Fort McHenry National Monument

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“O say can you see by the dawn’s early light…”

Like most decent students of history, I knew generally the origins of the American National Anthem. War of 1812. British attack. Heavy bombardment. Invaders repelled. Flag waving triumphantly in that that early dawn glow. But the anthem which I’ve sung countless times throughout my life garnered a whole new meaning after walking the grounds of Fort McHenry.

Many of you know I’m a NPS geek, and my wife and I have been undergoing an odyssey to visit all 417 sites. This summer we set out on a long road trip to visit as many sites on the east coast as possible prior to our leaving the country for a few years. After a few weeks on the road, we were behind schedule, so we decided to high-tail it from Washington, D.C. to Boston, skipping a few sites we had planned on hitting on the way. But as we passed through Baltimore, I decided to just take a detour to Fort McHenry National Monument and National Historic Site, since it’s so darn easy to get to (if you’re passing through town on I-95, it’s conveniently right off the interstate). And I’m really glad I did.

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For such a small site, the NPS does a fantastic job at Fort McHenry. They have what appears to be a new interpretive center, which plays a very informative, well-produced video on the Battle of Baltimore and the origins of the Star Spangled Banner. Walking out the back of the center, a path takes you up a slight incline to the fort itself. All along the way, I passed a number of Rangers leading guided interpretive tours and activities for both adults and kids. Visitors are provided the opportunity to wander freely through the fort, which contains small interpretive displays of life within the fort and about the famous battle in September 1814. The fort itself is a fairly impressive garrison from the First System of U.S. coastal defenses. While I must admit, once you’ve visited a handful of coastal defense forts, the allure fades a bit. But the clear emphasis the NPS places on Fort McHenry and telling the story of our National Anthem really helps make the site come alive, even for veteran coastal defense visitors such as myself.

I can’t quite call this site a “hidden gem,” per se, as it’s not particularly hidden. But it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re passing through Baltimore on I-95. You won’t be disappointed.

Boston Harbor Islands

I initially wanted to start this blog at the beginning of the summer as my wife Jaime and I undertook a multi-week National Park Service (NPS) road trip. I’m a big NPS nerd, and our initial ambitions were to cross off all the remaining NPS sites in the northeast U.S. We didn’t quite make it, but we’re darn close. But with the grueling road trip schedule, I didn’t find time to write. So I’m playing a bit of catch up while things are still fresh in my mind. I’ll begin with a destination that I didn’t manage to see during my two years living in the Bay State: the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

Start your trip from a number of loading points around the Harbor, but be careful of the schedule, as you can’t necessarily get to all the islands from the various points of origin. We began at Long Wharf North, near downtown, and set out to try to visit as many islands as possible. (Our initial plan was three: Peddocks, Georges, and Spectacle, but we got a bit burned (literally) and cut Spectacle). So we were out at the hahbah (sorry, I just can’t help myself) bright and early at 8:30a. After an easy cruise to Peddocks, we set out to explore the island.

The high point of Peddocks Island is the abandoned Fort Andrews. Built in the early 20th century, it served as a U.S. Army coastal defense location through the end of WWII (at which point it became obvious that coastal defensive positions were made irrelevant by airpower and long-range strikes). It even served as an internment location for Italian POWs–some of whom married Bostonians and stayed in the states. The island also boasts miles of hiking trails and a number of camping sites. Although the camp sites included these weird prefabricated tent structures that kind of reminded me of some dystopian future society and weirded me out a bit. Especially given they were in vicinity of the abandoned remnants of Fort Andrews. Peddocks Island (also the site of some filming of Leo’s “Shutter Island”) is not high on my destination list for overnight stays, but to each their own.

As we had a couple hours on the island, we were able to wander from one end to another, hiking through woods and along the narrow stretch of land separating the bulbous north and south sides of the island. Perhaps the most kitschy aspect of the island were the homes inhabited by what I would assume are some of the heartiest Bostonians around. A series of a number small homes stretched along a dirt path in the middle of the islands. While these sites offered a spectacular view of downtown Boston in the distance, the island doesn’t allow vehicles or have any sort of life-sustaining support, such as food stores. An interesting retreat for those who don’t care much for city life and don’t mind walking and taking a ferry for…well…pretty much anything.

From Peddocks we boarded the ship bound for Georges Island. Georges is one of the most popular islands and boasts the historic Fort Warren, built shortly before the Civil War as part of the Third System of coastal defenses. Following the War of 1812, the U.S. realized that earlier coastal defenses were inadequate, especially after the disastrous British campaign up the Potomac. Fort Warren, commanding a central position along the major shipping lane, provided a key piece in a number of interlocking firing positions throughout the harbor. Turned over as a tourist attraction following World War II, the site allows visitors to wander throughout the old gun emplacements, ammunition rooms, and storage areas. We initially began with a ranger-guided tour but tired quickly of it, and frankly we’ve visited so many former coastal defense locations throughout our travels that we figured we could get the gist on our own.

Georges Island is much more compact than Peddocks, and other than the fort, there wasn’t much there. There were spots to picnic, and the site does have a small cafeteria, but frankly between the two, Peddocks offered more opportunity for wandering and adventure.

