Is Atlas Obscura A Fantastic Ambassador for the Abandoned and Hidden World?

I am fascinated with abandoned places.  It calls to the archaeologist in me.  These locations are fascinating because they are a marker of what once was and beg exploration, research and pause.  The pause is to question why and is this site significant and of greater importance, at least to me, is to potentially answer the question “So what?”.  There are so many sites to explore throughout the world with the payoff of exploring these place comes the possibility of risk.

While doing some research into abandoned sites last year, I found an amazing website.  Atlas Obscura:  The definitive guide to the world’s hidden wonders.  This site is all about “curious and wondrous travel destination”.  They certainly do live up to it.  This site is amazing and comprehensive look at all that is obscure in trips, experiences, courses, places, food, and stories.  This site was founded in 2009 by Joshua Foer and Dylan Thuras, Atlas Obscura documents unusual unobscured travel destinations via user generated content (wikipedia).  Honestly, what’s not to love about all this?

Atlas Obscura is a member optional site

.  You are able to access content without a memberships.  Both memberships have supply a newsletter and a community forum.  There is a free membership that provides:

  • Plan travel with lists
  • Add your own discoveries
  • Talk travel in our forums

There is a paid membership option for $5.00 a month of $50.00 a year that provides:

  • All basic account features
  • $100 off your next Atlas Obscura trip
  • Members-only experiences
  • Far fewer ads and no pop-ups
  • Early access to new travel tools

The site is so well laid out that it begs you to spend hours cruising through article after article and link by link.I spent some time looking through some of the articles on Europe and the United States. My trip to Europe maybe sidelined due to Covid restrictions at certain ports, so we have Plan B and that is to travel the states. They offered up some wonderful options for us to explore and I think we’re gonna be taking them up on several things like Templo De Debod In Madrid which is an Egyptian pyramid or Marble Canyon in Arizona which is a swirl of sand frozen into the rocks. They also offer options of where to eat in locations around the world and I am really thinking about the caverns grotto in peach Springs, Arizona. It is a 345 million year old cave that is 200 feet underground and is an actual restaurant. The food is cooked at ground level and lowered underground. What makes it really interesting is that the restaurant has an unobstructed 360° view of the largest known chamber in the cave network and there is no interference from other diners.

Another interesting element of Atlas Obscura is their book and course areas.  Gastro Obscura:  A Food Adventurer’s Guide, An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, and 2nd Edition, Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid are part of Atlas Obscura’s book catalog.  I did a review of the Gastro Obscura book and found it absolutely delightful. I feel it’s a must buy for the obscure and dark traveler.  The site also has a plethora of courses where you can explore new skills and niche topics. One that I found very fascinating was re-creating ancient recipes with VWAA, which stands for vacation with an artist. Ursula Jansen is an archaeologist and culinary historian that helps you re-create dishes from ancient Mesopotamia, ancient Rome, and the Mediterranean middle ages. It’s a three part series that cost $235. Session one starts with a Babylonian fall pie and Mursu, followed up by an ancient Roman Mustacei and Alexandrian gourds and then wraps up with Mediterranean middle ages Itriyya and hummus. Talk about bringing the world home.

If you are looking for travel, atlas Obscura also provides trips. They are moving away from being a digital site to a travel site. Some of their trips look very good and really cater to the obscure. One of the trips that caught my eye was the Mexico City to Oaxaca which trace is a threads of Frida Kahlo’s dresses. Also there are trips that explore the route of Creole kitchen in New Orleans, sacred granaries, Kasbah and feasts in morocco, wildlife of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and Iceland summer a journey through the fabled land. There’s something for everyone here. They also offer a travel blog.

Last but not least, Atlas Obscura has launched an app. The app is currently available for Apple only. There are many topics to browse like architecture, art and culture, death and afterlife, Food and drink, history, and nature. A lot of the app does mirror the website. I took a look at the history section and what I found were options for abandoned, ruins, memorials, archaeology, and cultures and civilizations. If further breaks it down into a lot of other topics such as ghost towns, disaster areas, American revolution. I looked at the American revolution since I don’t live far from Valley Forge. I was definitely not disappointed in what they had to offer which included the Liberty Bell hiding place which is Allentown, PA.Bowman’s Hill Tower in New Hope, PA is the stone tower marks  a lookout point over Washington’s Crossing point over the Delaware.

I love Atlas Obscura.  This website has so much to offer and is worth the visit even if you aren’t into the obscure because there really is something for everyone along the way.

Yes, I know I posted this back in July but it bears repeating!

While not always a rule follower, I like to stay out of jail and harms way.  There are some guidelines I like to follow when it comes to abandoned sites.

  1. Research the site you want to explore.  Most often there is information about the site online and especially how to access the site and who may own the site.  I always take this with a grain of salt since the accuracy can be an issue depending upon where you find the information.
  2. When in doubt make a phone call.  This contact can provide you with a wealth of information.   Be careful how you identify yourself.  I let them know who I am and that I am a travel write looking to review the site.  Don’t stretch the truth, these places have heard it all.  Ask permission, let them know how many of you are visiting and if there are any guidelines that you need to follow.
  3. Assume the risk if you can’t or won’t make a contact prior to your visit since some sites are closed to the public and off-limits.  This means that if you are trespassing you may be arrested which means jail, public service and/or a fine.  One place that is legal to visit but illegal to explore the buildings is Centralia, PA since the Commonwealth owns the buildings.  I saw piece on Dark Tourist (episode 5: Europe) about the Cyprian town of Varosha that was left abandoned due to a Turkish invasion.  It is patrolled by the Turkish military and off limits.  Some places are not safe.There are some abandoned nuclear sites that are still registering high levels of radiation (Dark Tourist episode 4: The ‘Stans).  Some sites are in poor condition and can cause accidents due to structures falling apart.  Another concern may be wild animals.
  4. Read the signs around the sites.  This will give you a clue as to what to expect as far as the legal ramifications, trail information and potential hazards.
  5. Be prepared.  Make sure that you have extra batteries, enough photo and video storage, water, snacks, flashlights, a map and information.  Also, let someone know where you are.  I share Life 360 with a friend so we know where she is on a date or where I am when I’m on the road. Keep you cell phone handy and just know that there may be poor reception at some of these sites.  Walkie talkies come in handy.
  6. Do not take anything from the site and please leave it as is for the next person.  This is the beauty of these sites and if a majority of visitors take a a piece of the site, there would be little left to explore.  In some cases, it could be considered stealing.
  7.  Most importantly….Beware and take care.  Be aware of your surroundings, where you are and what is coming near.

