend’s husband stood side-by-side in the restroom with Prince once.
Pazzaluna = 3,800 steps one way ( 1.9 miles)
Salut Bar Americain: Located at 917 Grand Avenue, this little brasserie will make you feel like an American in Paris. It offers hearty French-style food and lots of it. For those of us watching our waistlines, it can be a little tricky, but all of their fish items have the option of being cooked “simply grilled”, which is what Hubby opted for. At the time, there was a delicious watermelon-mint salad on the menu that I thoroughly enjoyed. Maintaining weight loss tip: order items you can split with one another so you don’t eat the whole thing by yourself.
Salut = 1,200 steps one way (.6 miles)
La Grolla: This restaurant is located at 452 Selby Avenue. It is, as you can guess from the name of it, Italian cuisine. I usually had one of their vegetarian pasta options (staying away from cream-sauced choices) and a side salad. They offer some great fish options as well.
Chipotle: This build-a-burrito-style Mexican chain is a staple for Hubby and me. It’s fresh and, because you choose what you want every step of the way, it is easy to make the meal Weight Watcher’s friendly. The one closest to the Berg House is at 867 Grand Avenue.
Chipotle = 1,000 steps one way (.5 miles)
Broadway Pizza: There is really only one restaurant in the area for which I would break down and use a car. It is Broadway Pizza. I have loved their pizza since we lived there so long ago. The location at 2025 West River Road in Minneapolis is the original (and my favorite). It has the whole kitschy railroad theme still intact after all these years. Left to my own devices, I would eat a whole cheese pizza on my own. Thankfully, I’ve always gone with others so I could keep my discipline in check.
Broadway Pizza = In case you do eat the whole pizza and need lots of steps, it is worth 16,400 steps one way from The Berg House (8.2 miles).
Things to Do:
Human on a Stick Magical History Segway Tour: If you have never taken a Segway tour, I highly recommend it. I’ve taken two tours with this company–the St. Paul tour and the Minneapolis tour. The next time I’m in town, I’m going to do the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden tour too. For the St. Paul tour, the meeting location was at the parking lot behind St. Paul’s United Church of Christ. We got our helmets and our Segways and were off! Had this been our first tour, we would have also gotten the safety instructions and about half an hour to try it out before heading onto the streets and sidewalks. For $80 per person, plus tip, we got the gear we needed and more than six miles worth of up-close-and-personal history.
Segway Tour meeting location = 1,400 steps one way (.7 miles)
Twin Cities Tours: Doug Rosenquist customized a tour of St. Paul for me a year and a half ago when I was doing research for a book I’m writing. I can’t say enough good about his personalized, private tours. If you’re uncertain about what to see in St. Paul, check out the themes he proposes on his website, or talk to him about what is important to you. He will help you customize something that will leave you with lots of great memories of your time in St. Paul.
Doug’s tours are set mostly in his comfortable tour van. To get your steps in, see if he would be amenable to a walking tour. Or, he will pick you up wherever you ask, so have him meet you at a location that you walk to. One suggestion? Ask him to meet you at the Minnesota History Center located at 345 Kellogg Boulevard West. Then, when your tour is over, you can eat lunch at the cafe there and go explore the exhibits at the center.
Minnesota History Center = 2,800 steps (1.4 miles)
If you do any of the tours mentioned above, you will either come across and/or go into all of the below, so I will not spend a great deal of time detailing what they are and why you should go there. In fact, you could use the list below to take your own walking tour since it is the “basic” list of what to see in St. Paul. But if you’re like me, you want to know more about a place before visiting there, so check out the links to each one for more information. Step counts from The Berg House to all of these locations are provided.
Walk along Summit Avenuebeginning at the James J. Hill House and walking the length to Lexington Parkway = 2 miles, or 4,000 steps one way.
Ax-Man Surplus: Once you’ve skimmed the intellectual side of St. Paul with great historical and architectural tours, give your brain a party by taking it to Ax-Man Surplus. This is something you might want to do on a day when you have time to walk there and spend the rest of the afternoon looking at all the cool stuff they have. It is located at 1639 University Avenue West.
Ax-Man Surplus: 5,400 steps one way (2.7 miles)
Shops on Grand Ave: For retail therapy, a good place to eat, or just in the mood for strolling and people watching, Grand Avenue is about half a mile (1,000 steps) from the Berg House. If you walk it, starting at Dale Street South and walking all the way to Lexington Parkway, you will walk a mile, or 2,000 steps one way.