While we were only able to visit those two islands, the Boston Harbor Islands NRA offers a number of other things to do, including guided tours to Boston Light on Little Brewster Island. With a copious amount of history, a bit of hiking, and beautiful views of downtown, this trip is definitely worth a day when visiting Beantown.

My first run in Wiesbaden: Spa Park!

So while I’ve been here for a few weeks, I’d like to recount my first run around Wiesbaden. Like I’m sure many of you, I enjoy going for a run as a great way to explore a new place. It allows you to move a lot quicker than simply walking, plus it helps force you outside of your comfort zone by not checking your GPS/iPhone maps as often as you would otherwise. So I set out to find some greenspace from downtown Wiesbaden. I first stumbled upon the Hessisches Staatstheater, a beautiful theater in the heart of the city. From there, I ventured out into Kurpark (“spa park”), past the Kurhaus, a major events theater sporting its own casino. Kurpark heads northeast from the heart of town, with both hardball and dirt tracks at various points. It does annoyingly have to cross a few roads, but that can’t be avoided in a city. For an urban area, there’s plenty of green space, and you feel really secluded from urban bustle. Plus the homes on either side are absolutely gorgeous.

As you near the end of Kurpark, there’s an offshoot on the right allowing you to continue on the bike path up a steep hill. This path leads you to the beautiful Herz-Jesu-Kirche (Heart of Jesus Church). The path seems to end at Am Schlossberg, but a quick left past Gollner’s Restaurant in the ruins of Burg Sonnenberg (Sonnenberg Castle) takes you to a continuation of the path with beautiful views overlooking the Rambach valley. (More on the ruins of Sonnenberg Castle in a future post). As you descend in the valley, the route becomes a bit confusing, as the hardball ends, with numerous options to divert on groomed dirt trails to the east and north.

I flagged down a passing runner to ask about how best to follow the path. (As an aside: I find it funny that whenever you ask a German if they speak English, they always say “a little bit,” and then proceed to communicate with you in fluent English). He directed me toward a singletrack trail heading up into a nature preserve in Rambach district. This also seemed to double as a hunting area, so I was a bit nervous running up there. I still need to do a bit more research on land conservation in Germany, which I’ll address in a future post. But after getting a bit lost trying to follow the trails on Google Maps (grrrr), I eventually ended up in a quaint little neighborhood on the top of the hill. From there, I was able to bomb back down the hill on surface streets, which connected me to my original path leading back into the city.

I’m not sure this is my favorite urban run of all time, but the Charles River Loop or the West Side Highway certainly don’t sport the ruins of 13th century castles!

Below are some photos of the run. I’ve also included a link to a route I created in mapmyrun.com–this is the first time I’ve tried doing this, so please let me know if it doesn’t work. While most of you may never experience this particular run, I hope this post provides a bit of inspiration to go out and explore your local area. I bet there’s some history and hidden gems in your own neighborhood that you never even knew existed!

Run route on mapmyrun.com: http://www.mapmyrun.com/routes/view/1771164878
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I’m a big fan of Atlas Obscura. Not only does it document some of the weirdest, off-the-beaten path novelties out there, but also serves as a source of motivation to get out the door when a big destination seems overwhelming. My new home (Wiesbaden, Germany) has one Atlas Obscura destination, so of course it was at the top of my list of things to visit. Destination: The Nerobergbahn (say that ten times fast!). Per Atlas Obscura’s overview: “A 440 metres long funicular railway in the city of Wiesbaden linking Neroberg hill to its north, Nerobergbahn opened in 1888, and is one of the few remaining funiculars to use water propulsion.” Funiculars, I’ve come to learn, leverage two counterbalanced cars to help propel the upslope tram.

So, 440 meters goes by pretty quickly, and frankly, I think I’d rather hike to the top of the hill. But at the top is the Neroberg–a small park that offers some pretty fantastic views of the city. Also visible from the top are the golden spires of a Russian Orthodox Church built in the mid-19th century. (Be advised: They close promptly and cluck at you in fussy German if you try to enter three minutes before closing time). Also accessible from the site is a large pool (the Opelbad) and what appears to be a nature preserve. I’ll try to return soon to trail run in the preserve.

As TripAdvisor lists these above destinations as the top to-do’s in Wiesbaden, I hope it’s not all downhill from here. But I must admit, I find my new home pretty enchanting. Certainly more than my last one in rural New York!

Hello Off and Running Travel community! I write this post sitting in a bar in Wiesbaden, Germany, my new home as of the past three weeks. I’ve long thought about creating a travel blog, but this move really helped convince me. While exciting, it’s tough to be in a new area. Sometimes, you just want to go out for a great run and relax. But when I moved here, I realized that there really weren’t any resources to help me. I tried all the typical sites to no avail. I’d seen bike paths but didn’t know exactly where to go. So I decided to explore. And I was blown away by how beautiful the area was. After chatting with a local I flagged down, I found a nature/hunting preserve and even got some trail running in. After that, I decided that I wanted to create a blog to share my experiences with other travelers. More importantly, I hope to help build a community of active travelers…a community that no matter where you travel, you can find someone to recommend a great run, hike, or adventure. So enjoy, share, and please let me know how I can improve this site! Also be sure to join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Below are some photos from my new home!