REFERENCES

Wikipedia:  Atlas Obscura

Netflix Dark Tourist Series

Allianz Travel Insurance

St. Valentine’s Day 2022 The Chicago Gangster Way!

Let’s put an interesting twist on St. Valentine’s Day. How about a trip to one of my favorite cities. We lived there for several years and there are some wonderful and fun things to do in Chicago. Let’s think St. Valentine’s Day murders. Yes, I know that it’s a bit dark, ok, a lot dark, but think how memorable and different a weekend like this would be.

Chicago is known for its gang history and more famously for Al Capone. Capone became involved in gangs in New York City and in 1919 after earning the nickname Scarface due ti a knife fight, Capone moved to Chicago where he began his career as a bouncer. He was also a bootlegger, a boxing promoter, right hand man, and negotiator. He became crime boss at the age 26 after the death of Johnny Torrio.

Capone was front and center of the Chicago gang wars and evaded prosecution for years. The Sr. Valentine’s Day MAssacre (February 14, 1929) was a turning point in the fight against gang activity. Herbert Hoover formed an agency, at the behest of the editor of The Chicago Tribune, to fight gang activity in Chicago. Walter Strong felt that the federal government was the only force that could curb Capone and the other mob bosses. The Untouchables were born. There were also legal battles that looked to prosecute bootleggers for not reporting income. This was tested in South Carolina and went to the Supreme Court where it was decided that the 5th amendment did not protect bootleggers for avoiding taxes. The IRS then began investigations.

Al Capone went to  Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary in May 1932 for tax evasion. He was later transferred to Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in August 1934 for “special treatment”. This came after an investigation that several prisoners were protecting him but there was no special treatment. He was diagnosed with syphilis and gonorrhea along with cocaine withdrawal which caused a perforated nasal septum. His declined proceeded and a formal diagnosis of syphilis of the brain was made in February 1938.

Capone spent his last year in Alcatraz in the hospital wing. He was transferred to  Federal Correctional Institution at Terminal Island to serve his sentence for contempt of court. Capone’s wife, Mae, petitioned the court for early release due to his reduced mental capabilities. He was paroled on November 16, 1939.

Capone attempted to receive treatment for late stage syphilis at Johns Hopkin Hospital in Baltimore but the hospital refused to accept based on his reputation. Union Memorial Hospital accepted him as a patient and he was grateful for the compassionate. He donated to Japanese Weeping Cherry trees as a thank you. In March of 1940, Capone went to Florida for inpatient and outpatient care and was one of the first American patients to receive penicillin. Unfortunately it was too late and the treatment only served to slow the syphilis.

Mt. Carmel Cemetery

Capone spent his lived out his years in his mansion in Palm Island surrounded by his grandchildren and attended to by his wife, Mae. Capone’s physician In 1946, physicians confirmed that his mental capabilities were that of a 12 year old. He had a stroke in January of 1947. After a series of issues, Capone died on January 25, 1947 at the age of 48. His body was transported back to Chicago and was originally buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery. In 1950, Capone’s remains, along with those of his father, Gabriele, and brother, Salvatore, were moved to Mount Carmel Cemetery where he is buried not far from the entrance.

There are other famous Chicago gangsters such as George “Bugs” Moran, Earl “Hymie” Weiss, “Bloody” Angelo Genna, and “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn. McGurn was the inventor of the Tommy Gun. John Dillinger was another infamous Chicago gangster. He died in front of the Biograph Theater after being betrayed by Polly Hamilton the Lady in Red. The Biograph is still open today as a live performance venue.

Places to Stay

Another way to get into the St. Valentine’s Day Chicago mood is where you stay. There are three gang related spots that perfect for your weekend away.

Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel: The Knickerbocker is on Walton Place just off Michigan Avenue in the Magnificent Mile. In 1980, a secret door was found that hid a staircase. The staircase led to a penthouse casino that was reportedly run by Al Capone’s brother. The martini bar serves 1920s cocktails and martinis.

The Pendry Hotel in the Carbine & Carbon Building: The Pendry is on Michigan Avenue near Wacker and is not far from Millenium Park. The building was built in 1929 and it’s art deco style looks like dark green champagne bottle corked with gold foil, which was intentionally designed by the architectects. It is said that this was in response to Prohibition.

Renaissance Blackstone Chicago Hotel: The Blackstone resides on Michigan Avenue near Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain towards the south end. This hotel was the site of the first mob Crime Convention. In 1931, Lucky Luciano hosted the event in the Blackstone’s Crystal Ball where the convention established a board of directors for Luciano’s National Crime Syndicate.

Gangster Tours

I like Viator as an option for finding and booking tours. The site is easy to use and you have an option to pay right away or hold you payment for a later date. This last option may not be a bad idea since I am hearing about cancellations and restrictions. I am worried about my trip to Europe because of the cruise lines are cancelling and one of the cancellations on Norwegian is the day before mine.

I found some interesting tours on Viator.

Chicago Crime and Mob Bus Tour: this is a tour in an air-conditioned bu that takes you to famed spots in Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, Old Town, the Loop and Magnificent Mile

Gangsters and Ghosts Tour in Chicago: A roaring 20s history of gangsters and haunted sites like he Palmer House, Congress Hotel, and Death Alley.

Chicago Night Crimes Bus Tour: This is a 2.5 hour bus tour along sites like the St. Valentine’s Day garage and gangster watering holes like The Burwood Tap and Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse.

Private Al Capone Gangster Tour in Chicago: a private tour of all that is Al Capone. You’ll hear about former speakeasies, historic hotels, and crime scenes that Capone and The Untouchables staged their epic battles.

Fore more tours and interesting gang related spots, Frommer’s has put together and excellent list of places to go. Take a peak at Vacations with Capone: Sightseeing Chicago’s Gangster Years.

