Art, Food, and Fun in Philly

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The arts flourish in Philadelphia, a city rife with some of the country's richest historical sites and locations as well as the culture and diversity you would expect from any large city. Whether you have a day, the weekend, or an entire week for your visit, you will run out of time long before running out of ways to spend it.

Museums abound in Philadelphia. Showcasing artwork of every nature, sculptures, gardens and a multitude of histories, one could easily visit a different venue every day of vacation and still not see them all. Visit Independence Hall, where George Washington was appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army, the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation were adopted and the U. S. Constitution was drafted. Stand in the rooms that our forefathers stood and listen to a tour guide as they explain the many uses of the rooms. Tours are free and a timed ticket is needed for entrance.

Just down the street, you can find the National Museum of American Jewish History, The African American Museum in Philadelphia, the Besty Ross House and more- all within an easy walk. The Rodin Museum is an easy bus or trolley ride away and well worth the few minutes. My son enjoyed drawing all the sculptures and the staff was very nice to him.  This museum houses one of the most comprehensive public collections of Rodin's work outside Paris and is a beautiful place to visit.

Public transportation is very easy to use and comes every few minutes. The Big Bus Company and Philadelphia Trolley Works are easy, on and off, and hit all major tourist and historical attractions, is inexpensive and goes everyplace.

Philly Cultural TripI noticed that the most magnificent and unique art of the city on a very uncommon canvas- businesses and buildings. Starting out as a way to reduce the graffiti epidemic that had taken over much of the city, an artist was hired to guide youth who lacked opportunities to help to beautify their community with art rather than defacing it. Now, the Mural Arts Program is one of the largest of its kind and has created more than 3,500 works in 27 years. Community involvement is key to keeping this program strong and each year approximately 100 indoor and outdoor murals are constructed. View the muralson a bike, walking, or riding on a trolley tour of the city. The trolley tour is a wonderful way to see a large amount of the city in a short time and with the commentary of a knowledgeable guide to explain the pieces.

Philadelphia CheesesteakAll that touring is bound to make you hungry- perhaps indulge in one of the city's namesake dishes, the Philly cheesesteak. However, one need not call it a "Philly" cheesesteak on location-just order with or without onions and specify what cheese you prefer and you are ready to eat. Of course, most people know of the epic battle of Pat's King Of Steaks vs. Geno's Steaks. These two rivals have locations directly across the street from each other, with Pat's owners' being given the credit for the invention of the famed sandwich and Geno's owner planting himself across the street claiming to do it better. Be warned, order fast, know what you want, as well as the lingo. "Wit-Whiz" would mean that you want your steak with onions and cheese whiz. Manners? Not so necessary.

Alternately, you can skip the epicenter of cheesteak cheesesteak madness and head over to Campo's Deli on Market Street which is just 3 blocks from Independence Hall and many major attractions. One can take their time a little more leisurely here and the sandwiches are delicious. Consistently ranked among the best in Philadelphia for both  cheesesteaks and hoagies, they also carry some interesting versions of the classic for those with a more adventurous side such as BBQ Cheesesteak. They serve no fried foods (french fries included) at this location, but the soups, side dishes, and desserts they carry will more than make up for that.

Reading Terminal- PhiladelphiaThe Reading Terminal Market is also a good and central choice for breakfast or lunch. They, like most of the city, do close early! Don't expect to have dinner there, but there are great places for dinner nearby. They also sell honey sticks, which my son loved and are hard to find in our area.

Go to www.visitphilly.com to plan your trip!

Foodies in the City

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I recently attended the Whole Foods Market's Sandwich Showdown was held with Jeff Mauro in New York City as part of the NY Food and Wine Festival. Jeff Mauro, the sandwich king of Food Network, was there to make a mean sandwich. This sandwich showdown was held to help raise money for various charities. There were more then fifteen sandwiches to taste, with just about every ingredient imaginable, from Turkey to Pastrami, to Porchetta, and even gluten free products and desserts.

