Japanese at it’s finest. Morimoto Philadelphia does it right.

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I love a really good restaurant and Philadelphia doesn’t dissappoint when it comes to finding somewhere wonderful to dine.  I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying such places as Oloroso, Taslulah’s Garden,  Vedge, Little Nonnas, Parc, and so on.  Some have been pricey and some have not.  I love diners (boy, do I LOVE a good diner), holes-in-the wall, fine dining, and casual,  There are so many wonderful places in the World and right around the corner.  I collect recommendations like some people collect travel souvenirs.  It’s not just about the food but about the company and the experience.

Morimoto is no exception to good Philly dining.  I recently attended a play at The Academy of Music and this was our choice.  The bestie and I love Asian cuisine and I am a fan of Iron Chef Morimoto.  I have watched him for 20 years on everything from Iron Chef Japan to Iron Chef America.  I must say that I fanned girl a little bit when we sat down.

The entrance to Morimoto is understated.  We actually walked past the 723 Chestnut Street location.  The decor is modern and clean.  The undulating wall serves as art work and the wood ceiling serves as an understated back drop to the modern seating.  Contemporary lighting which cats a funky blue and red glow.  Even though the restaurant has been around since 2001, the interior does not feel dated or out of style.  The bar is upstairs and is just a sleek and modern.  I found it a comfortable place to dine.

Let’s with the service.  Our waitress was incredibly good.  She was knowledgeable, straight forward, and attentive.  Everything I expect from this price point.  We asked several questions and never received a condescending or snide response.  We asked about the prefix meal called Omakase ($165 per person). And were told that it is a two hour set. Unfortunately, because of our tier tickets it would have been cut short. She did suggest such a hurry along the mail but we declined because we wanted to make sure that we enjoyed what was being offered. Another question, was about the sake on the menu. We were not familiar with the sake selection and with sake general, but she made sure that we received something that would not only complement what we were eating but was delightful.  She also offered a sampling (6oz??? nice size “sample”) to ensure that we would be happy with her suggestions.  Everything came out and a nice pace and was well served.

The menu is made to walk through the meal.  This food is meant to eat a reasonable pace so do leave a bit of time to enjoy the food here.  It is not an eat and run kind of restaurant.  Our waitress guided us on how to order and even made some suggestions.  There were only a few special drinks and a nice selection of wine and sake.  After perusing the menu, I knew we were in for a delightful meal and evening.

The food was incredibly good and was made to eat slowly and savor. The meal began with a Heartbreak Hotel (Giffard lychee, Absolut Vanilla, Sparkling Rose, and lemon foam) for me and a Morimoto Martini (Belvedere, Junmai Sake, and cucumber) for my friend.  Nice way to start!  Mine was a sweet drink and hers was a dry one. We started with the whitefish carpaccio and the toro tartare.  Moved on to the Wagyu dumplings.  Enjoyed the black cod miso and yellowtail ishi yaki bop and finished with sushi which was a crunch yellowtail and tuna.  I must say it was all excellent.  The only dish that we were not wowed with was the ishi yaki bop.  The table side presentation as you can see was lovely but it did not have the superior taste of the rest of the meal and we felt that it was just average compared to the other dishes.  My favorite was the cod and the carapaccio.  The quality of the seafood and the execution were exception.  It begged to be savored and we did.

We loved Morimoto Philadelphia.  Yes, this was a pricey meal.  We felt it was worth every penny given the service, quality and flavor.  Will we go back? Yes.  Will I recommend this place?  Yes.  Do I still fan girl over Morimoto?  Even more so.  Morimoto Philadelphia has earned it’s place on my list of a must go to in Philadelphia for fine dining.  Bon appetit!

 

Another Heartbreaking Goodbye For Our Family

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We Christophers love our dogs and are committed for life.  Our beloved Rupert passed away at age 19 from cancer.  He was such a wonderful dog. He was the leader of the pack, a bed hog, and a very funny guy. We found him in a humane society as a four month old puppy and we immediately fell in love. We had him DNA tested because he confused us.  We found out that he was part mini poodle, Corgi and Dachshund.  We called him our designer dog the Dacoodle. He was bouncy, full of energy, and never missed the opening of a snack bag.  He was a gentle and sweet boy.

He lived to a ripe old age and was surrounded by those he loved when he passed away. Even to the end he was a happy guy and definitely loved by all. He will be sorely missed.

 

Those WTF Moments When Traveling….What Are Our Travel Disappointments?

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We’ve all had them.  The “Been there.  Done that.  Not doing it again” trips or visits.  You have built something up so much that when you get there all you can do is draw a blank.  You are so stunned at what you are experiencing that you wonder where you went wrong with your planning.  You begin to second guess your self, the recommendations you have received, and the research you have done. I’ve had them and I truly like to look at it as a learning opportunity and a test of how I can make the best of a not so great situation.

Luckily, those total vacation long losses are few and far between and more than likely it can be salvaged.  I have found with me, it’s usually one aspect or site that has been a disappointment.  I try to have back up options or the phone handy for a search and a map.  I try to put the disappointment and anxiety at bay and look for something else to do.  

I took an informal survey of the kids and my friends and here are few of the sad experiences we have experienced while traveling.

 

Plymouth Rock  

It is a rock with the date on it in a hole in the ground which is situated under a gazebo. I am not saying to avoid Plymouth Rock.  I am not saying that it shouldn’t be a destination.  It should if you are in the area.  Luckily, there is so much to do in the area. 