There are a lot of spots that you can still eat that have ties to 1920s gangland Chicago. Eater has a list of those places: It’s Good To Be A Gangster: 10 Chicago Haunts Where the Mafia Hung Out. The Beverly location of Fox’s Restaurant & Pub was once a deli owned by Al Capone’s sister. The location is out of the way and is south of Hyde Park. Remember to call ahead since some places may be restricted, have altered hours, or are closed.

Chicago Oven Grinders and Pizza

THE CPOG STORY

“If buildings could talk, the narrow three-story brick structure at 2121 North Clark Street, Chicago, could tell quite a tale: genteel youth, evil middle age, fiery holocaust — and rebirth.

No one seems to know just when the old house was built, but there are distinct traces of Victorian gentility in its brownstone front, its second-story entrance reached by a flight of stone steps and its high ceilinged, narrow-windowed formality.

If the building ever did possess gentility, though, it was abruptly forsaken on February 14, 1929, as the guttural yammering of submachine guns in a garage almost directly across the street brought the notorious “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” to headlines around the world. Rumor even has it that the house at 2121 North Clark served as a lookout post for hoodlum henchmen of the Valentine gunners.

The succeeding years were unkind to the old house, as it passed through a series of ever less savory occupancies. Then, in November 1971, came the ultimate indignity: fire. When the ashes cooled, all that remained was a gutted shell of perhaps early glory.

Today, like the phoenix of myth, 2121 North Clark Street has been reborn. Purchased in April 1972 by Chicago attorney Albert H. Beaver, the old house has undergone a year long process of receiving a facelift.

And what a facelift! When all the bills are in, Beaver will have poured something like $150,000 into the building. Pine paneling as much like the original as possible has replaced timbers deeply charred by last winter’s fire. Under the active craftsmanship of general contractor Charles R. Smital, who specializes in restorations and remodeling of this sort, Beaver’s law office now occupies the space where –according to neighborhood legend – Al Capone’s under-world demons once peered across Clark Street towards a bloody garage.

And on the ground floor has been built what Beaver calls “Chicago’s most exciting restaurant concept in many years”: THE CHICAGO PIZZA AND OVEN GRINDER COMPANY.”

Former Speakeasies

To keep with the theme I found former speakeasies that are still in business today as bars and restaurants. The Chicago bar project has offered a list of these bars here:

  • Burwood Tap (Wrightwood Neighbors)
  • Butch McGuire’s (Gold Coast)
  • Chipp Inn (Noble Square)
  • Club Lucky (Bucktown)
  • Continental (Humboldt Park)
  • Cork & Kerry (Beverly)
  • Durkin’s (West Lakeview)
  • Edgewater Lounge (Andersonville)
  • Emmit’s Pub (River West)
  • Exchequer Restaurant & Pub (Loop)
  • Glascott’s Groggery (Sheffield Neighbors)
  • Gold Star Bar (East Ukrainian Village)
  • Green Door Tavern (River North)
  • Green Mill (Uptown)
  • Halligan Bar (Lincoln Park)
  • Hangge Uppe (Gold Coast)
  • Hideout (Bucktown)
  • Inner Town Pub (East Ukrainian Village)
  • Jake’s Pub (East Lakeview)
  • Marge’s Still (Old Town Triangle)
  • O’Donovan’s (North Center)
  • Paramount Room (River West)
  • Rainbo Club (West Ukrainian Village)
  • Riverview Tavern (Roscoe Village)
  • Schaller’s Pump (Bridgeport)
  • Simon’s Tavern (Andersonville)
  • Twin Anchors (Old Town Triangle)

Read all about these former speakeasies in Historic Bars of Chicago written by Sean Parnell

Chicago is always a good idea. Here is another way of enjoying St. Valentine’s Day. If you are into true crime, history, or dark history, this is the tour for you. Happy planning!

A birthday dream…Chopin and tapas in DC

My kids live fairly close. My son, Alex, lives in Philadelphia and my daughter, Amanda, lives just outside of DC. I try to get to both as often as I can. Of course, it’s much easier to go to Philadelphia since it’s a 35 minute drive from where I’m at. There’s so much to do and so many wonderful things and you will be seeing a recent trip I took to the Barnes. Such a strange museum.

Since it was a birthday treat, Amanda and I went to my favorite restaurant in Georgetown, La Bodega.  This is a sharp and fashionable tapas restaurant and bar that has been around quite a long time and ,luckily, survived the pandemic.  We have been going there for years since Amanda began he degree at Mason.  It has been consistently good and has yet to disappoint as far as food or service.

There’s a small parking lot on M Street that we normally park at, which is about a half a block down and across the street from La Bodega. With our luck, there was a spot. We took a stroll to the restaurant and had a lovely lunch together. We took our time and just enjoyed the afternoon and each other.  My gift list as of the last couple of years has only one item:  The gift of time.

The restaurant is actually a store front. When you walk inside you are taken over by the strong presence of the red and black and bullfighting.  It’s very unique decor and works with what they do..wonderful food and service.  There is the main room (pictured below), a back room, and a courtyard.  I love the front room by the windows so I can people watch and the courtyard because it’s sunny and quiet.  It all depends upon the weather and the mood.

Amanda became a vegetarian last year.  I can only imagine how difficult it was for her since she was a meat and potatoes person up until that point.  She held to it and I am proud of her. Part of the reason she held to it, is because she was told she wouldn’t keep to it. She’s stubborn like that…..I wonder who that reminds me of?  Sometimes, the challenge is to find menus at our favorite places that will accommodate all diets.  I have given up some food items for health reasons.  Beef being one of those items.  A Spanish tapas restaurant is perfect because it accommodated all needs.