As you walk in, each guest is given a wooden chip to cast their vote for the best sandwich available.

The first sandwich I was able to sample was the incredible Kobe Patty Melt, by Marble Lane. Simply mouth watering- a burger made of Kobe beef, melting in your mouth along with caramelized onions, mushrooms and cheese. Beginning the event with this sandwich set the bar pretty high, giving the other crafters some serious competition.

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I thoroughly enjoyed "Home by the Range", an Italian Style Braised Beef sandwich, which included a piece of braised beef paired with some Italian pickled vegetables. In my opinion, this sandwich was very close to perfect. It missed the mark a bit for me, since pickled Italian vegetables are a bit spicy and have a kick and a crunch to go along with the acid of the vinegar, which would complement a well cooked meat perfectly. Unfortunately for me, there was no spice or kick to the veggies, so I was a little let down. I can understand completely why the decision was made to keep the spicy to a minimum- not everyone likes it- but I think it would have pushed this sandwich to the top of my favorites.

Udi's Gluten Free was also there, supplying some baked good and sweets to complement the savory sandwiches. Their ice cream sandwiches were good, and used signature cookies like chocolate chip and snicker doodle. These were the perfect break to a room full of heavier foods.

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We also enjoyed the Little Muenster, with their Taleggio with Mushroom Duxelle- an uber grilled cheese sandwich, on specialty bread, paired with tomato soup. "Take on Thanksgiving", courtesy of Whole Foods, featured turkey, gravy, cranberry slaw, and gravy to dip into, was also a personal favorite. Is tasted just like Thanksgiving- even the bread was like a good stuffing- without the gross giblets.

The New York Food and Wine Festival is a fun way to spend some time in the city, and the Sandwich Showdown is not to be missed. Sandwiches are fun, easy, and it's so easy to be creative with this fun and handy food.

My Rio Mar Experience

Rio Mar
Puerto Rico was an amazing place, filled with adventure, but coupled with some difficulties.  It is very different navigating with a thirteen month old who just started walking.  On the one hand, it is so fun, as Ele, our little girl, is excited for every new experience.  The hard part is the getting there.  We're used to being on the go every day, checking out a new corner of the island or area we're staying.  It's not so easy with a little one.  It took us a lot longer to get out the door, or we decided to just let her get in her morning nap, so we didn't get started until noon or later.  We made a couple of mistakes, thinking Ele could stay in the car longer than she could stand.  Hopefully, we're just building character and laying the groundwork for future road trips!

Our stay at the Rio Mar couldn't have been better.  We were upgraded to a suite, since Ele charmed our check in person.  We requested a crib and refrigerator for Ele, and it arrived at the room as we got there.  We were put on the second floor, one floor down from the lobby, in the east wing. Our room's balcony had views of the pools and ocean--we couldn't have asked for more, really.  It was comfortable, with an entry way, a nice bathroom, and a large living space with enough room for a king sized bed, dresser, desk, chair, large couch, and coffee table.  There was plenty of room for a crib--something I did not expect.  

We arrived in the afternoon, after a bit of a drive, so we got Ele into her bathing suit and hit the kiddy pool.  She loved it.  She started walking about three weeks before, and already was a climber, so she quickly figured out how to climb in and out, wade around, climb in and out again, and made a few fast friends of the other kids.  After an hour or so, it was time to eat.  We needed dinner fast, so we ended up hitting the hotel's walk up café complete with sandwiches, wraps, a variety of breakfast items, and pizza.  We ordered a pizza and took it back to our room, where we settled in for the night.  

The next day we headed to Old San Juan as soon as we could get going.  It was a beautiful day, and it took about an hour to get to the city.  We threw Ele into our backpack and set off, visiting the old fort, El Morro, wandering through the streets, enjoying the feel of a place filled with character. At El Morro, Ele was able to run around a huge area of grass.  Wandering the streets we found a restaurant serving Puerto Rican food with air conditioning--a welcome retreat from the heat and humidity!  We each ordered Mofongo--mine with chicken, and my husband's  with salmon.  It's a traditional Puerto Rican dish made with plantains.  It was good, and Ele really enjoyed the plantains.  People were so friendly towards Ele, and her outgoing, social personality didn't hurt, either. 

Clarity in Travel - Key West

Visiting Key West, Florida.jpgOne day, a few years ago, Andy mentioned to me the idea of a job that would move us to a different city each year for three years.   Typical to many of my emotion-first reactions, I shut-down the idea before he could explain further.  There was no way that I would give up my career while we wandered around the country exploring his - especially when there were perfectly good jobs to be had in Iowa.

But, if my husband is nothing else he is persistent.  And, as the economy took a tumble, the idea of leaving the familiar behind became intriguing.  We kept talking, as we often do when it comes to big decisions, and, in the end, I came around.

Battlefields and Base Ball Fields

Driving out of Washington DC was nothing short of a traffic nightmare. The drive to Gettysburg was only supposed to take 90 minutes but it took us closer to three hours. My co-pilot who had formerly been handing me twizzlers, fell asleep. Bored (because I had no one to talk to), hungry (because someone stopped feeding me twizzlers), exhausted (from a whirlwind tour of DC) and frustrated (because of the unbearable traffic) I turned up my radio and belted out some classic Disney tunes (secretly and petulantly trying to wake my navigator).

As we neared Gettysburg, the traffic thinned, the speed limit dropped to 55 and the highway went down to two lanes. We drove through gently rolling hills and upon crossing the Maryland-Pennsylvania state line, the sky turned a dark shade of gray. It wasn't raining but it wasn't not raining. There was a heavy mist, so thick that at 2 in the afternoon, my headlights came on and I had to turn on my windshield wipers. On our way to the hotel, we drove through battlefields, lined with wooden fences - the mist casually, eerily hung on top of the fences, with the occasional vulturn perched on top.

My big brother and I don't get to see one another very often due to the fact that we live in states fairly far apart from one another. When we heard that my husband, myself and my brother would be on the East Coast for various reasons at the same time, we planned a weekend trip rally point of Raleigh, North Carolina, 4.5 hours from both our locations.

We all arrived at the Wingate by Wyndham late Friday night. The staff was great, I called ahead and told them my brother, whom I reserved a room for would be arriving ahead of me and to please allow him to check in upon his arrival, which they did. After a little catching up, my husband and I headed to our room and reveled in the air-conditioning and king sized bed!

Visiting Orlando with my Little Guy

If you are looking for a hotel that is close to Universal Studios, Orlando, and the airport, feel free to check out Wingate by Wyndham Universal and Convention Center. Great for business or pleasure- or a mix of both- the Wingate is a great place to stay that won't break the bank.



I am traveling with my son, who is 5. I know this is terrible of me, but I really liked the fact that there was an IHOP, KFC, and Taco Bell in the parking lot of the hotel. He almost never eats fast food, but when on vacation, hey, you never know when you will need food in a hurry :) The hotel also is a stop for the I RIde Trolley, which is a fast and easy way to travel the Orlando and Kissimmee area. You can hop on and off all day long for a flat fee of $4, free for kids under 12. Go to any of your favorite spots like Sea World or WonderWorks, even hit up a 7-11 and grab a burger and then head back to your hotel- all for less then parking. Easy.

There was an extended continental breakfast in the dining area off the lobby, were you can have some toast and coffee, or waffles, cereal, sausage, eggs, and more. It always makes traveling so much easier when the hotel has breakfast included. When booking a hotel, it is one of the first things I look for. I hate having to go out to breakfast, and since most hotels do not include kitchenettes, it's just extra money that doesn't need to be spent.