 

Other places to consider: 

  • Boston or Cape Cod:  This depends upon what direction you want to go.  Cape Cod is about hanging around the water and relaxing.  Martha’s Vineyard is a beautiful island to kick back on the beach or you can amp it up with a hike or a cycle around the island.  Or you can take a drive up to Provincetown for whale watching and a strolls through the galleries and shops.  If you are looking for a historic trail and great museums then it’s Boston.  I highly recommend The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum it is a beautiful museum and the site of the only successful art heist in the US.  You can catch the documentary on Netflix: This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist.  Another favorite of mine is Salem.  Interesting shops and museums abound.  Plymouth is a day trip from either location.
  • The Plimoth Plantation:  Bob and I found this treasure and we loved wandering around the plantation listening to the settlers explain life there. It’s a place where you can meander around and take in life as it was hundred of years ago.  The ghosts of the past linger here and I encourage you to go.

Pat’s and Geno’s

Tourist trap comes to mind when it comes to these two iconic Philadelphia rivals.  They are literally right across the street from each other and are synonymous with Philly cheesesteak.  However, they are not as good as some of the other cheesesteak establishments in Philly.  These rivals are across the street from each other and are very different.  Geno’s is flashy and Pat’s is old school.  Everyone has their favorites and it is a source of debate but I am putting in my tow cents in any way.  I prefer Pat’s…there I said it.  Geno’s meat was chewier and their sauce watery.  Pat’s is just a little better, in my opinion.

Other places to consider:

  • Dalessandro’s at 600 Wendover St, Philadelphia, PA 19128:  This spot opened in 1960 in the neighborhood of Roxborough.  It is right next door to one of my favorite areas, Manayunk.  If you want a great location for shops and food, it’s there.  Try Marciano’s, which was a favorite of Frank Sinatra; Lucky’s Last Stike is the home of the peanut butter and jelly hamburger, that beat Bobby Flay in a hamburger competition, or have some La Columbe coffee which is one of the best coffees around. By the way, try the burger.  Everyone I have introduced that burger to has absolutely loved it.  Also, if you are looking for history, then Laurel Hill Cemetery is around the corner.  This place is on the National Register of Historic Places and they have a tour.  There are some interesting personalities there.
  • Jim’s Steaks at 400 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19147:  Jim’s is on South Street in Philly and to say it’s eclectic is an understatement.  You will find second hand shops, sex stores, comic book haven, restaurants and bars.  It’s also near The Famous Fourth Street Deli which is a family favorite.  Interesting location and a greta place to find a good cheesesteak. It’s also near the site where Larry Fine from the Three Stooges was born.

Nassau/Atlantis

Nassau in the Bahamas:  Bob and I were there a few years ago and we found it depressing and the only real place to be was Atlantis which is extremely pricey.  Bob and I were wondering around and found out that the area had not recovered from.  There was a run distillery and a Hard Rock outside of Atlantis.  Atlantis is very expensive and I felt trapped there because the rest of Nassau was a day trip.  “Nice.  Not thrilling but nice.” (Mel Brooks had that right).

Other places to consider:

  • Roatan, Honduras:  This is my favorite location in the Caribbean.  We took the kid’s there 12 years ago and I went again 5 years ago.  I would go again in a heartbeat.  It’s not as touristy and the snorkeling/scuba diving is exceptional.  The second largest reef is located from the middle of Mexico to the middle of Central America and Roatan is part of it.  There are beautiful beaches, restaurants on the beach, activities in the Rain Forest and just dome of the best relaxing I’ve had in the Caribbean.
  • Cozumel, Mexico:  Nice place to visit for a few days.  Bob and I loved it.  There is a Tequila micro-distillery, Mayan ruins, beaches, shipping and dining.  We did the Tequila distillery and found some excellent Tequila.  It’s called Del Barrill Marinero and the Distillery is Licores Real Marinero and can be found on Facebook.   Also, there is El Cedral, which is a Mayan site near Cozumel.  It’s an ancient fertility temple which helped couples conceive.  El Cedral is the oldest Mayan site in the area and dates back to 800AD.  There are some wonderful little restaurants along the way.  Taxis are abundant and cheap.  It’s a nice option.

Cherry Blossom Festival in DC

This is one of the most beautiful festivals and the most popular events in DC.  It gets extremely busy during the weekends to the point that parking is impossible and you can barely move.  Luckily, I am very patient and will wait a very long time for the right picture.  I won’t do it again and once is enough.  If you are going to attempt the festival, go during the week when it is easier but you can still expect some big crowds.

 

 

Other places to consider:

  • Shofuso Japanese House and Garden:  This is one of the most beautiful sites in Philadelphia.  I attempt a visit every year or two.  Shofuso was built in Japan in 1953 and then shipped to New York.  The house was displayed in the courtyard of the New York Museum of Modern art.  Then in 1958, Shofuso was moved to the Fairmont Park area in Philadelphia.  The site includes a pond garden with a waterfall, island, and koi fish, a tea garden with a traditional tea house, and a courtyard garden leading to a bathhouse.  It is one of the most serene places in the Philadelphia area.  Most of the Cheery Blossom trees were planted in 1926 and were presented to Philadelphia as a gift from Japan.  The festival includes performances and taiko drumming.