Our menu

White Sangria

Tostada de Queso de Cabra con Miel  (Toasted Bread with Goat Cheese and Honey)

Pimientos del Piquillo a la Plancha  (Seared Piquillo Peppers with Sea Salt)

Tortilla Española  (Spanish Tortilla – Potato, Onion and Egg Omelet)

Patatas Bravas  (Crispy Potatoes tossed in a Spicy Ali-Oli topped with garlic Ali-Oli)

Paella Vegetariana (Vegetables Paella) Individual size

Afterwards, we walked around Georgetown and window shopped.  We actually found an Amazon store and shopped at a few of our favorite places.  There are some national chains like Sephora, Lush, and Dean & Deluca.  There also quite a few locally owned shops that are worth the visit.  I encourage a visit Olivia Macaron.  It was perfect.

Georgetown Shopping Guide

Scenic Shopping

Amanda and I discovered the delights of the Fever concert series, last year. Our exposure to it was when Amanda bought tickets for us for my birthday. We attended the Chopin Best candlelight performed by a Johns Hopkin Peabody Institute graduate student.  He was an excellent performer and what I truly appreciate is how he walked you through each piece.  He made it relatable and didn’t lecture. He kept it brief, concise and relevant.

Our Program

  • Mazurka in A minor Op. 17 No. 4
  • Mazurkas Op. 41
  • Etude in C minor “Revolutionary” Op. 10 No. 12
  • Waltz in C sharp minor Op. 64 No. 2
  • Ballade No. 4 in F minor Op. 52

The performance was held at Saint Francis Hall at the Franciscan Monastery. I was confused because i didn’t know that there was a monastery in DC.   This is the first time I’ve ever been there and it’s a hidden gem in DC.  According to their website, St. Francis Hall:

St. Francis Hall is a ministry of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, a province of the Order of Friars Minor, a Roman Catholic religious order.  Proceeds from the rentals of St. Francis Hall are used to support the work of the Friars in Washington, DC and surrounding communities, as well as the mission of the Friars in the Holy Land.

This is a lovely location and it was a perfect backdrop for the music. Due to Covid, we had to mask up and were socially distance. This actually worked in Amanda and my favor because we are both short and we were actually able to see the performance without neck stress.  The low lights and flickering candles clouded the setting so that the music was front and center.

One my favorite spots in Georgetown is not because of it because of the memory associated with it.  Amanda told me that she wanted to show me something because I introduced her to it, in the first place.  It was the movie, The Exorcist. The stairs that were actually used in the movie or not far from La Bodega. We went and we both agreed that it was pretty creepy, day and night.  One of my favorite websites, Atlas Obscura, has an excellent article, which you can find right here:  The Exorcist Stairs.

Sometimes, you aren’t sure if you kids are paying attention.  Alex is quiet and very observant, so I sometimes wonder.  Amanda is very observant and not as quiet, so I sometimes wonder.  I was at her apartment and saw these two paintings on the wall.  I recognized the one on the right as something I did when I went to a wine and paint with some friends.  I had it in the giveaway pile and Amanda thought it was good.  So there it is.  The one on the left is a painting she did.  Both kids love to draw and paint.  They carried it over from high school art classes.  It gave me the mom feels knowing that she did this.
My grandkitty, Earl.
My grandkitty, Gracie. The forever kitten.

Sometime Life Just Isn’t Fun…Just Grinning and Bearing It

Sometimes, I am a klutz.  I tease my daughter that she is the worlds biggest klutz, but I think she comes by it honestly. When she was living at home, I would hear thumping down the steps and then a very clear “I’m OK!”. I knew she was fine.

It has come back to haunt me.  A year and a half ago I slipped down three of my basement steps and landed on a comforter that I had tossed down to wash.  My left side hurt and I hobbled around for a week and then all was well.

Last March, after a trip, my left shoulder started hurting and I was barely able to lift it. My provider sent me to physical therapy and an x-ray. The x-ray showed nothing and off I went to physical therapy to strengthen my arm. From what I understand the ACL pull is very common in women my age. Something all women my age love to hear.

I was finishing up my therapy last August and was walking across the parking lot when my left knee gave out and I was able to walk. The Bestie and I thought it was a sprain and I did everything necessary to take care of the sprain. 10 days later I was turning the corner to go up some steps and it gave out, again, just prior to my trip to Ireland. I went to urgent care and they diagnosed it as a sprain and off I went on our trip with a brace and a wheelchair through the airport. It was what it was.

On my last day in Ireland, I was able to logon into my chart and make an appointment for an orthopedic doctor. Luckily, it was a few days after we got back from Ireland. Off I went. I had an in office x-ray and then was sent to the hospital for an MRI. At the follow up appointment, I was diagnosed with a torn meniscus which needed surgery.  Are you kidding me….

The doctor and I discussed it and he said it could wait since it wasn’t urgent. I chose to wait until the beginning of January since it was after the holidays and there is usually nothing to do because of the weather. I made the appointment for a month before I wanted the surgery, as he suggested.  My date was set for January 5.  Looking at a calendar right now, you’ll know that has passed.

Yup, I had the surgery and it went very well.  Chester County Hospital is honestly the best in the area and the staff was AMAZING!!!  My nurse, Julie, was kind, competent, and so sweet.  I have never had an IV stick that didn’t hurt and she made that happen.  I came home on Wednesday night and it was a tough night.  The next day I started on Aleve and am happy to say that as of Friday have not needed any pain killers or relief.  I will be starting PT and am happy to do so since I am starting to stiffen up even though I am diligently doing the post surgical exercises.

So, here I am trucking around the house with my wheeled walker.  With shut downs, cancellations and the weather, I am in a good place to not be traveling.  By the time, everything clears up, I will be ready to roll and not with a walker, cane, or brace.  Wish me luck!

Planning for the Year Ahead. Who, Where, and When on the Calendar.

I started planning for this year, last year. I have spoken to people and I’ve sent out texts with thoughts. Everyone has responded positively and I even had a few people throw in some ideas. This year I would like to plan and travel more thoughtfully. Last year, I traveled about once a month and it was too much. I’d like to go for longer periods and less often. I’m also interested in seeing places that I’ve never seen before.