This list, of course, is in no way exhaustive for what there is to do in St. Paul. Each season brings its own set of ideas too. For July 4th, go to the 7th Street Bridge and watch the fireworks going off at Harriet Island. In the winter, you cannot miss the St. Paul Winter Carnival, which celebrates the cold out in the cold.
No matter when you go, St. Paul is sure to lead you in a dance of seduction you will never forget–especially if you remember that this dance requires walking shoes.
“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.” ― Søren Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard was right, you know. Since incorporating walking into our daily routine a year and a half ago, Hubby and I have walked ourselves to health. Not only are we free from medicines related to high cholesterol and diabetes, walking changed the way we see our sprawling suburb and the way we plan our trips.
I don’t know about you, but the idea of walking five miles on a treadmill or hiking around a track over and over again has absolutely zero appeal. Combine those walks, though, with stuff I have to do anyway and, not only do we get our exercise, we get that other stuff done at the same time. Plus–and this is a bigger deal than I would ever have imagined before–we connect to the bigger world, experience the seasons, discover local art and artists, and meet new people because of it. Much to our surprise, incorporating walking into our regular routine really makes us happy.
Each day Hubby and I strive to walk at least 10,000 steps. This is the equivalent of five miles. Hubby tends to walk more than that each day, achieving around 13,000 steps or more on average. My average tends to hover right around 10,000 steps a day, with a few days of 12,000 and a few 9,000. In general, if we did not strive to hit this goal, each of us would average about 2,000 steps a day.
Our FitBits are a big part of keeping us focused. They track our steps and automatically update that information into a private and personalized “dashboard” on their website. We can also track what we eat and how long we sleep. All the information on our dashboard is kept private, for our use only, or to share with friends and family with whom we choose to give this information.
When we first started walking, our minds were just focused on achieving a step goal. It was a chore, something that had to be done, like taking out the garbage or cleaning the bathroom. This was something we had to do in addition to everything else we do in a day.
According to WalkScore.com, our town has a walking score of 48, which is considered car dependent. That’s exactly how we saw our town, unwalkable. We needed a car to get around and we accepted what we perceived were the limitations of suburban America. Each night, after we finished work, we drove to dinner and returned to walk on the exact same path around the exact same park over and over and over again, for an hour at a time. This is how you get healthy, I thought? It’s no wonder so many start a walking program only to get bored and drop out before they get very far.
Then we visited St. Paul, Minnesota where we stayed in a very walkable part of town, and that’s when everything changed. We started walking to a coffee shop about a quarter of a mile from where we were staying. Each night we walked to dinner and we took near-daily jaunts to a neighborhood market for groceries. Returning to Arizona, we figured, if we could walk St. Paul, why couldn’t we walk suburbia too?
Using Google Maps and the Maps App on our iPhones, we started to check out what was nearby and how to get there on foot. At first, a mile seemed too far to walk anywhere, so we started slow. We walked to the bank, about a half a mile away, or 10 minutes one-way. Little by little, we became a more adventurous. We added a daily coffee break at Dutch Bros., about a mile away (or 15 minutes). Not only were we getting a total of 4,000 steps with that trip, we were getting one of my favorite rewards: coffee! (And if you know me at all, you know I love coffee.)
Everything went along great for a while, until one day we had to work a little later than usual and neither of us could take a break for coffee. By 6pm, we had 2,000 steps and we still had to eat dinner before we could get those other steps needed. It looked like we were going to have to walk circles around the park again.
I need to pause here to explain something. We eat out every night. At some point during Hubby’s first days dieting, he discovered that a lot of the chain restaurants not only have low-fat options on their menus, they have that information posted on their websites, so there are no surprises when we get there. Chains tend to have nutrition info located on their websites as well, or it can be found on-the-go through various iPhone apps like Dottie’s Food Score, My Fitness Pal, and WikiWeight. While we learned how to eat better, we created a routine of going to Chipotle, Chile’s, and places like those because, believe it or not, we knew we could get things there that would fit with our new, healthier eating habits.
On that particular night we still needed to eat, we needed lots more steps, and neither of us were looking forward to walking around the park a hundred times at 10pm. That’s when one of us looked up the distance from our house to Chile’s. It was 2.3 miles–the farthest we had ever walked for one of our “integration” walks.
