I love train travel. Oddly, it is almost 2 years to the day that I last posted about this love, when I recounted what is is like taking Amtrak along the East Coast from New York to Baltimore. It is one of the things I think about every time we drive up to Albuquerque or Santa Fe from Las Cruces. So much land, if there was only a train to get us there. Then of course, there is the problem of getting around once you reach your destination, but that’s a Zipcar topic for another day…

So when I see maps like this one posted on Upworthy, I get downright ecstatic.

US Map of Future Rail Travel

Las Cruces to LA by train in under 6 hours? Austin in under 3? I could event take the train all the way to see my grandma in Boca Raton, Florida. My grandma would like that.

While I understand the automotive industry’s role in the history of furthering our nation’s rail system, I find it sad and a disservice to our country to not have a better integrated rail system. Especially with how expensive it is to fly now between the tickets and all the added fees.

But the best part of it all would be able to see the country from out the window as the train speeds by, watching the changing landscape and seeing how it changes from climate to climate, plains to hills to mountains. Through the bayou then forests. Until the ocean comes into sight. No watching for other cars on the road. No traffic. Go ahead and take a bathroom break, we’ll keep moving along.

I’ve been writing travel articles for Examiner.com for the past month and have loved having an outlet for sharing my travel stories and recommendations. My latest article was published this week on Philadelphia – here. Having spent nearly every weekend in Philadelphia for two years while my husband did postdoctoral research, we had a tons of opportunities to try out the great restaurants the city has to offer and found Philly to be a really special place.

Though we are both New Yorkers at heart, we loved the accessibility of the city, walk-ability, the historic charm, the liveliness, lack of pretentiousness, and most of all – the great food. It is a place we can both see ourselves settling one day. If we were to ever do such a thing.

So for now, we try to visit once a year to see friends, reminiscent about those two adventurous years, and venture into some of our favorite places. In my Examiner article I only mentioned a few, but there are several other places we still salivate over and make us miss city living even more. Here are a few I must share:

  • Distrito – simply amazing Garces-owned Mexican with incredibly fun decor.
  • Amada – it was the first restaurant we ever went to in Philly and you always remember your first. Plus, their delicious spinach and fig salad wrapped in serrano ham dish doesn’t hurt. Another Garces creation.
  • Ok, I really like Garces, but it is so much to like! So for that reason, I am also going to include Tinto (tapas) and Whiskey Village (burger, duck fat fries) on the list while where on it.
  • Vic Sushi Bar – Our favorite sushi place. I even said so on Quora.
  • Zento Contemporary Sushi – newly expanded, delicious rolls.
  • La Viola – Good, inexpensive Italian in cozy (read: very tiny) space and you’ll probably have to wait awhile for a table. Cash only, which seems to be pretty popular in Philly.
  • Audrey Claire – another cozy one but with a constantly changing menu and really great food.
  • Zahav – An Israeli restaurant in a surprisingly serene city amongst the bustling Old City
  • Butcher & Singer – for when you feel like you want to be on the set of Mad Men, and want a good Side car and a steak while you’re at it.
  • Lolita – another Mexican food favorite, with fun guacamoles and great margaritas


New Mexico has launched a new $2 million campaign to bring visitors to the state. Using the slogan “New Mexico True” it aims to draw in visitors seeking adventure activities. However, there has been some criticism that the as primarily focus is on the northern part of the state where the more popular Albuquerque and Santa Fe are located.

What about Las Cruces?

As the second largest city in the state, Las Cruces is a vibrant home to more than 23,000 New Mexico State University students and is an agricultural center for the production of pecans and chile peppers. It is located in Doña Ana County, just about an hour from El Paso International Airport.
Agriculture aside, there are several things to do in Las Cruces, especially for outdoorsy types.

Hiking abounds with several locations around the city serving as starting points for afternoon treks. Dripping Springs has an easy trail perfect for families and a few interesting sites including historical structures dating back to the early 1900s. Aguirre Springs is another trail that starts out with a spectacular, curvy drive through the Organ Mountains and offers several shaded picnic areas. Camping is also allowed here. Both provide vast vistas of New Mexico landscape.

If more interested in “the local scene” then visit the award-winning farmers market, located on the newly renovated Main Street. Las Cruces Farmers Market draws in over 100 vendors each week on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Crafts, plants, jewelry, and national curiosities such as petrified wood are some of the items available for sale. A local favorite is Osito’s Raspberry Habanero Biscochitos, a sweet shortbread cookie sprinkled with sugar that packs a surprising heat. (They are seriously good – but not for the faint of heart. A few East Coast family members got a little teary eyed when the heat was released.) Look for the Osito’s food truck on Saturdays. The Farmer Market is open Wednesdays & Saturdays, 8 AM -12:30 PM during the summer and 9 AM – 1:30 PM during the winter.