Having said that here are some of the plans:

  • A trip with both my children. My sweetheart, Alex, just finished his degree at Temple University and I cannot be more proud. It was a bit of a struggle due to the pandemic and he did it with a 3.9 in his final semester! I think this deserves a trip.  Amanda and I discussed a few ideas.
  1. Hawaii
  2. Machu Pichu
  3. Canada
  4. Seattle
  5. Vietnam 
  • Some of my other travel partners are my daughter, Manda, and our friends from West Virginia, Brenda and Cindi. Brenda and Amanda have been best friends since second grade. We started traveling together in 2016 to celebrate our daughter’s 21st birthday. We went to Atlantic City and while sitting on the beach I’ll look to my left and I look to my right and I asked why aren’t we doing this every year? The answer came back as a resounding yes. After that, we went to Disney World to celebrate Amanda’s graduation from college and then we went to Virginia Beach the next year to see Def Leppard in concert.  We were unable to get anything together in 2019 because Brenda began a new job and then the pandemic derailed us. This year we are heading out west!

  • My dear friend, Susan, has suggested a girls getaway to Hershey, Pennsylvania. Do you know anything about her Hershey they have a world-class bar and that’s where we’ll be heading.
  • Allen has been watching Tom Greene’s van life on YouTube.  The first one that he saw was Tom Greene’s trip to Chaco in the Southwest. We started discussing UNESCO sites and he is fascinated by it. I’m more than likely going to be able to talk him into a road trip out west. I really want to see the Grand Canyon and few other sites in that area.  I have included a map below.    

  • Allen and I have a trip planned for Europe at the end of April.  We set sail from NYC and will head to Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy.  We’ll spend a week in Rome and from there we’ll figure it out.
  • I would also like to plan a solo trip somewhere. I am not sure where I would like to go, yet.
  • Camille and I would like to plan another trip together and maybe one with the kids. We talked about Maine and Switzerland.

There is so much to do as far as planning and I am down with knee surgery starting this week.  Looking on the bright side, this will give me the opportunity to plan some of these trips.  I’m not sure if I will make all these trips given time and money, but I will narrow down based on priority.  

It’s going to be an interesting year with travel, since I am not sure what the restrictions are going to be and what mandates will be on place.  The end of December was fraught with cruise line covid outbreaks and airline cancellations.  Fortunately, I am flexible an if I am forced to stay in Europe a little while longer, I will take one for the team.  Seriously, though, flexibility will be the name of the game.  

Here’s to looking forward to 2022!

Fearless and Exhilarating New Year’s Resolutions for 2022 and a look ahead.

A resolution is a determination or a firm decision.  Every year as a tradition, countless numbers of people make a New Year’s resolution to either do something or not do something.  People want to start the new year off with a better footing.  According to Go Skills, the top New Year’s resolutions are:

  1. Exercise more
  2. Lose weight
  3. Get organized
  4. Learn a new skill or hobby
  5. Live life to the fullest
  6. Save more money / spend less money
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Spend more time with family and friends
  9. Travel more
  10. Read more

In my opinion, traveling can pretty much fulfil almost all the other nine resolutions. Think about this, travel can help you live life to the fullest and spend time with family and friends. It can be a your new hobby.   You a new skill by trying something like rock climbing or navigating.  To travel you do have to be organized or you may miss something important like a connection or be shut out of something you would like to do.  You will read more just through learning about new cultures or just having the time on a plane while you’re getting to your destination. More exercise can be accomplished through a lot of walking and physical activity and you will be eating differently. Although, I’m not quite sure you will always lose weight.

Why do I travel.  I have wanderlust.  I always have.  I love the adventure of starting a new journey. I crave to see things and being somewhere new. To me there’s no greater feeling than traveling. My top reasons for traveling or to escape, learn new things, spend time with family and friends, challenge myself, and experience and discover who I am and the world we live in.

  • Escape:  I do believe that we all suffered from a certain amount of boredom from the same old same old and the day in and day out. The mundane can weigh us down and for me, I like to escape and refresh myself. I love to refocus and a time just relax.  I can also get away by being at home.  I collect mementos from my travel that I keep in a cabinet in my sitting room. I look at them and remember.
  • Learn new things:  I enjoy bringing the world home. I thrive on watching artisans, eating new foods, seeing new fashions, and observing the world around me. I’m not a souvenir hunter but I do enjoy collecting treasures. I have cookbooks from around the world and learn new cooking technique and work with new ingredients.  I enjoy integrating new design, styles, and foods that I’ve experienced into my everyday life.
  • Spend time with family and friends:  This is probably my number one reason for traveling. Even though I do enjoy solo travel, I thoroughly love being with family and friends and sharing travel experiences with them. If you read any of my other blogs, you’ll know that I love giving experiences as gifts and normally we would travel with our kids between Christmas and new year and enjoy that time together.  Time away t reconnect is meaningful.
  • To challenge myself:  Travel is a challenge. It’s not only about the logistics and time away, but the rigors of being somewhere outside of your element. My biggest challenge for this coming year is traveling for more than a week or two. This will be the first time my SO and I will spend 24/7 together. While I do crave some quiet time, I will thoroughly enjoy being with him. I think the challenge will be in ensuring that we both have some rules for some private time.  My other challenge is communicating in a language I don’t know.  The nuisance of language can change meaning and translating software may not always capture that.  Another challenge is eating the unknown…
  • To experience and discover who I am and the world:  You really do learn who you are when you’re traveling. You learn what your limits are how and if you get out of your comfort zone. Some of the best experiences I’ve had are when I’ve thrown caution to the wind or done something that I normally would not do. I’ve grown as a person because of it. The other part is I enjoy experiencing and discovering the world. There is so much out there to learn and do.  Think of all the people to meet and see. It’s an amazing world and I really want to discover it.

So, what are my New Year’s resolutions for 2022?

  1.  Write more
  2. Head out west
  3. Travel to at least two new countries
  4. Take a trip with my kids.
  5. Take a driving tour.

This is as far as I have gotten.  Number 2 is based on a conversation with Amanda’s oldest friend.  I haven’t taken a trip with both my kids for 2 years, so that is a must for me.  I want to take a driving tour with my SO.  He is my muse as far as historical Philadelphia and we both love documentaries.  The latest was documentary he saw was on The Ford Motor Company.  I suggested a trip to see the Henry Ford Museum.  Maybe we can take a driving tour with the pups.  Writing more is a must and as far as number 3, I already have that planned, so that may change.  Where do you want to be this year?

I want to wish the happiest of Happy New Years to one and all.  Here’s hoping that 2022 is the best of the best.

The Travel Journalist

The gift of time. An exciting end to 2021 with an Italian New Year’s feast!

This year, I thought it would be fun to honor my SO’s Italian heritage for New Year’s Eve. We’ve been getting together to celebrate for several years with friends. It’s usually around 10 of us at the celebration and then includes my Bestie’s two kids. What I thought would be fun is to not just host a great Italian meal but take on some of the Italian traditions to go with it.

I did some research and found from 10+ websites that the Italian traditions for New Year’s are pretty consistent across the websites.  Some of the traditions are based on ancient Roman superstitions. Here are some of the traditions that I found across sites:

  •  Eating 12 grapes at every chime on Midnight: to bring good luck:  It is said that if you are able to keep grapes from the fall harvest, then you are frugal and a good business person. The Italians have the following saying, “Chi mangia l’uva per Capodanno, maneggia i quattrini tutto l’anno.”  This translates to, “Whoever eats grapes on New Year, will handle money all year.”
  • Both men and women wear red undergarments: The Color red has long signified passion and in this Italian tradition it is thought that wearing red underwear will help with fertility and fortune in the upcoming year.
  • Italians like to bring a noisy beginning to the New Year:  At the stroke of midnight, Italians will throw out something used out of the window. I’ve seen this stated in two different ways. One says to throw out a pot or pan and the other says to throw out something personal. Another tradition is to watch or set off fireworks. Ancient Romans thought that the noise and the fire would scare off evil spirits.  Either way this is a noisy we get into the new year.
  • Leave the house with money in your pocket:   It is thought that if you leave the house on for the first time after midnight on New Year’s Eve with some money in your pocket, you will always have something to spend every day of the year.
  • Omens come in form of the first person you see:  The first person you see after leaving the house after midnight is what kind of luck you will have for the following year. If you see a baby, priest, or a doctor, it is said that you will have bad luck. If you have seen an older person then you will have good luck.
  • Eating certains foods:.Pork:  Pigs are considered a symbol of prosperity in some cultures because they root for food in a forward direction and their meat is rich in fat. According to La Cucina Italiana:“Cotechino, a large spiced sausage, which is simmered over very low heat and then served sliced into rounds. The rich fat of the pork used in the filling predicts riches in the coming year. A specialty of Emilia-Romagna, Cotechino di Modena has earned European Union IGP special geographically protected status.”

    “Zampone, a unique sausage created by stuffing a mixture of seasoned ground pork into a boned pig’s foot instead of a more typical sausage casing is another specialty of Modena in Emilia-Romagna. As with cotechino it is cooked for hours over low flame and served sliced into rounds. Both these delicacies were created centuries ago when it was important that no parts of the pig be wasted.”

    Lentils:  Lentils are considered a symbol of coins because they look like a penny. So if you eat lentils with your zampone or cotechino, you will be lucky in money for the next year

    Fish:  The Cenone di Capodanno (New Year’s eve dinner) is a tradition in Southern Italy.  Each course is served with a variety of seafood.

    Risotto:  is a symbol of abundance since the rice swells with cooking. A first course of risotto brings prosperity for the upcoming year.

    Desserts:  On New Year’s Eve, it is an ancient Roman tradition to eat almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, walnuts, dates, raisins, and dried figs to bring fertility and wellness to the new year.  Some Italians eat pomegranates because the endless number of seeds bring fertility and wealth.

    Some traditional New Year’s Eve desserts from around Italy are panettone, pandora, susamielli, mostaccioli, and struffoli.  Struffoli are fried dough balls dipped in honey. The marble sized balls are them piled into mound and sprinkled with colored sugar and candied fruit. This dessert is seen as a sign of abundance and money.

 

Based on some of these traditions, I concocted a menu for our feast.  Susan is bringing dessert from her favorite Italian bakery, which will be served with Limoncello and cafelatte.  Erika is bringing midnight sparkling wine from a recent trip to Napa.

Appetizers

Tomato and basil bruschetta

Shrimp tray

White Wine

First Course

Risotto

Main Course

Crown Pork Roast

Lentils with a side of Italian sausage

Baked ziti

Cacio e Pepe

Roasted Vegetables

Chianti

White wine

I’ll be sending out an invitation with some specifics.  I am asking them to wear red underwear and of course that will be on the honor system. They are required to bring something personal or a pot and pan to throw out the window at midnight gang.  I will be asking them to wear red underwear and of course that will be on the honor system. They are required to bring a used personal item or a used pot and pan to throw out the window at midnight so that we can make a noisy start to the new year (as if we needed any help).  One of the highlights from last year were the games we played while waiting to turn on the ball drop.  We will be playing games from You Don’t Know Jack.  Camille downloaded them from the Microsoft store onto the TV.  They were a myriad of games and we all loved them.  The later the evening wore on, the funnier the responses.

That is how we are bringing a little bit of Italian traditions home.  Enjoy!

REFERENCES

7 Fun New Year’s Traditions in Italy
A Guide to Italy’s New Year’s Good Luck Foods and Traditions
Curious New Year’s Traditions in
New Year’s Eve Italian Traditions

Merry Christmas from the Christopher Family!

Happy Holidays to everyone!

 

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it. We the Christophers will be united this weekend to enjoy good food, gifts, Holiday specials, and great company.  Alex will be here starting the 24th for the weekend and Amanda starting this Wednesday though the New Year.  This year we are celebrating with the Bestie and my SO.  Small and intimate with a lot of time to talk and relax.  Just the way I like it.

This year we are celebrating with Polish food.  I ordered perogies from the Pierogi Kitchen in Roxborough, which I have set to pick up on my way to Philly for the Vivaldi concert. This was a recommendation for one of our neighbors, who are foodies and have been gone to this place for years.  Here is what we had to choose from:

AVAILABLE THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE HOLIDAY SEASON :

(BUT STILL A GOOD IDEA TO PLACE AN ORDER)

POTATO CHEDDAR PIEROGIE

PHILLY CHEESESTEAK PIEROGIE

FARMERS CHEESE PIEROGIE

POTATO CHEDDAR ONION PIEROGIE

POTATO SAUERKRAUT PIEROGIE

GOLDEN POTATO PIEROGIE

POTATO ONION PIEROGIE

ALSO AVAILABLE ALL SEASON:

CHEESE BABKA, ALL SOUPS, STUFFED CABBAGE, POTATO PANCAKES, OPLATKI, HALUSKI.

