Key West 2019: Day 2

I bookended my day with sunrise this morning at Smathers Beach and sunset tonight at Mallory Square. Because sunrise is my favorite time of day, and I made it my goal to be up and watching the sun rise every day of vacation, I figured I’d start the week at Smathers Beach. I thought I might be alone, but there was plenty of company between walkers, photographers, and other sunrise enthusiasts. Sunrise tonight was equally beautiful, though I was certainly not alone for that one!

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Smathers Beach Sunrise

Breakfast this morning was at Blue Heaven in Old Town Key West. I struggled to find places with interesting breakfast menu items in Key West, but it seems the draw is more to the atmosphere here than inventive foods. I ended up eating blueberry pancakes in the rustic courtyard and imbibed in a breakfast cocktail to go along with it. Sure, I could get blueberry pancakes at home, but would there be roosters milling about while I ate? After breakfast, I decided it was high time I get myself to the Southernmost Point buoy to take the obligatory picture. A walk up Duval Street rounded out my morning adventure. The pool was calling, so it was time to head back to the hotel.

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Blue Heaven

Now would probably be a good time to mention that my hotel experience has been less than stellar. For several reasons, the most salient of which is that I did not have air conditioning from the time I checked in until about an hour ago, at which time they finally conceded that they couldn’t fix it and moved me to a different room. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say it hasn’t been the greatest start to vacation. I managed to squeeze in a little pool time this afternoon whilst dealing with the a/c debacle. It is very warm here (82 degrees today) and extremely humid. A little sun goes a long way!

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Southernmost Point

I spent the afternoon and evening back in Old Town. This afternoon it was a ride on the Conch Tour Train (a Key West tradition) and this evening it was the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square. Both were about what I expected: the tour was informative and fun, while sunset was a mob scene of people watching the sun make its nightly journey below the horizon. Every evening, crowds are drawn to Mallory Square to enjoy the buskers, musicians, wannabe musicians, and street vendors. I’m glad I got there early enough to get a seat on the sea wall. Everybody should experience it at least once. A nightcap at Sloppy Joe’s was in order while I waited for the hotel shuttle. I spent the rest of the evening packing one hotel room and moving to another, but I’m now happily basking in the air conditioning!

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Sunset at Mallory Square
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A Long Weekend in Philadelphia

I had wavered on spending a weekend in Philadelphia, but having not visited Philly since I was young, I figured there was enough to do to keep me occupied for three days. Of course, I planned the trip before the government shutdown closed the main attractions… c’est la vie.

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Philadelphia Skyline

I arrived on Friday night, and given the anticipated rain/snow/cold today, I decided to focus on the outdoor historical attractions yesterday and spend today indoors. I started the day yesterday at Green Eggs Cafe for breakfast. This place made it to the top of my breakfast list because a. it was a short walk from my hotel, and b. Red Velvet pancakes. Yes, you read that right. Massive, square shaped red velvet pancakes layered with mascarpone and topped with Chantilly cream. Yum! I made it through about ½ of them before calling it quits. They weren’t overly sweet, but they were rich. Fortunately, I had spent 45 minutes at the gym beforehand and planned to get around the city on foot for the day.

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Independence Hall

After breakfast, it was off to Independence Mall. Of course, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and other National Park attractions were closed. However, I was able to visit the National Constitution Center, Elfreth’s Alley, the Betsy Ross house, Christ Church, and Carpenter’s Hall (meeting place of the first Continental Congress). Then it was off to the Reading Terminal Market to see what all the hype is about. There were plenty of food vendors (think Quincy Market times 10), but the crowds at midday on a Saturday were certainly off-putting. I made a quick stop at Macy’s to see the massive Wanamaker pipe organ, then it was back to my hotel to rest before a dinner of Steak Frites at Parc on Rittenhouse Square.

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Reading Terminal Market

Today, I made my way back to Green Eggs Cafe for a savory breakfast of “Philly Benedict”, though it was nowhere near as good as yesterday’s indulgence (there’s always tomorrow…). The rest of my day was spent at Eastern State Penitentiary and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Eastern State was a last-minute addition to the agenda, but it was so worth it. The prison has been left pretty much the way it was when it closed in the 1970s, which means lots of crumbling brick/cement and plenty of character to photograph. I did the 35 minute audio guide to get an overview, then took a tour of the “punishment cells” and the hospital. It was fascinating to learn about the prison that was a model for prisons around the world.