 

Some Other Disappointments

Runner Up:  Some other places that have been disappointments

  1.  Casinos:  Amada was disappointed when she was able to go into casinos.  She hated losing money and thought it was boring.  She just felt that generally it was not a thing for her.
  2. Harry Potter World in Universal Studios Orlando:  Bob had built it up so much that she expected more and ….more like the world itself.  He liked it but it was pretty crowded.  He loved The Three Broomsticks restaurant and the shops.
  3. Hollywood:  The Walk of Fame is not a destination site.  It’s nice to see while you’re in the area along with the Chinese theatre and the Hollywood sign but it’s not worth going to Hollywood for just that.  West Hollywood is considered to be the fourth most dangerous city and if you are not sure where you are going, you might land in an area that you might not want to be.  Luckily, the tourist areas have regular police patrols.
  4. Poe House on Philadelphia:  This was one of the first museums went to upon moving to Philadelphia.  It’s a typical period house with some information and a few pictures.  Not quiet the homage we had hoped it would be.
  5. Atlantic City:  I have a love-hate relationship with Atlantic City.  I have seen in delcine over the last several years.  Three years ago we were there for a comedy show and stayed at the Borgota and then Bob and I were there about 5 years ago at the Borgota and 6 years ago with Amanda and her bestie for a Mom-Daughter 21st birthday getaway.  I have seen the deline over that period and now have learned that it’s been rated as one of the best boardwalks.  The SO and I laughed when we walked on the boardwalk after dinner that it was dinner and a show.  

 

No matter what, some vacations and trips are not perfect.  It just a matter of making the best of it.  Have a backup plan.  Happy travels.

 

REFERENCES

The Ultimate Guide to Cheesesteaks in Philly

Shofuso

Shofuso Cherry Blossom Festival

Where to Find the Best cheesesteak in Philadelphia

The Joys and Perils of Crossing the Atlantic

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Since I am looking for novel traveling experiences, I decided to cross the Atlantic via cruise ship.  It seemed romantic and a wonderful old fashioned way to relax and enjoy the world pass me by.  I wanted time to read, think, and write.  I wanted to organize the millions of ideas I had and research some of the spots I wanted to visit.  I was looking forward to sleep, naps, and coffee on the back deck.  I bought the wifi package, brought, my laptop, notebook, and camera, and was ready to begin my adventure.

     

Leaving port was incredibly beautiful and awesome.  The moon hung in a cloudless and inky sky.  The Manhattan skyline at night was an extraordinary backdrop for the beginning of the trip.  The ship sailed off slowly on calm waters and we spent time watching the cityscape drift past us.  I was mesmerized by the dancing lights.  Just when I though it couldn’t be more beautiful,  we cruised past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty who resided comfortably in the in the glow of  lights.  The experience of seeing these sites from the water was spectacular.  It was a romantic and indulgent way to begin a vacation.  It was the perfect beginning to an otherwise disappointing and tumultuous 5 nights at sea.

I must say that I will not spend that many nights at sea without some sort of break.  I think if I had more distractions and less tumultuous movement, I wouldn’t feel this way.  As a matter of fact, I have gone on record saying that if I ever bring up the notion of crossing the Atlantic uninterrupted again, I am up be stopped at all costs.  Immediately.

The cruise started off pleasantly.  We boarded quickly.   Norwegian has an effective system of making an appointment time to board.  This decreased wait time significantly.  What also helped is that even though the ship could accommodate 2500 passengers, with only a little more than 900 on board for this trip.  We stepped into the building and had our ticket and passport checked.  We went through security and then immediately walked up to the check-in desk.  We had our tickets checked, Covid test looked at, pictures taken and everything filed and documented.  Off we went onto the ship.

On our first night, we wondered around to get the lay of the land. It was a big boat with only a few people on board, it was easy to navigate around and find a table when we wanted to eat or a place to sit. The ship had two main dining rooms but only one was open.  The ship also had an Irish pub, a Chinese restaurant, and a casual buffet plus two outdoor cafes.  There were bars throughout the shop and a theatre.  The center of the ship contained an atrium with guest services, a baby grand piano for entertainment, a Starbucks, and a movie screen for late night movies.

We choose a stateroom with a limited view. I received an email a few months prior about putting in a bid to upgrade our room and took advantage of that.  We won the bid and paid an extra $300 for a balcony room.  I hadn’t realized how valuable that was going amenity would be for us.  The room had more space which was ideal for a two week stay and I was able to hang my washed sweaters on the chairs while in port.  We had taken a couple of bottles of wine with us and we would lounge with a glass of wine after dinner so we could watch the sun set and the waves crash into the ship.  Luck was with us as to  which side of the boat we stayed on because most of the time we docked on the side that allowed us to watch the ship pull into port.

My dissatisfaction with transatlantic boat travel came around Tuesday. For both of us, it was rocky but manageable until the night. Around 11 o’clock each night between Tuesday night and Friday night the boat would start rocking in up to 30 foot waves. When I say rocking, I mean side to side, back and forth and up and down.  It moved in ALL directions and sometimes all at one time. I was expecting movement but was caught off guard at how extreme it could be at times.

The theatre was not what I had experienced in the past.  The Ukrainian brother’s Cirque du Soleil style show was excellent and I would catch that again.  I didn’t care for the other shows since they  were more Vegas lounge style.  We preferred listening to the musicians at the bars.  On Wednesday we thought we’d go to the theater to see a comedian. We walked in the theater and it had already started and there weren’t any seats at the top for us to sit down and we didn’t want to walk down in the dark especially with my knee still being post-op. We turned around to walk out and we were in the dark hallway of the theater and the boat literally dropped. We turned green and went back to the room. I can honestly say I don’t get seasick after that incident.