I chose a dozen of each of the following:  golden potato, potato and onion, potato and sauerkraut, and potato and cheddar.  I am so excited!

The rest of the menu is easy.  I am making Haluski and kielbasa.  My family loves Haluski and so does my Bestie.  What’s not to love?  It’s fried cabbage and noodles with onions.  My mother-in-law taught me how to make it and she always added potatoes and not the bacon.  I had to look up a recipe for this because I make from memory with a diced medium onion, a bag of no yolk egg noodles boiled, 4 large diced boiled potatoes, a half of a head of cabbage and a stick of butter.  Saute the onion and cabbage with a couple of tablespoons of butter.  When they are soft, add the potatoes and noodles and sautéed together and put the rest of the butter into the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste with a dash of garlic. I do realize that this is not much of a recipe and found one that is close to this. They both have meat in it and if you prefer just eliminate the bacon or pancetta.  You can also add a few diced and boiled potatoes to this carb fest.

I found this highly rated recipe on A Family Feast:

Haluski (Fried Cabbage and Noodles)

  • Prep Time: 10 mins
  • Cook Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 ounces pancetta, diced small (or bacon if you prefer)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 cups onion, diced
  • 1 ½ pounds green cabbage, cored and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 ounces dry No Yolks® egg noodles, any size noodle

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a medium to large skillet, over medium high heat, cook pancetta in 2 tablespoons of butter until crisp. Add onions and sauté for 2 minutes. Add 2 more tablespoons butter, cabbage, salt and pepper, cover and once mixture is hot, reduce to medium and cook for ten minutes.
  2. While cabbage mixture is cooking, cook No Yolks® noodles according to package direction and drain.
  3. Once cabbage is tender, remove cover and add drained noodles.
  4. Add remaining butter and cook to bring to serving temperature.
  5. Season with additional salt and pepper as desired. (Lots of black pepper is traditional!)

Here is our fine feast for Christmas Eve.  Christmas day we will end up at my SO’s daughter’s for a meal and to celebrate his son’s engagement!  This is what the Holidays are all about for me.  Time with special people.  I hope you enjoy your weekend!

With all the best that the Holiday Season has to bring, I wish you love and joy!

The Travel Journalist

The 2021 Holiday Gift of Travel: Travel book that excite, inspire, and incite!

December is the time for gift giving.  I much prefer to give experiences to those I love. This year my daughter and I are going to listen to Vivaldi in one of Philadelphia’s most beautiful buildings, The Masonic Temple. I also gave her and her husband a night in Salem, Massachusetts because Amanda truly wanted to go for Halloween. Alex is getting a school ring for his finals moments at Temple.  For my SO, I bought tickets to an audience with the Pope for our trip next April/May.  The village decided on the gift of time and we had a leisurely and delightful brunch at one of Main Line’s best eateries, Terrain.

Actually, I try not to be a last minute gift giver. Sometimes it happens.  Luckily, most of my family and village enjoy reading. I love to give books as presents. Each one of my friends is different in what they enjoy, but one thing they all have in common is their love of travel. I started looking surfing and found some great lists of travel books that can easily find their way into the hands of someone on your gift giving list.  From memoirs to how-tos, these books are sure to make an impression.

From Oprah’s Book Club

Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude by Stephanie Rosenbloom

  • A travel alone book about taking the time to slow down, savor, and try new things.  Imagine walking through Paris, Florence, Istanbul, and New York with the pleasure of four different seasons and the solitude to enjoy it.  It’s about learning to be and to be with yourself.  Bliss.  I am buying this and then lending out to my village and daughter.  

,

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders By Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton

  • I am a huge fan of Atlas Obscura.  I have found myself having gone to some of the sites they list and being inspired by some of their finds.  It’s amazing how many hidden gems that are overshadowed by the trendy mainstream tourist centers. I would give this to Jimmy who appreciates the obscure, my kids, and my SO.  Let explore it together, guys!

36 Hours: USA & Canada by Barbara Ireland

  • Barbara Ireland is traveling the US and Canada 36 hours at a time.  This is a great guide that offers itineraries for weekend getaways to “glittering cities, eccentric small towns and heart-stoppingly beautiful mountains and plains”.  Erika is a weekend warrior and always on the go.  This one’s for her and I may have to borrow it.

Footsteps: From Ferrante’s Naples to Hammett’s San Francisco, Literary Pilgrimages Around the World from The New York Times

  • A book that tours the world via literature.  Wow.  It’s based on the New York Times travel column, Footsteps, which “is an anthology of literary pilgrimages, exploring the geographic muses behind some of history’s greatest writers”.  This would be for Susan and my kids.  Susan is a traveler, Amanda is an avid reader, and Alex is a film production major.   

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

  • This takes the reader on a journey of the history, ecology, and majesty of the Appalachian Trail which he sprinkles with stories of the people he met along the way.  I recently went to Camp Michoux on the Appalachian Trail and it was a beautiful, lonely, and captivating.  Amanda is training to walk part of the trail, so this one is for her.

From The New York Times

Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide by Cecily Wong, Dyan Thuras, et al.

  • A guide to gross, unusual, obscure, and sometimes inedible delights from around the world.  What is not to love about this?  I have an infinity for Atlas Obscura and have followed them for years. This guide would be for me.  I just hope there are pictures.

Around the World in 80 Books by David Damrosch

  • The book grew from the author’s speaking tour based on the Jules Vern character, Phileas Fogg and his trip Around the World in 80 days.  His itinerary included trips to England, Europe, Asia and the Americas,. Each talk would include 5 literary works that shaped the city’s identity.  80 books total…  When the pandemic derailed his plans, he continued his tour via this book.  This one is definitely for my son Alex who is searching for film production ideas.