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Eastern State Penitentiary

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the third largest art museum in the country. Though I’ve never considered myself an art connoisseur, I definitely gravitate towards modern art and European design. I was thrilled to see so many artifacts and decorative arts (preserved doorways and columns, for example) that date back to medieval Europe. What surprised me was how impressed I was by the Asian art, especially the preservation of a Japanese Tea House and the Pillared Temple Hall from India.

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Japanese Tea House, Philadelphia Museum of Art

By the time I left the museum, it had turned mighty cold, and after a brief warm up at the hotel, I enjoyed pizza and cider for dinner nearby. My only plan for tomorrow is a final stop at Green Eggs Cafe (gourmet French toast, anyone?) and some downtime before I have to head back to the airport late morning.

 

Chicago 2018: Day 2

The two highlights of the day: food and Hamilton. I got a good night’s sleep and started the day indulging in a “French toast flight” at Batter and Berries in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. I had been planning this breakfast for weeks, so it should come as no surprise that I didn’t even need to look at the menu. I ordered the “super flight”, which includes four of the regular French toast menu items (blueberry, strawberry, caramel, and lemon) along with this week’s special: Heath. I started by trying a couple of bites of each one and then decided to work my way up from my least favorite to my most favorite. I cleaned the plate.

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Fullerton Avenue, Lincoln Park

Fortunately (for my waistline), I decided to walk from there to Lincoln Park to visit the conservatory and zoo. I have fond memories of the orchid room on my last visit to Chicago many years ago, but there weren’t too many in bloom today. The conservatory did provide a nice respite from the brisk morning temperatures. Then it was back to the cold as I walked around the Lincoln Park Zoo, a free Chicago attraction housing a large variety of animals. My favorites are always the gorillas, but I loved watching the monkeys swing (one kept hitting the glass because he overshot the rope!) as well. I spent a couple of hours wandering around the zoo and adjacent boardwalk before jumping on a bus to walk the Magnificent Mile. I stopped into a couple of stores before making my way to my afternoon destination: the CIBC Theater for Hamilton.

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Lincoln Park Conservatory

I’m not one of those people who has been wanting to see Hamilton since it first came out. I was ambivalent about going to see it in Boston. But, when I saw that it was playing in Chicago, I decided I might as well see what all the hype is about. I spent the first few songs thinking I should have saved my money, and then…. it won me over. Not being a history person, I figured I’d be bored watching people sing about one of the founding fathers for three hours and wouldn’t be able to follow the plot. On the contrary, I found myself having a new appreciation for Alexander Hamilton and I would recommend the show to anyone. It was that good.

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Riccardo Enoteca

I went back and forth on what I wanted for dinner tonight several times, and finally decided to forgo the deep dish pizza and head back to Lincoln Park for dinner at Riccardo Enoteca. It was a very good choice! I ended up eating at the bar instead of one of the cozy tables (which would have required a long wait) and enjoyed pennoni carbonara and panna cotta. A delicious end to the day!

Chicago 2018: Day 1

First things first: it’s COLD in Chicago. Not just “Oh, there’s a little chill in the air” cold, but 18 degrees and blustery wind cold. At least that’s what it was when I was walking to my hotel a little after midnight. Oh, you want to know why I was out so late? Let me tell you the story! As I was getting to my gate at Logan last night, they were making an appeal for 5 volunteers to give up their seats on the 5:30 flight. In exchange for a guaranteed seat on the 8:15 flight. And a $700 travel voucher. Gosh, I’ll have to give this some thought. Just kidding! I immediately jumped into line and the rest is history. The flight was delayed but I eventually got to my hotel a little after midnight and…. wait a minute. I canceled that reservation and rebooked at a lower rate. What’s that? I canceled the wrong reservation and kept the more expensive rate?! Well that puts a little dent in the $700 I just earned. 😦 