We were hesitant at first. As strange as it sounds, it seemed impossible, really. The walk was far and it would take us down busy streets, along routes we had only ever driven before. There was even a light feeling of adolescent embarrassment–we were the only ones walking those particular sidewalks along those particular streets. We were so uncool. The reward, though, was too tempting. That walk would give us nearly 10,000 steps round trip and we would break it up with dinner!
Ever since then, we have been walking to dinner three and four times a week. We still go to Chile’s regularly, but we also visit local places I’ve written about before, like Flancer’s and the farmers market. Two-and-a-half miles one-way is pretty much our outer limit at this point because of the time it takes to get there (about half an hour to forty minutes).
Not every American suburb has access to as many sidewalks and safe paths. Rural areas like where my grandmother lives in Oklahoma are tough because of the distances it takes to get anywhere you’d want to go. Still, I can’t help wondering if some of this isn’t perception. If you had asked me a year ago if our suburb was walkable, I would have told you no and sincerely believed it.
What we have learned this last year is that almost anything is walkable, especially when there is some reward involved, even if that reward is simply checking off one more thing on the list of things to do. Admittedly, some places require more planning and street smarts than other places. When we walk the canal path near our house, for example, we clamber over the rock-laden moat of a railroad track so we can get to Flancer’s.
What I recommend to anyone interested in trying this way of integrated walking is to start out with smaller trips and add on as you feel comfortable. If possible, pick things that are actually rewarding. In my case, it was coffee. Plan ahead and take what you need to be safe and comfortable in various weather and road conditions. Backpacks and cross-body bags are best for carrying things you might need. When we go to the farmers market, for example, I pack an insulated bag with a couple of bottles of water. As we drink the water on the trip there, we make room for our purchases at the market. Of course, no matter where you go, always pay attention to the traffic around you and navigate accordingly. Never assume a driver sees you.
Even with a certain amount of danger, this adventure of ours makes us happy. I have discovered, as Kierkegaard did, that I am happiest when I do not have to rely on a car to get places. I hate having to scope out and pay for parking. And we all know gas prices aren’t getting any lower. There are ways to walk and be safe, even in suburban America. Just be sure to remember your pedometer and wear comfy shoes.
For more inspiration on incorporating walking into your daily life, visit these websites:
Every Body Walk! is an “online educational campaign aimed at getting Americans up and moving. Through the help of our partners, we are working to spread the message that walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week really can improve your overall health and prevent disease. We provide news and resources on walking, health information, walking maps, how to find walking groups, a personal pledge form to start walking, as well as a place to share stories about individual experiences with walking.”
America’s Walking is a show on PBS which “highlights great walking destinations across the country, provides advice on food and nutrition, presents tips on the best fitness apparel, and features the inspirational stories of individuals who have seen their lives transformed by simply walking.”
Nearly two years ago, my husband decided to lose weight. He was bordering 300 pounds at the time and his doctor was warning him of the oncoming signs of diabetes. He was already taking medication for high cholesterol and high blood pressure. So, when the conversation turned to preventative medication for diabetes, Hubby set his mind to make some major changes. And when my husband decides to do something, he jumps in with both feet and doesn’t look back. So, in October of 2010, we both went on Weight Watchers and started tracking how many steps we were taking each day with a FitBit pedometer.
Hubby lost nearly 120 pounds from October of 2010 to June of 2011. I lost 20 pounds total. Since then, he has been freed from all the medication he had been taking before for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and he never had to take the diabetes preventative. There are no signs of diabetes anywhere.
As you can imagine, a great part of the change is owed to his weight loss and his food choices, but it also can’t be denied that walking has made a huge difference as well. It helps keep the weight off, it gives the heart a good workout, and it makes it so he can enjoy extras like beer and chocolate on a daily basis.
These days we walk at least 5 miles a day. Hubby usually walks more than that. He’s far more disciplined than I am. I peter out once I hit my step goal of 10,000 steps and some days I don’t even make it to that. Still, for both of us, walking has changed our lives and the way we travel.
Travel is now planned with walking in mind. We choose hotels and vacation rentals that are located in the heart of a walkable city or, as is the case with our home in suburban Phoenix, we figure out ways to incorporate walks into our lives without living life on a treadmill or circular track. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing where these walks have taken us, and how they’ve changed our lives, as we explore North America on foot.