From Wanderlust

Pilgrimage: Journeys of Meaning by Peter Stanford

  • The author guides you through sacred sites around the world and their historical and spiritual significance.  These sites allow for an escape to refocus the mind and soul.  Wow.  Sign me up.  This one is my friend, Bob, who is spiritual.

Wanderlust How to Travel Solo: Holiday Tips for Independent Adventurers
by Lyn Hughes.

  • This book outlines how to travel solo from packing to destinations and loneliness.  I am seeing a trend in more women traveling solo or maybe I am just noticing it more.  My bestie has, and so has Amanda’s sorority sister, Amanda, and me.

How to Shit Around the World by Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth

  • A how to stay healthy while traveling book that will make you laugh out loud…yes, please!  The good doctor outlines “sanitizing unhealthy water, safely consuming exotic foods, avoiding dehydration, keeping good hygiene on the road, and immunization” and dealing whatever crawls, immunizations, and illness. This would be for my Bestie who has a PhD in Science and appreciates poop humor with her 8 year old son.

This is just a few of the great books out there and a few of my choices.  Below are some links to other lists where you can find some great books. Some books on my list are also on the list below and there are books that are repeats on several lists like Anthony Bourdain’s book.  Take the time not only to think about who’s on your holiday gift list but pick something up for yourself.  Inspire yourself to dream and inspire yourself to see those dreams through. Happy holidays.

More lists to peruse!

 

Bob, Steve, and I are tea lovers. Bob is especially fond of tea and brews his own in a Chinese clay pot every afternoon. It is a process and a ritual that he enjoys. Our day at EPCOT was hot and crowded for late fall.  There were people everywhere and restaurants and food stands were busy.  When we tired of dodging the crowds in EPCOT, we decided to have some tea. I had recently read in a Disney blog (I wish I could remember which one) that the restaurant in the Moroccan pavilion that is on the lake is usually not as busy as the one in the marketplace. So, I made a quick WDW reservation and off we went to Spice Road Table.

WDW Info Picture

I cannot tell you how many times I have walked by this restaurant and not noticed it. It is tucked into a small marketplace on the lake and has a henna tattoo and merchandise stand. The entrance is not obvious and the food board helps make it a little easier to find.  The atmosphere is very warm and welcoming. We were seated immediately since the restaurant only had two other groups. We had a lovely view of the lake and Spaceship Earth. I appreciate of the layout of the restaurant since most of the tables had this lovely view. The tables weren’t crammed in and were quite comfortable. Our service was immediate and excellent. He was talkative, attentive, but not overbearing or dismissive.

Bob ordered the green mint (Atay), which I regretfully passed on since I am not a fan of mint.  Our waiter brought an round silver tray with an elaborate silver teapot and several beautiful glasses. The tea had been steeping and was ready to pour. Our server picked up the pot and held the lid down. He hovered the part above the glass and began to pour. As he poured more into the glass he lifted the pot up so that it would rain into the beautiful glass.

The tea was spectacular and unexpected.  Gratefully, Bob offered me a glass. The mint was light and refreshing and the green tea was a perfect foundation for it. The tea also mixed well with the appetizer platter and dessert platter that we ordered. It did not overwhelm the savory part of our afternoon tea and complemented the desserts beautifully.  Unfortunately, when we cruised the market, most of it was closed and I was unable to shop for the equipment.  Fortunately, Amazon has several options.  There are links to separate items and a full set for you to look at.

I am now a huge fan and have sought a way to bring it home. Luckily, YouTube has some great tutorials and mint is readily available in the grocery store along with a green tea. Most of the recipes I have seen online use gunpowder green tea which is readily available on Amazon.  There are two loose leaf teas listed below and have the highest ratings.  Davidson’s Gunpowder Green Tea has a 4.6 with 27, 293 ratings and FGO Organic Gunpowder Green tea has a 4.6 with 64, 802 ratings.  Either one would be an excellent choice.  I urge you to try this one out!

APPETIZERS/STARTERS

Dolmas – Grape Leaves filled with Rice and Herbs, Marinated Olives, Charred Lemon – $9.00

Fried Calamari – served with Rémoulade and Harissa Sauce – $12.00

Grilled Lamb Kefta – served with Tzatziki, Radish, Cherry Tomato Confit – $12.00

Hummus Fries– served with Citrus Chipotle and Preserved Lemon – $10.00

Naan Spreads– Hummus, Chermoula, Marinated Olives, Za’atar – $10.00

Pomegranate-Chili Crispy Cauliflower -Red Pepper Aleppo Sauce – $11.00

Spice Road Table Sampler– Lamb Kefta, Tzatziki, Spiced Chicken, Tiropitakia – $15.00

Spiced Chicken- Ras el Hanout, Mint Yogurt – $11.00

Spicy Shrimp – Chili, Garlic, Peri Peri Sauce – $12.00

Tiropitakia– Cheese-filled Phyllo, Cucumber-Tomato Relish – $9.00

DESSERT

Dessert Platter– Assorted Moroccan Pastries – $9.00

DRINKS

Casa Lager – Morocco — $9.25

Coca-Cola® Classic, Sprite®, or Orange Soda – – $4.29

Estrella Damm – Spain– – $9.75

Iced Mint Tea– with Bombay Sapphire Gin – $13.00

Iced Mint Tea or Regular Iced Tea– – $4.29

Maeloc Strawberry Hard Cider – Spain– – $10.25

Mahiarita– Mahia Fig Brandy, Agave, Lime Juice, Sumac Salt, and Pomegranate Seeds – $14.00

Medina Mixer– Starr African Rum, Van der Hum Tangerine Liqueur, and Cranberry Juice – $14.00

Mimosa – Choice of Hibiscus, Pomegranate, or Blood Orange – $12.00

Moroccan Hot Tea Service– – $4.29

Moroccan Mule– Figenza Fig Vodka, Ginger Beer, Agave, and Lime – $14.00

Premium Sparkling Water– – $4.25

Sahara Spritz– Ketel One Botanical Cucumber and Mint Vodka, Soda Water, and Lime – $14.00

Tusker Pale Lager – Africa – – $9.25

WDW Info Picture

WDW Info Picture

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