One of the joys about having transatlantic travel was having the balcony. First of all, I liked the windows so I can see what the weather and the condition of the Atlantic. Also, having that openness was really wonderful on the dark and gloomy days. I was surprised about how much that balcony helped from it feeling dark and closed off, especially at night.

Another bonus was being forced to relax.  It is hard for me to relax since I have so much going in my life.  I thought retirement would mean a slowing down and it actually has been the opposite.  I am busier than when I was working.  I love travel but it is work in that I do a lot of research into locations and spend a lot of time making arrangement.  The best is that I only have myself to manage.  I like it that way.  I was able to read, plan, write, relax and enjoy the company of others.  I slept when I wanted to (I still miss those after lunch naps), ate when I wanted to, and generally was on my own schedule.  It was true luxury.

As much as I enjoyed the rest of the trip, I think I would fly to Europe to do a cruise as opposed to a transatlantic.  As much as I’d like to say never say never, I think I will say never. It’s just not my cup of tea.  I prefer to spend my time exploring different locations and not sitting there waiting.  The biggest drawback for me was the incessant movement of the boat and the endless expanse of the Atlantic. At least, now can say “Been there.  Done that.”

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Traveling with Kids and the Importance of Planning to Make it Easy, Memorable, and Fun.

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I have always enjoyed traveling with my kids.  I love them dearly and I really like them.  They are fun, smart, witty, and love to travel.  The first family trip was when Alex was 18 months old and Amanda was 4.  We went to Disneyland and spent a week in Cabo San Lucas.  It was a wonderful trip and I loved every minute of it.  I found that my kids love Disney and they are water babies. They also thrived as travelers and we took great joy at experiencing the world through their eyes.

As they grew older and we grew as parents, we become more adept at planning and we made sure we had our yearly family time.  Over the years, we learned when was the best time for us to travel, how to travel with kids, and how to enjoy our vacations as a family. We made a lot of mistakes at the beginning but soon found what works for us and have picked up a lot of tips, hints, and hacks along the way.  We still discover hurdles and pitfalls even as they are now in their 20s and have found that most of the same principles apply.  I lived by 5 simple rules:

  1. Give yourself time
  2. Pack carefully
  3. Pre-book
  4. Snacks and Drinks
  5. Expect the unexpected

Having experienced a lot of family travel, I can tell you that something always goes astray. It’s never the intention, but they do.  Things like weather, travel delays, miscommunication, mistakes, and sometimes just a whole lot of drama can cause even the most even tempered person to indulge in some head banging.  We’ve also had to deal with diapers, feedings, sleep schedules, lost toys, and a meltdowns. The one thing that I have learned is to give extra time to schedules, arrangements, and ensuring that we were all when and where we needed to be.  I am a planner and have worked in operations for years and this came naturally.  Even having said that stuff happens.

Give yourself time.  I back track the tasks we need to accomplish to ensure that we arrive when we need to arrive.  During our many travels to Disney, we found what worked best as far as a routine.  We like to get there at the rope drop.  The kids would get into the lines for the busiest rides first.  If it was an attraction I wasn’t interested in riding, I would make sure to run and get a fastpass.  Now, that those can be scheduled online, I spend time meandering and looking for Disney pins to trade.  She has a nice collection and one year I organized them into two carrying cases for Christmas.  I bought the case and a book and divided them into complete and not complete categories.   It has become hobby of Amanda’s.  Because of the planning, I have time to indulge in our hobby. We spend time at the park until around 1-2PM and then go back to the room to relax before we go back for the evening.  If we are at the Magic Kingdom we stay all day.  I have found that we have a much more relaxed experience and we are happy with being able to do all that we want to do.

Another time saver we found is staying in our timeshare.  The room usually comes a kitchen and we would have breakfast in the room.  One of the reasons is because I like a casual morning.  I get up, make coffee and then take a shower.  While the kids are showering and getting ready, I make some breakfast, and then we finish our day packs that we started the night before.  I have also applied this to other vacations that we didn’t use out timeshare.  In London, Paris, and Rome we stayed at hotels that offered breakfast. We would go and then slip back to the room to finish getting ready before heading back out.  While at breakfast, we would finalize the plans for the day.

I have found that including an extra hour to get to the airport, giving us twice as long for stops when driving, and padding travel times and reservations times help make sure that we all don’t feel pushed or stressed.  Having that time means that you can enjoy some interesting stops along the way, a leisurely meal, or an impromptu event and not have to have melt down because we are running late.  It’s a terrible feeling to watch the train pull out of the station because you didn’t give yourself enough time.

Another critical element of traveling with kids is packing carefully. We used to overpack and went through airports like pack mules. We had these two large suitcases and the kids would sit on top as we roll through the airport. It was just too much.  Honestly, car driving is a lot easier yet you still have to pack carefully. Mark was the worst at overpacking, along with Amanda and my friend, Bob.  There would be some many extra clothes to keep track of and of course if there were purchases, then the packing had to accommodate that along with weight restrictions.  Plus, a car can hold only so much and I am not a fan of the rooftop carriers.  The timeshare had washers and dryers and that helped because I would run a load in the morning before we left and then dried it at night before bed.  I have found that I don’t need the extra clothes.  Recently, I found that sink washing delicates helped keep me from packing too much even with going through a few temperature zones.

