Day Trip from Washington DC: Fall Foliage in Shenandoah Valley

Washington DC is full of historic sites, museums, parks and is one of the top dining destinations in the country. You could easily spend weeks here and never tire of the bountiful options for things to do! But if you’re the type who loves a good road trip and beautiful fall foliage, a trip to Shenandoah Valley for its famous Skyline Drive is a must. I was lucky enough to spend two and a half months in Washington DC in the fall of 2016 and one of the things that was at the top of my to-do list was to plan a road trip out to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley during the peak viewing times for fall foliage.

There are four entrances to Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park. This page will tell you the major highways that lead to each of Shenandoah’s entrances. I’d recommend either exiting or entering at Thornton Gap (in the middle, near the best viewing for folliage) if you’re not planning to drive the whole thing. For a short (2 mile) and easy hike, drive 14 miles south to the Upper Hawksbill trailhead, one of the highest points in the park.

It takes about 3 hours to drive the entire 105 miles of Skyline Drive without stops, but there are numerous lookouts to pull over and places to stop for hike or picnics if you’d like to take a break. Hikes range from beginner to advanced with rewards like panoramic views, wildlife, and waterfalls. You can request free hiking maps from any of the ranger stations when you enter or preview them here. It generally takes about 90 min to 2 hours to get to Shenandoah from Washington DC, depending on which park entrance you use.

If you’re spending more than a week in Washington, DC, particularly in the fall, definitely be sure to check out Shenandoah National Park’s Fall Color Reports for tips and a weekly update from park rangers. In 2016, the peak weekend was October 23-23 and I visited both that weekend and the week after, which was still quite beautiful, in my opinion. Note that your entrance fee ($20 per car when I visited) is good for a full week, so you could space out your visits for two chances at peak foliage views and complete different sections of the drive each time.

A few resources for autumn leaf peeping:

If you don’t have time for a day trip out to Shenandoah, there are tons of beautiful sites around the city of DC as well. Rock Creek Park is beautiful for a run, walk or drive and the trees along the Mall and tidal basin are quite colorful too. Arlington Cemetery, Mount Vernon, Seneca Park and the National Arboretum are all great options not too far from the downtown DC area.

>> Check out my Washington DC Destination Guide
>> Check out photos from my galleries on Virginia and Washington DC

12622322_10156455364445015_5904263820314438285_o

Serendipity

People often ask me questions about the life I’m living, and I get it. I’m definitely not following a conventional path in life or career and some of the choices I make tend to leave others scratching their heads a bit. I often hear, “I wish I could do what you do, but…” or “I could never do what you do”… and a lot of the times, I feel the same but the other way around. There have been other times in my life where I was more focused on following a different path, but I’ve changed (quite a few times) over the years and I don’t regret the long and winding path that’s led me to the person I am today. Nor do I think that the changes will stop any time soon! I think I’ve finally accepted and embraced that.

I’ve always been the kind of person who needs to have a few things happening at once. While I definitely do pour myself into things (school, jobs, marathons and travel are all examples) I am always thinking of the larger picture, or sometimes dreaming up a different picture altogether. I used to have more anxiety around “where is this all going?” but these days, I’ve learned to channel that energy into opening up new paths and being flexible about where they take me.

Washington, DC, for example…

A few months ago, some of my family on my mother’s side were making plans for a celebration of my grandfather’s 90th birthday. I rarely see this side of my family (having grown up an ocean and half a continent away) and it was a chance to visit with my last living grandparent and just about all of my relatives, including my mom and brother. My aunt and uncle generously offered to help me with the plane ticket if I could get myself there…

At first, I turned it down. I’m happy living in Turkey, but I won’t lie – even with the lower cost of living, it’s difficult for me to make ends meet since I can’t legally work there. I don’t exactly have funds for a trans-continental trip lying around at my disposal these days especially after India and Portugal earlier in the year. I also have had bouts with depression and recurrent pain over the years that left me soul searching in the Himalayas and culminated with having surgery in Mumbai before leaving India, further draining my bank account. I do freelance writing and admin or communications work for clients in various time zones (Hawaii, Seattle, Turkey) but I thought perhaps I could take the opportunity to do some work on the ground in the US to help fund the trip to see my family and hopefully get me through another winter in Turkey.

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you may have seen that my word for 2016 is SERENDIPITY. (More on this tradition here.) What a serendipitous year it’s been! At the beginning of the year I never dreamed I’d get to visit Portugal or India, but living where I do now and keeping an eye on inexpensive airfares made it possible to cross both off my bucket list. And now I was standing at a crossroads and leaving it up to the world wide web of wonders to see if I could make a trip to the US feasible… I put out a request to my network to see if I could find a job (and a couch to crash on) for a few months and got replies from all over the country! It truly amazes me how things work out when you are open to embracing serendipity.

Fast forward to Labor Day weekend and I was able to spend time visiting with my family in Indiana. We celebrated Grandpa’s 90th and my Uncle Kev’s 60th, ate Skyline Chili, read bedtime stories to the littles and watched old family movies from my mom’s childhood in the barn. I got to meet spouses and kids that have been added to the family tree and spent time with cousins I haven’t seen since a family reunion 16 years ago. I am so thankful to my family for bringing me over for those priceless moments together. I’m looking forward to seeing them again in a few weeks for Thanksgiving. =)

After Indiana, I spent a weekend in Chicago staying with Kim (yes, Kim on a Whim has now settled happily in the Windy City – Go Cubs!) Our friend Edwin flew in for the weekend and we made the most of the short time we had together with all the basics… Eating our way through Chicago with deep dish pizza, italian beef sandwiches, and house-party BBQ. I got to have things I’ve dearly missed in Turkey like poke (even though they spell it wrong) and pho. We explored the city on foot and just about every form of public transport including my favorite – water taxi! And when it was time to move on I booked an overnight train to begin the next chapter in my serendipitous year, DC…

I’d only been to DC once, in the 7th Grade on a school trip to the East Coast. A classmate of mine (who also happened to be on that trip!) now lives in DC and serves as Executive Director for a nonprofit called BEST Kids, Inc. BEST Kids needed support around their annual gala taking place in October and strategy to support their year-round fundraising efforts to continue to provide caring and consistent mentors for youth in DC’s foster care system. It was a perfect fit for me and I’m so grateful to Krislyn for the opportunity to help this organization (and also the space on her couch!) that allowed me to stay in DC for the past two months. It’s been so great to be able to combine work and play, to enjoy the beautiful fall weather here in the nation’s capital and to get to see sides of the city that I wouldn’t have if I had come as a tourist.

My time in DC is winding down, and soon I’ll be heading back to Indiana for Thanksgiving, then back to Turkey at the end of the month. I’m definitely missing my house, boyfriend, cat and being able to sleep in my own bed! Not to mention Turkish food and the beautiful (and soon to be snowy) landscape of Cappadocia.

This year has definitely been one of SERENDIPITY – happy coincidences that have led me to friends, family and new experiences all over the world. Soon it will be time to start thinking about my word for next year, but for now I’m just basking in the moments that have made this year one of continuous surprises and reminded me of the joy of living in the present moment.

Life in Turkey: Seker Bayram and Ramazan

Today was a bit of coincidence as there are major holidays happening in both my homeland and adopted home. So while I’m watching 4th of July beach parties, BBQs and red, white, and blue fireworks displays back in the states, here in Turkey they’re getting ready to celebrate three days of Seker Bayram, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramazan.

Ramazan (known as Ramadan outside of Turkey) is the holiest month in the Muslim calendar. During this time, those observing Ramazan will abstain from vices like swearing, alcohol, sex, and arguing and focus on being kind to others, improving the community and performing acts of charity. Families and friends are united and quarrels are resolved. During the 30 days of Ramazan, Muslims traditionally fast from sunrise to sunset. This includes not just food but anything passing your lips. No smoking, no chewing gum, no brushing your teeth, not even a sip of water!
Continue reading

On Being Vulnerable

I felt a chill, sitting in my little box of a room – tiny, with oddly-placed windows that allow nearly no natural light to shine through. Wrapped up in a pile of heavy blankets and my newly purchased yak wool scarf, trying my best to stay insulated from both the physical cold and the social gatherings outside by these four walls and my ipod headphones. It’s the typical way I put up my defenses and retreat into my shell when I am faced with a difficult situation, with the first signs of depression.

My first instinct is to pull myself within, to hide from those who love me or who are concerned, to make myself as small as possible, a stranger to the world outside, to slip through unnnoticed. Call it a defense mechanism, but it’s the way I cope and has been for years. I can’t say that it’s been successful but after many major bouts of clinical depression in my adult life, it’s the only way I know how to survive until I’m ready to push through that darkness.