Though not as sweet, but easily as pleasing is a trip to the White Sands National Monument. Located 52 miles east of Las Cruces, just on the other side of the Organ Mountains, White Sands is a break-taking natural wonder. With 275 miles of desert covered in gypsum dunes, it is home to guided moon-lit tours, camp grounds, a balloon festival, a film festival, and a favorite in winter for those missing snow: sledding. Sleds are, surprisingly, available for rent or purchase in the gift shop for sleigh-riding down the dunes.

If visiting New Mexico, Las Cruces has unique sites and delectable local cuisine that will please any party.

Where to Stay

There are several options for lodging in Las Cruces with many of the national chains. However, Hotel Encanto is one that provides a little more of the local culture. Decorated in a Spanish Mission-style, the lobby is decked out in cool Mexican tile and chunky wooden furniture. It is centrally located with easy access to popular destinations. When booking, ask for a room facing the city for nice view of Mesilla Valley at night (Ok, just look past the mall – the lights are just beyond it and are quite pretty). The hotel is located at 705 South Telshor Boulevard in Las Cruces.

Where to Eat

Paisano Café, located in Mesilla, serves up creative Latin-inspired dishes unlike anywhere else in town. Try the Mole Verde o Pipian, a toasted pumpkin seed and tomatillo mole sauce with a hint of hoja santa (root beer plant) or the Caper Tequila Lime Shrimp Fettuccine. Though they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it is worth visiting for dinner to try one of the best tomatillo salsas available anywhere. The Paisano Café is located at 1740 Calle de Mercado in Mesilla.

A Few Other Fun Things to Do

If three things aren’t enough to whet your appetite, here are a few others:

  • Visit historic Mesilla for shopping and adobe architecture
  • Go for dinner at Double Eagle and ask them to tell you the history of the supposedly haunted building
  • Watch the sunset along the Las Cruces Dam (there is no water, just a ridge that offers an excellent walk transversing town – and if you need motivation, there is a Starbucks on either end.)
  • Visit for the Day of the Dead Festival, The Whole Enchilada Festival, or Salsa Festival
  • Get a guided tour of the Farm & Ranch Museum to learn about New Mexico’s farming, ranching and rural life

For photos – visit this article on Examiner.com.

When planning a trip to Belize, most people are faced with a tough decision. Do they head to the beach and linger by the water for the week, or do they trek to the jungle for adventure-filled days? However, there is another solution that offers equal parts sand and stone (for the Mayan ruins). For the indecisive, this is the ideal scenario.

The Sand and Stone package is jointly offered by Victoria House, located on the Belizean island of Ambergris Caye, and Ka’ana Boutique Resort (a Small Luxury Hotels of the World), nestled in the jungle of San Ignacio, just a few miles from the Guatemala border.

For those who want the adventure part of the trip first so second half is about relaxation, then Ka’ana provides pick-up service from Belize International Airport. The adventure begins with a two-hour drive with the driver pointing out the small villages of Spanish Lookout, Georgeville, and Teakeattle, while sharing the history of Belize, which has an eclectic mix of Mayan, Mestizo, Garifuna, Mennonites, and Chinese populations.

Excursions to the impressive Mayan ruins of Caracol (full day trip) or Xunantunich (1/2 day trip) are easily arranged by the front desk. For the true adventure seeking, caving, cave tubing, and zip-lining are all available.

When enough heart-pumping activity has been had, a quick 15-minute flight from Belize City will take you to Ambergris Caye, where Victoria House is located on a stretch of white powder beach, diligently raked each morning by the grounds crew.  Swaying in a hammock, shaded by palm trees, with a drink in hand is the quintessential afternoon here, though many come to snorkel or scuba at the famous Blue Hole.

This tiny country has something for everyone, and the Sand and Stone package offers a perfect taste. As they like to say, “You better Belize it!

I love traveling by train. It is by far my favorite mode of transportation. So much so that at one point, I was a member of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, or NARP. True story. It was during a time that I was taking Amtrak from NYC to Baltimore pretty frequently. But, that’s not where my love of train travel started, actually. It started when I was studying abroad in Italy during my junior year of college and I traveled by train all throughout Europe. I loved watching the landscape roll by, from mountains to valleys, in and out of cities and they turn into countryside, riding alongside the ocean and crossing the Alps, the Strait of Messina, and the English Channel. I would plug my headphones in from my portable CD player (yes, pre-iPhone/iPod days), and would just sit and watch the the landscape evolve.

I took this photo while traveling again from New York to Maryland, on a recent trip for work. This is my favorite part, where the train travels over Chesapeake water and I never appreciated it more than this trip. Living in the desert, you learn to appreciate water in a way you don’t expect and this view was picture perfect.