Cutting down the number of suitcases helped out a lot.  I did not give the kids their own suitcases until they were in the latter stages of elementary school.  This really cut down on the bulk of what we packed. We had one giant suitcase for the four of us and that really worked. A backpack for each kid with personal items such as favorite sleeping stuffed animal, maybe a book and a few other things to keep them busy. I carried one with all essential papers and my personal stuff.  Backpacks are easy because they leave your hands free to catch a wayward child, pay the bill, or use the phone or bathroom.  Last year, I bought myself a backpack suitcase.  It is carry-on regulation and makes it much easier to hop on and off planes, trains, and buses.

When I went to Europe, I packed some things and my travel partner packed other things,  For example, I packed shampoo and conditioner while he packed toothpaste and Alleve.  Anything that we both needed we split up so we didn’t need to have all those extra products in a some ship or European bathroom plus we didn’t have to worry about security or weight restrictions.  I have also found that shampoo and conditioner bars are the way to go because they are a solid and don’t fall under the liquid carry-on problem.  Due to TSA restrictions, liquids are redistricted.  Here is the direct quote from TSA Liquids Travel Screening:

     You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in your carry- on bag and through the checkpoint. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item.

The solids help because they are lighter, smaller, and easy to get through security.  I also use a tin for solid soap and actually use a solid body lotion bar.  They last a long time and I don’t worry about running out or being restricted from carrying them because they don’t fit in a quart bag.  They key is to buy them with tins and then you can just refill them.  I found mine on Amazon.   

Another must is pre-booking. Do your research and know what you would like to do. When it came to Disney we would pre-book certain restaurants that I knew the kids would enjoy. One of the things we used to like to do were the character dining experiences. I made sure that we did Chef Mickey because of the characters involved and it was a great breakfast. We would then drive over from the Contemporary to the park which made it really easy. The thing about Disney is that you really do need to pre-book as soon as you know you’re going to Disney especially for such things as Cinderella’s table and Be Our Guest. We didn’t always dine at Disney and the year we spent at Orlando for Thanksgiving, we scheduled our Thanksgiving meal at Emeril Lagasse’s on the Universal Boardwalk, which unfortunately is no longer there. It was one of the best Thanksgiving dinners I’ve ever had.

Also, if you’re going to other locations pre-book tours and such. We were very lucky when we were in London to ride to Hogwarts Express. I was looking for something to do for Saturday and accidentally tripped across that and we took the train up to Oxford which was the real train from the movie and that was a great trip. I was lucky and really should’ve pre-booked. It was an amazing train ride through the countryside and there were guides talking about the use of the train in the movie.  We also did a Jack The Ripper tour and when I was in Europe this last time I used some tours to get to other locations.  Pre-booking helps because sometimes the prices are cheaper and you can plan out your time to give herself breaks especially when you’re traveling with small kids.

There are so many websites and apps for planning and pre-booking.  For planning, I like Atlas Obscura, Priceline, Visit A City, Open Table, Viator, and Roadside America.  These sites are great for finding tours, rooms, local information, and tickets.  There are also a lot of websites that have information on different types of travel like eco, event, solo, luxury, gap year, volunteer, medical, road trip, and so forth.  I also like support apps like Google Translate and Maps to get my bearings and understand what’s going on.  I also have found the app for NJ Transit and Park Mobile made it easy to get my tickets while I am waiting for the train and pay for parking while I was out of the country.  I had to renwe my parking since there was a two week limit and I was parked for longer than that.  Verifly is a great app and is used by several cruise lines and some airlines.  This stores your documents and gives you a checklist of what is needed for your trip.  My bestie and I used it for our trip to Ireland last year and it gaves us the documents needed with a place to store them, a place for our boarding tickets and where to get our covid tests and a place to upload those.  Another great travel app is TripIt.  It draws information from emails and puts it into your itinerary.  It also provides travel safety alerts, a loyalty rewards point tracker, a place for travel documents and emergency contacts.  It can also be used on a laptop.  I love using technology to make travel easier.

Snack and beverages can save the day.  Having available snacks and drinks is a critical part to keeping your kid not only on somewhat of a schedule but on an even keel. We are used to packing a little cooler bag with things for road trips and even took snacks and drinks into the Disney parks. First of all, I hate getting out of line for a snack. Even when my kids were older, I would pack sandwiches that they would consume in line. Another point of packing your own stuff is the cost. Also, you may not always find what your child wants to eat or may want to give them a bit of a snack before you get to the restaurant so they are not so hungry as to have a meltdown. If you need to restrict their diets due to allergies, this is also the way to manage.  It also helps from keeping from having stomach issues because they’re not always eating the food they were accustomed to.

Finally, expect the unexpected. One of things that you can count on are bumps, scrapes, and bruises. A lot of places have a first aid center which you can take advantage of. Carrying a bit of a first aid kit in your car or suitcase is a great idea. And when I say first aid I’m also talking about such things as kids medicines including stomach and gas aids as well as pain relief for adults. There is a art to expecting the unexpected, please don’t think that you have to take every little bit of something just to combat every possibility. You will overpack and more than likely 75% of the stuff that you overpack with you will not need. There are drugstores everywhere and first aid and urgent care is everywhere. I will say some of the things to not forget is sunscreen.  When we used to pack umbrella strollers for the kids we added accessories to them such as an umbrella, a cup holder and a little bag that would hang on the back for snacks and my wallet. You can’t and won’t remember everything but knowing where the nearest urgent care or whatever is important. You don’t have to bring all the answers but you should know where to find them.