But India seems bent on teaching me that there is nowhere to hide. The love out there is so big, so colorful, so full of richness, so full of light and flavors that it will literally burst through the door, whether I want it to or not. Tonight it came via a stainless steel tray, loaded first with the simplest of flavors – a spiced vegetable curry with tender, sweet carrots, creamy chunks of village potatoes and crisp green bell peppers. On the side, a simple chapati flatbread and a steel cup of cold water. My first thought (in my wounded state of mind) was that it reminded me of humble prison rations, and I found none of my usual joy or anticipation in bringing the first spoon to my mouth.

Yet bite by bite, each spoonful brought me nourishment to my body and revived my spirit. Because I couldn’t refuse in Hindi, another plate soon appeared – rajma made of red kidney beans, not as spicy as the fiery version I’d tried in Amritsar, but obviously made with love and care. Next, a container of rice. As I’d watched others do, I spooned the rajma over the rice and watched as the flavors mixed and deepened with each new taste. I tried to slow down to appreciate the texture and flavor in each bite, to receive the blessing and well wishes being sent to me by the kind woman who prepared them and delivered them to my sick room even as I tried to say no. I loved her then, for ignoring my attempts to shut her out, and to lock myself inside.
Continue reading

Where to Eat in Lisbon: Cervejaria Ramiro

I had first seen Cervejaria Ramiro on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode on Lisbon. Known for serving a huge variety of fresh seafood with grilled steak sandwiches for “dessert”, it was on my short list of places to visit in my trip to Portugal. I had plans to meet my friend Flavia from Brazil for dinner, as she happened to be passing through Lisbon on a layover that night. Flavia and I were roommates on my very first night in Goreme when I was still just a tourist in Turkey, so I was looking forward to seeing her again after living there for ten months now.

I was also lucky with my choice of a hostel in Lisbon, We Love F*** Tourists, which has some of the nicest staff I’ve met anywhere in the world and who cheered my interest in going to Ramiro. I was honored that a whole group from the hostel staff was able to join Flavia and I for my last night in Lisbon. It’s always more fun to try out a new restaurant with a food-loving group!

Old friends and new for my last night in Lisbon

There is usually a bit of a wait to enter the restaurant, but we were seated in about ten minutes in the upstairs dining room. We walked in past the tanks of live seafood, waiters waiters weaving through with plates straight from the bustling kitchen, and my mouth began to water in anticipation! We started with pata negra (acorn-fed Iberian ham) and a soft cheese from Azeitao to spread over fresh buttered bread. Next came shrimp sauteed in butter and garlic, tender steamed clams and some of the biggest raw oysters I’ve ever seen.

It was my first time trying goose barnacles (such a strange look, with a taste a bit like clams) and sea snails (like briny escargot, pried out of their shells with little forks). My favorite of all of the dishes were the giant tiger prawns, grilled simply and seasoned with thick flakes of sea salt. I thought they were joking when they brought out a huge live lobster — I was SO full by that point — but minutes later it appeared on the table too.

It was such a treat to be able to sit back and let someone else do the ordering for a change, and I knew we were in good hands when we let Pedro order. Service was a bit slow at times as the staff catered to tables of tourists around us. (Our server also took a selfie when asked to take a photo of the table, haha!) Having locals who’d been there before helped, Pedro and our server went back and forth in rapid Portuguese, making sure to include a variety for all of us to share. Of course, we had to end with the famous prego steak sandwich for “dessert” and everything was paired with appropriate beverages along the way – white wine from the Duoro valley to start, beer when we got to steak and a lemon sorbetto topped with vodka to put you just over the top!

As you can probably tell, the food was amazing but the company was even better. Truly a highlight to my too-short stay in Portugal. Obrigada, friends!

Cervejaria Ramiro
Av. Almirante Reis nΒΊ1 – H
1150-007 Lisboa, Portugal (map) Phone: +351 21 885 1024
Closest metro: Intendente
Website | TripAdvisor | Yelp | Spotted by Locals

If Portugal is not already on your travel bucket list, add it now! Here’s some inspiration, and both shows happen to feature Cervejaria Ramiro prominently:

>> For recommendations of things to do, see and EAT in Portugal, check out my Portugal Destination Guide.
>> For other highlights from my trip, check out my Portugal Photo Galleries.