When we checked in, Charlotte (who was working behind the desk) made checking in fast and easy, and asked us if we had any specific plans while we were in the area. She got my son some brochures of places we planned to go to, and suggested others as well. She was very sweet with my little guy.

We checked into our room, and went to the conveniently located IHOP, LOL. Plane trips will do that to you :) Afterwards, we went and hung out by the pool for a while. We had the pool to ourselves, and my son thought he was king of the hotel. It was of course, gated off and you need a key to enter. There was a bathroom nearby, thankfully, because as all mommies will know, as soon as they hit the pool, they have to potty.

                    

The rooms were comfortable, ours had two queen beds. The hotel has 3 rooms to choose from, and the choice of king or two queen beds. Every guest can use the 24 hour business center, fitness center, pool, whirlpool (it was broken while we were there), and free shuttles to Universal Studios and the Holy Land Experience.

You can request a roll-away bed or a crib if you need one. The bathrooms are clean, and the staff was friendly and helpful. A good hotel to stay at if you are in the Universal area :)


Snorkeling in Hawaii

Vacation in HawaiiLying in bed on my stomach, the cool breeze from the open door seemed to gently blow across my now bare bottom. I could hear the crash of the waves onto the shore of the beach.   My body felt heavy and wonderfully exhausted.   As I closed my eyes and began to drift off to sleep, I could see the bright beautiful sea life dance in the water as the waves moved back and forth.   Waking before the sun rise the next morning I felt as if I had slept for 10 hours.  A new kind of energy was beginning to burn.  I wanted more, I wanted to do more.  No longer did I want to remain idol.

Grabbing the activity book from off the night stand I went out onto the balcony to watch the sunrise and to see what other things were in this new world for me to do.    Flipping the pages one at a time I knew whatever I chose to do, I wanted to go snorkeling again.     Then there is was "Captain Bob's", it was a 4 hour snorkeling tour, a mile off shore.      Oh wow, could I do this? Could I really snorkel what would feel like the middle of the ocean?  Could I be that brave?   Just when I thought I could do anything, I saw it.   The Boat!   What was I thinking?  How could I swim that far off shore?  More importantly, how was I going to get on and off the boat?   No way would I be able to pull myself up onto the boat, and it would be a cold day in hell before I had to watch the strain on others faces as they tried to pull me from the water.  Visions of my wrapped in fishing net as the rest of the passengers and crew pulling on the ends of the rope yelling "Pull"  and them all pulling at once to get me back on board.

Exploring Napa

Golden Gate Bridge.jpgI've loved wine for as long as I have been able to sip it -and maybe even before! So, when I got the chance to head out to San Francisco, I knew a trip to Napa was in my very near future.  I had an aggressive itinerary and prepped my cohorts on the beautiful drive from the Parc55 Hotel to the Napa Valley.

Step 1? Cross the Golden Gate Bridge...


 

Scuba Diving in HawaiiSnorkeling off the shores of Hanauma Bay came easy for me; after all I had already dealt with going to the beach in my bathing suit.   This was simply going to be another beach trip with a snorkel and fins.    After doing some research I learned that Hanauma Bay was not only beautiful but a Nature Preserve.    The bay floor is the crater of a volcano.  The exterior of the wall collapsed, which caused the crater to flood creating one of the best protected coves.    Due to the unique qualities of the bay there is a diverse population of marine life as well as a large, rich coral life.  

Pulling off my shorts and top, I did not care who was watching, my eyes were fixed on the water and getting out there and exploring the beautiful waters.    Looking back on it I must have been quite a sight walking to the water with my mask and snorkel propped on my head and my fins flipping sand up into my face.   Spitting into the mask and swishing it around, I was so excited.  A type of excitement that I had not felt in a long time, it wasn't like the excitement you feel when you fit into a size smaller jeans, or when McDonalds starts selling their holiday shakes.  It was the kind of excitement that makes your heart race and your stomach feel all jumpy.

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