Travel with your kids, if you can. Experience the world through their eyes.  It made usa stronger family and I have passed it on to my kids.  When they were in college they began to travel without me and now have their own stories to tell.  For us, it’s a gift that keeps giving.

 



Cross Country Food Drive to Colorado Springs, Colorado

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I don’t often make cross country trips because of time constraints and I prefer to get to my destination immediately.  I felt that driving to a destination was a waste of time because of the time it would take which meant less time at my chosen spot.  However, I am now retired and have time to explore and have devoted my time to travel writing.  As a matter of fact, this trip was the catalyst for blogging.  I planned it as a start to blogging.  So, when the opportunity came up to drive from DC to Colorado Springs, I took it especially since it was with one of my darling kids.

Amanda married her long time boyfriend, Jimmy, in 2020.  To know Jimmy is to understand that he love to celebrate his birthday with travel.  He wanted go somewhere different and he had never been out west. So, they invited me for a birthday road trip!  He really wanted to go to Colorado to see the mountains and I took a look at the different locations since we only had 10 days. We poured over maps while on the phone and decided that Colorado Springs was the closest to us.

What I learned about driving cross country is that planning the route is important.  The main decision points were how long should we drive per day and per session and was there anything we wanted to do along the way.  Jimmy and I don’t mind driving and Amanda prefers not to.  Jimmy and I can easily drive long sessions and we just decided that we would trade off if we felt tired, there was something we wanted to see, or if someone needed a break.

We came up with a list of ideas for roadside attractions.  Some of the stops we wanted to make were the Arch in St. Louis, St. Louis ribs meal, and of course any presidential site I can manage to find that didn’t cause massive delays.  Unfortunately, because of timing I didn’t get to see as many as I would have liked.  Food on the road is a topic that is extremely important to Jimmy.  So, I made sure that we introduced him to some Midwest staples…Mr. Hero and White Castle.

We began our trip in DC on a bright Saturday afternoon.  We stopped after 7 hours near the PA and Ohio border for the night.  The next day saw us flying through Ohio towards Columbus.  Columbus is a very busy city given that it’s the state capital and home to THE Ohio State University. I am a native Ohioan and still love my home state.  It is beautiful and interesting.  It was time for us to grab some lunch and being Ohio born and raised,  I had to introduce the kids to Mr. Hero and Jimmy had never had White Castle.  I actually found a White Castle and a Mr. Hero that we’re right around the corner from each other.  Way to go Ohio…

We grabbed a few things from each for our lunch. Of course at White Castle, we had to have a few sliders and crinkle fries. Jimmy was not impressed with the infamous slider (seriously???). If you are use to regular grilled meat, then I can see why.  These are steamed with onions and served on a soft roll.  Mr. Hero, it’s all about the Romanburger. This is the greasiest, most fattening sandwich on the planet.  Imagine burger patties with grilled salami, Italian lunch meat, Swiss cheese and topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo and a house dressing. To top it off they have waffle fries.  The bread is toasted.  This divine creation was loved by one and all.

 

We continued on our merry way through the Midwest.  Our next stop was St. Louis, Missouri. It was about ribs and the arch.  This was a great stop and I have always wanted to see the arch.  What surprised me was how tall it is. Yes, I know the height from reading about it but it’s so different when you see it in person. We walked around the park a little bit to stretch our legs and then began the search for a rib place. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our hunt for an available restaurant was not easy because it was during Covid and restrictions made it hard to find a sit down but we did.  I made several phone calls after searching yelp and consulting Google Maps.  We found the BBQ Saloon.  The BBQ Saloon is a small place big on flavor, attitude, and service.  The owner came out to greet us and then proceeded to show us his new filtration system that keeps the air very clean. He was so proud of that system and I’m really happy for him because it kept his place open.  I recently looked them up for the video and I am happy to say that they are still in business.

We decided to share something since we were going to be driving and didn’t want to over eat and sit in the car. I should’ve known better. Jimmy loves to eat and he did (I love it when people enjoy their meal).  We started with some fried green tomatoes, which were not on the menu but a special.  We ended up with a combo of pulled pork, brisket, and St. Louis ribs with coleslaw, potato salad, and mac and cheese.  The star was definitely the barbeque.  The ribs were excellent! They were well-done with a lovely sauce and easy to eat.  The ribs were tender, juicy and the flavor was strong and mouthwatering.  If you are in the area….go!!  The food, price and atmosphere make this place a triple threat.

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The BBQ Salon was our last interesting food stop before arriving in Colorado Springs.  The rest of the meals along the way are inconsequential because we didn’t always want to sit down so we could get to our destination.  It was an memorable drive and my first time throguh Missouri and Kansas.  I actually found Kansas to be serene, bucolic and actually quite intersesting. It was as flat as I thoguht and it was a haven or wind turbines.  Missouri was quiet industrial and rife with sites until we neared Kansas.  The one thjing about Kansas is plan your gasoline stops.  The exits are few and far apart.  Also,the stations on the exits are not easy to find.  Next up Colorado….

 

 

Changes In Latitudes, Changes in Attiudes are Borading the Amtrack to the Poconos

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Margaritaville Orlando

The Poconos are a very popular vacation spot in Pennsylvania. It draws people from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and more. In the last several years, it has gone through a renaissance to attract even more travelers.

One of the newest additions to the Poconos is the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority.  PNRRA signed a deal with Amtrak to begin passenger rail service between Scranton, Pennsylvania and New York City on this route there would be south and East Stroudsburg, Mount Pocono and Tobyhanna.  These stops will bring even more visitors from New York City to the most popular locations in the Poconos.

Along with the addition of a passenger service between Scranton and New York City there will be the development of a new resort.  Margaritaville Hotel and Resort announced the construction of a hotel, RV campsite, tiny homes, townhouses, and 1000 cottages.  Margaritaville Hotel and Resorts is also donating the land for the new Amtrak Station,  The resort complex should be finished by the middle of 2024.

According to Margaritaville officials, the new hotel will honor the original Pocono Manor Inn which was built by Quakers in 1902.  The building was nearly destroyed by a fire in 2019.  The Inn was built in 9 sections between 1902 and 1949 in several styles Eastlake, Shingle Style and American Craftsman.  One of the elements that the company will be bringing to Margaritaville from The Pocono Manor Inn is had a cottage community that was within walking distance from the Inn.  The Inn was placed on the Nation Register of Historic Places in 1997 (Wikipedia).

The Margaritaville site will have its ubiquitous LandShark Bar and Grill along with swimming pools which will include a 5 o’clock Somewhere swim up bar. Other amenities are a Margaritaville store, fitness center and a Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant. Some of the activities are the LandShark tube slide and a License to Chill Ice Pond.

This projects is long time coming.  There has been no rail service from NYC to Scranton since 1970.  Not only will this provide jobs and infuse ,ore travel dollars into the Poconos and other cities along the route but will allow better access to universities in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, like Rutgers, Penn State Scranton, Columbia, NYU, and St Johns.  Project estimates that the Amtrak service will welcome 425,000 riders a year with an influx of $87 million dollars a year to the area.  It looks like a Lovely Cruise in One Particular Harbour in on its way.

REFERENCES

An Amtrak Station is Coming to the Poconos!

Margaritaville bringing a $1.3B village resort and Amtrak station to the Poconos

Pocono Manor Historic District

Restoring passenger rail through Poconos no longer a pipe dream. It’s reality. | Opinion

A little More Presidential with Eisenhower in Abilene, Kansas

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I much prefer driving trips because there are so much to see along the way. I don’t mind flying to location find wanna concentrate on one thing and I am on a limited time budget. With Colorado, it was a case of driving because I’ve never gone through some of the states like Kansas. We ended up stopping at the Eisenhower presidential library and Museum. That was a real experience because we were able to expose Jimmy to his first presidential site. It’s in a lovely little town called Abilene, Kansas.

I had not realized that there was a presidential site in Abilene, Kansas. If it were not for the billboards, I would’ve missed it like I did a couple other sites because this blogger did not do her homework on presidential slice because I was more interested in what I was going to do in Colorado Springs. Lesson learned.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States. This site is his presidential library, Museum, and boyhood home. The home is where he lived in from 1898 to 1911. He is also buried there.

Dwight Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas in 1890. His family background is German/Pennsylvania Dutch. He came from a devout family and his mother was a Jehovah’s Witness. Eisenhower did not join a formal religion until 1952. He lived in Abilene Texas from 1898 to 1911. In 1911 he went to West Point and graduated in 1915.

After graduation, he continued his military career. He served during World War I, but not in Europe. In 1941, the chief the rank of brigadier general.  During World War II, he oversaw the invasion of Sicily, North Africa, France, and Germany.  After the war, he served as Army Chief of Staff, president of Columbia University, and the first Supreme Commander of NATO.  His distinguished military career let him into politics.

Eisenhower was not only a distinguished politician but he distinguished military hero. He cheats the distinction of five star general, which is quite rare. He ran for President as a Republican against Senator Taft. He did so to stop Taft’s agenda, which included posing NATO and opposing foreign entanglements. He won both elections in landslide against Addely Stevenson. He served as president from 1953 to 1961.

Most of Eisenhower’s platform included stopping the spread of communism and reducing the federal deficit, which was called the New Look Policy. Some of what Eisenhower is known for during his presidency are:

  • The expansion of social security
  • He continued Wilson’s New Deal policies
  • Continued Harry S. Truman’s policy of recognizing Taiwan as the legitimate government of China, which resulted in The Formosa Resolution
  • Condemned the Israeli, British, and French invasion of Egypt and he forced them to withdraw
  • He opposed McCarthyism and worked to end it
  • He signed The Civil Rights Act of 1957
  • Authorized the establishment of NASA
  • Authorized the Bay of Pigs Operation
  • Established the National Defense Education Act
  • Sent Army troops to enforce federal court orders which integrated schools in Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Established the Interstate Highway System
  • Supported regime-changing military coups in Iran and Guatemala executed by his own administration
  • Admitted Alaska and Hawaii to the union
  • Was the first president under the Former Presidents Act
  • Appointed 5 Supreme Court Justices

REFERENCES

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwight_D._Eisenhower

Dafni Greek Taverna – NYC

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Dafni Geek Taverna sits on West 42nd not far from Times Square.  I discovered a few years back when staying at the Pod Hotel across the street.  I have been back several times and have taken different friends to the restaurant and they have never disappointment as far as food and service quality.  I checked up on them a couple of times during the pandemic hoping they would make it through so we can plan a stop on our next trip and I am so very glad they did.