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Cloud Gate, Millennium Park

Fast forward about 6 hours and I was up and at ‘em at the crack of dawn. It wasn’t a matter of if I would crash today, but when. Spoiler: the answer is 1PM; that’s when I thought I might just curl up on a bench and sleep. I’m used to a faithful 9 hours of sleep every night and I fell about 5 hours short of that last night. I needed sustenance in the form of pancakes. And boy, did Wildberry Pancakes deliver! I had my mind made up on the signature “Berry Bliss” pancakes, and then the waitress asked if I wanted just the pancakes, or if I might like them as a side for one of the egg dishes. Well, I had been eyeing the skillets at a neighboring table that looked amazing. Which is how I came to feast on a skillet of hash browns, ham, and eggs smothered in melted cheddar and a short stack of berry bliss pancakes for my first breakfast in Chicago. Looks like I’m going to love it here.

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Downtown Chicago from Navy Pier

After breakfast, I walked over to and around Navy Pier in the bitter cold before taking the lakefront trail over to Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago. I took the obligatory pictures of the “Bean” and spent about 2 hours walking around the Art Institute. I’m not much of an art person, but I found myself drawn to the Contemporary Art section and I also enjoyed the American Art exhibits. It’s a pretty impressive collection. Afterwards, I hit TJ Maxx before heading back to the hotel. I was able to successfully plead my case to the hotel manager, who changed my room rate to the lower one I thought I was getting. I couldn’t spend much time in my room lest I give up on going back out for dinner.

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Chicago Theater

Dinner tonight was at Piece Pizzeria and Brewery. I’d like to call it a little hole in the wall, but it’s definitely been discovered by more than a few Chicagoans. Nonetheless, I snagged a seat at the bar and settled in with a white pizza and cider. It wasn’t so good I felt I would go back again, but it did the job of filling me up. And now it is a little after 7PM and I’m already in my pajamas laying in bed typing this. I’m fading fast and I’m determined to get a good night’s sleep so I can get back out and explore more of the city tomorrow!

 

Nova Scotia 2018: Day 3

Despite having a flight home at 12:30 this afternoon, I managed to pack some more sightseeing into the few morning hours before I had to head to the airport. I was up with the birds at 4:30, hit the hotel gym at 6, breakfast at 7, and out the door by 7:20. A quick stop at Tim Horton’s (how could I resist?) and I was on my way to Eastern Passage. Famed for its Fisherman’s Cove, Eastern Passage is a small town located to the southeast of Halifax at the entrance to Halifax Harbour. There is a small channel between Eastern Passage and McNabs Island, and along this channel lies Fisherman’s Cove. When I was there this morning, there were several brightly colored fishing vessels in the narrow cove lined with lobster traps and fishing nets. Picture perfect! Adjacent to Fisherman’s Cove is McCormacks Beach and boardwalk. The long boardwalk traverses the marshes and along the rocky beach’s edge and was perfect for a brisk morning walk (it was only in the low 40s this morning!).

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Fisherman’s Cove, Eastern Passage

After my walk, I drove around to Cow Bay and stopped at Rainbow Haven Beach for another walk. The waves were rolling in and the wind was blowing, but it was a great view of the ocean. I followed the Marine Route around to Cole Harbour, then made a quick side trip to Lawrencetown Beach before heading north to the airport. The turboprop didn’t seem *quite* as small today as it did on Friday, but still not my cup of tea. Since you go through U.S. Immigration in Halifax, I was off the plane and into my car in no time. It amazes me that this morning I was walking along a beach in Nova Scotia and now, just a few hours later, I am lying on my couch with a coffee cake in the oven, catching up on my DVR. The wonder of travel!

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Lawrencetown Beach

Nova Scotia 2018: Day 2

Irish music and dancing, a visit to the Halifax Public Gardens and Citadel, and some local Nova Scotia cider were the highlights of a rain-filled day in Halifax. I abandoned my morning plans to drive along the Eastern Shore and instead spent the whole day in the city. I started by walking around the Public Gardens, which surprisingly had a large number of flowers in bloom for this time of year. From there, I hiked up Citadel Hill in time to see the 11:00 changing of the guard at the Citadel before walking along the ramparts and through the fortress. By the time I left, the rain/drizzle had set in.