The restaurant is not very big but nicely laid out and has tables by the window which I enjoy since I like people watching. The decor is a little dark but it’s open and pleasant. The waiter is the same person I have seen over the last few years.  The service is prompt and congenial.

This time we enjoyed the Pikilia which is a choice of three spreads with Dolmades. We had the Fava, Tirokafteri and the Taramosalata.  The Fava is a yellow lentil bean dip with olive oil, onions and capers.  The Tirokafteri is a feta cheese spread.  Taramosalata is caviar dip with lemon and olive oil.  The Dolmades were very tender and don’t have that bitter bite to them.  I have included recipes from The Real Greek website.  This is a lovely website with a wonderful and extensive cache of recipes.

Real Greek Recipes:  Fava- https://www.realgreekrecipes.com/fava/

Real Greek Recipes:  Tirokafteri- https://www.realgreekrecipes.com/whipped-feta-dip/

Real Greek Recipes:  Taramosalata Recipe- https://www.realgreekrecipes.com/tarama-dip/

Real Greek Recipes:  Dolmades- https://www.realgreekrecipes.com/greek-stuffed-vine-leaves/

Some of the items that I’ve had on their menu are the Horiatiki which is a tomato, cucumber, feta, black olive and red onion salad, Octapodo, which is a grill Octopus in red wine and herbs, Saganaki, Garodes Mikolimano which is shrimp sauted in tomato sauce with olives and feta and Pastichio.  The food has been consistently good and served quickly.

If you are in the area, stop by and enjoy a good meal and service.

https://www.dafnitaverna.com/menu

Covid Testing and Travel…What you need to know.

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My first trip of 2022 is at the end of this month.  I decided that this year I would travel less often but take bigger trips.  This trip will see me in Ponta Delgada, Portugal, Spain, France, Monaco, and Italy.  I am looking forward to having tapas under the Andalucian sun, admiring great cathedrals in Barcelona, reviving in a hot spring in Ponta Delgada, lounging with a coffee while drinking in the French Riviera, indulging in a classical musical festival in Lucca, posing for a tourist photo in Pisa and losing myself in the Borghese Gallery.  This now begs the question as to what I need to know for all these countries as far as travel restrictions and proof of vaccine and covid testing.

There have been so many changes to the guidelines when it comes to Covid vaccines, boosters, and testing along with mask guidelines.  It is very confusing and sometimes a question as to where to look for the information. The CDC website and the state department website are usually my starting points. Both have the most up-to-date information as far as all the guidelines and restrictions.  As of April 18, mask mandates on flights will be suspended. I’m hoping that stays. I remember flying to Ireland last year with a mask and it was not an easy time.

Masking is one of the first restrictions that I was concerned about. I’m not sure what the European guidelines and mandates are so I’m just going to be prepared.  One way around this, at least for me, is to just carry a couple of masks with me. They are small and easily tucked into a pocket or purse. Currently, most mask restrictions have been lifted but I am not sure what this means abroad. I found a website called reopen Europe and is run by the EU. It’s at reopen.europa.eu/en.  This site provides an interactive map so that you can find the most current information as far as masking and other coronavirus measures that are taking place. One of the general measures that I found are that, facemasks are compulsory in indoor public spaces in Spain. I’ll be checking that before we start our adventures there.

I am traveling via ship to Europe and the vacinnation guidelines are pretty clear.  Actually, the guidelines for vaccinations and boosters are very clear for whatever country you travel to. Again, you can refer to the Europa website above and all travel sites, cruise sites, and airlines have the vaccination requirements for wherever you’re traveling on there.  It is very clear that all the countries that I have researched have vaccination requirements and most have booster requirements, too.  As far as my vacation, I received a letter recently and with what we need to board.  You’ll find the NCL vaccination and resting requirements further down.

One of the most dues for travel is not only vaccination and booster, but testing negative or having a confirmed case of Covid within the last 90 days.  What shocked me about the testing is the wide range of cost. Norwegian gave us a website to schedule a test up to four days ahead of the cruise. We have to have evidence of a negative test before we are allowed to board. The test that are allowed for travel are the PCR and antigen test.  NCL need to aside called Test For Travel.  The prices for the PCR test range from $125-$229. So, be careful before you book the side that is closest to you. You’ll be very surprised. NCL also sent a suicide called Inspired Diagnostics. This send you a PCR test which you complete during an online appointment. You send the sample to the lab and then they send you the results. This costs $95. If you do not get a test, NCL will perform one prior to embarkation and that will cost you $99.  The antigen test is less pricey but not always accepted.

I found a great travel app called Tripit.  Not only did this site draw my reservations from my emails and put them into the app but it allowed me to merge them into one trip package and then provide me information about Covid restrictions and guidelines for the countries I’m visiting. I was also able to download PDF documents like boarding passes and itineraries from Priceline or Expedia. This is keeping it all in one location and making it easy for me to manage all the digital information that I need.  It also has a place where you can input information like your drivers license, passport and even TSA KND number. I also updated the spot with emergency contacts. Yes, you can lose your phone but you can always log into the site from anywhere because it has a web login to support the app.  I actually love the app and highly recommend it.

So, the moral to this story is do you research to make sure you know what the guidelines and restrictions are before you travel. Also, beware not all testing sites are created equal when it comes to cost. I hope to hear about some of your adventures.  Happy and safe travels.

Norwegian Cruise Line Safe Travel Requirements

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