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Halifax Public Gardens

What else was there to do but seek out some food at the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market? The food never materialized, but I did sample some delicious local cider made from apples grown by the people in a neighboring booth. (The craft cider scene is strong in Nova Scotia!) If I didn’t have to transport it home, I would have bought some. I left the Farmers Market and headed out in the drizzle along the waterfront Harbourwalk. I managed to find a couple of shirts to take home and enjoyed the salt water smell to the air. In many ways, Halifax reminds me of Charleston, South Carolina. Both are cities built on the water with a mix of cargo ships, fishing vessels, and a fun coastal vibe.

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Halifax Harbourwalk

By then it was time to pick up my original plan for the afternoon: Celtic music and dance. First up was The Old Triangle, an Irish pub with traditional Irish music and set dancing on Sunday afternoons. It was good, but I certainly wouldn’t call either the music or the dancers lively. I stayed about an hour and enjoyed a No Boats On Sunday cider (another excellent one!) before heading to the next stop on my self-proclaimed Sunday afternoon pub crawl. Except my pub crawl was cut short when I arrived at Durty Nelly’s to find the Sunday afternoon ceilidh cancelled. Oh well. I wasn’t planning to drink anyway since my last bottle was enjoyed on an empty stomach. I figured I might as well just have an early dinner. Except the restaurant I was planning to eat at was mysteriously closed (it is Thanksgiving here tomorrow…). Back to the car, back over the bridge to Dartmouth, back to the hotel. I settled for a decent, albeit boring, dinner at the nearby Montana’s Cookhouse before heading back to the hotel for a swim, hot tub soak, and a couple of trips down the indoor water slide. I’m hoping to head out early tomorrow to explore a bit of the Eastern Shore that I missed out on today before heading to the airport.

Nova Scotia 2018: Day 1

If you’ve never been to Nova Scotia, start making your plans now. Trust me on this one. This is my fourth visit to “Canada’s Ocean Playground”, and I love it just as much as I did the first time around. Sunny, cloud-dappled skies, crisp autumn temperatures, and huge ocean swells with crashing waves made for a perfect day along Nova Scotia’s southern shore.

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Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

I’m trying hard to forget about last night’s turboprop flight to get here (and the looming return flight home). It wasn’t a horrible experience, but small spaces and I don’t exactly get along. It was a big enough plane (75 or so seats), but way too narrow and low-ceilinged for me. Couple that with sitting right next to the propeller and it wasn’t what I would call a relaxing flight. Fortunately, it was a quick hour and ten minutes to Halifax where I picked up a rental car, found my hotel, slept fitfully for a few hours, and headed off to explore Nova Scotia (after grabbing a bag of Timbits for breakfast at Tim Hortons!).

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Prospect Bay, Nova Scotia

First stop: Peggy’s Cove. I wanted to get there early to beat the crowds and tourist buses and despite multiple photo stops along the way, I was able to get in some good pictures before the first busload of tourists rolled in. Peggy’s Cove has somewhere around 300 residents and is perched on a rocky stretch of shoreline surrounded on three sides by the mighty Atlantic. And mighty it was today, with wave after wave crashing against the rocks and sending salt water flying up into the air. It’s no wonder its most popular attraction is a navigational lighthouse on the highest rocky outcrop. Beyond the lighthouse, there is the pretty cove itself with fishing boats dotting its waters along with a handful of local craft and gift shops.

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Lighthouse Reflections – Peggy’s Cove

After spending over an hour in Peggy’s Cove, it was time to keep moving. I followed the shoreline along St. Margaret’s Bay before joining the main road to Mahone Bay and Lunenburg. Mahone Bay is situated along the bay of the same name and is famed for having three churches lined up along the water’s edge which are often photographed from across the bay. I walked around the town for a while before grabbing a sinfully delicious chocolate pastry (because the donut holes for breakfast weren’t nearly enough sugar for the day…) and relaxing in the loft at The Barn Coffee House. Then it was on to Lunenburg. Lunenburg is another seaside village with a large fishing fleet. I didn’t linger as long there, and soon I was heading back to Dartmouth for dinner and a little shopping before calling it a night.

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Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia