Category Archives: Travel

Washington D.C. and Virginia

Standard

In July, I had an education conference at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington D.C. – Kevin decided to fly up for the weekend immediately after the conference, so we could visit my uncle in Leesburg, Virginia and do some sightseeing in Virginia.

Before this trip I last visited Washington D.C. in 2015 with a group of middle school students. We did many of the monuments, museums, Mt. Vernon (Washington’s home), and Arlington National Cemetery on the class trip, so these were locations I decided not to visit in my free time this go-around but are all absolutely worth your time.

I stayed at the Mandarin Oriental because of its proximity to USHMM and the low government rate (which I qualified for because I work at a public university). This hotel was swanky! Usually the Mandarin Oriental D.C. would run someone about $400 a night; the service and room were sensational (not to mention the amazing view I had of the Washington Monument), but the location for a couple or family wanting to sight see isn’t ideal. USHMM was only a couple of blocks away, but it was a hike to the Smithsonian and Washington Monument, not to mention other tourist attractions. Even though the monument looked close from my window – it wasn’t! There was also heavy construction in the area, and the restaurants surrounding the hotel were great for lunch options but closed for dinner.

Since I arrived in D.C. the day before the conference I really wanted to visit the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. Even though I went online the day-of at 6 AM to try to get a timed-entry pass to get in, I had no luck. The line once I got there was wrapped around the building (twice). You can try to visit or reserve passes, but the museum is still so popular, getting in is very difficult. I hope to visit this museum eventually!

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a must-see for museum-lovers. Tickets are free, but you may want to pay the $1 transaction fee to reserve tickets online – especially if you are going during peak season (May-September). Same-day tickets are available but not a guarantee. This museum would probably take a half-day of your time. This is probably one of the best museums in the country, and I highly recommend it.

ushmm

Hall of Remembrance – USHMM

After my conference in D.C., Kevin flew in early Friday afternoon to meet me for the weekend. We rented a car, and drove to Virginia. We were very lucky we missed rush-hour because I hear getting out of DC on Friday afternoons can take hours. Leesburg is a historic town in Loudoun County, Virginia about 33 miles northwest of D.C. My uncle has lived there with his wife for many years, and we stayed with them. It amazes me that there is so much farmland only 30 miles outside of the city! There are a lot of wineries and antique shops in the area, and finding a bed and breakfast in the area could make for a romantic little getaway!

A few months ago I read America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, so I insisted upon visiting Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, VA. Monticello is about 2.5 hours from Washington D.C., and no shuttle goes directly there, so a rental car would probably be necessary, and it was a full-day excursion. It was a very warm July day when we visited, so be sure to bring water. The house itself is smaller than you might imagine, so much of the Monticello experience is touring the grounds outdoors. Parking at Monticello was free, but our tickets cost $26 online. The only thing I might have done differently was pay extra to do a “behind the scenes” tour, but that is the history nerd in me coming out. The $26 day pass included plenty to do including the shuttle to Monticello from the parking/visitor center, a guided tour of the house/gardens/slave quarters, access to the grounds, and the Jefferson family cemetery. Monticello is now (finally) starting to interpret Sally Hemmings’ story, but it is clear many of the seasoned docents are still getting comfortable with this material. As a resident of the American South and museum professional, I have worked at institutions that have found the topic of slavery to be “taboo,” but it is an important part of American history that should not be glossed over. I appreciate that Monticello is making an effort to interpret the lives of all who lived there.

The next day, we spent the morning walking around downtown Leesburg. There were so many cute restaurants and shops in their historic downtown. Our last stop for the weekend was The Marshall House on Edwards Ferry Road in Leesburg. General George Marshall was the Army chief of staff during World War II and Secretary of State under President Truman. His most famous accomplishment was the 1947 Marshall Plan, a plan for European recovery after World War II. The house on Edwards Ferry Road was his residence from 1941 until his death in 1959. I enjoyed the video and guided tour ($10 a person), and the “time warp” that many of the rooms provided. This excursion took about 2.5 hours and is recommended for history buffs and house museum lovers alike. Also, if you go to The Marshall House be sure to stop at Mom’s Apple Pie across the street for a piece of delicious pie!

Aside from a great conference at USHMM, I enjoyed the Virginia countryside on this trip, and I look forward to going back to our nation’s capital again someday, soon!

 

Advertisements

Dove Mountain (Tucson) Arizona

Standard

For those of you who follow my blog, you know that my husband has a conference every year that I get to tag along with (for free!) and enjoy.  You can go back and read about these conference trips to Orlando in 2015 and Cabo San Lucas in 2016.

This year, our annual conference trip was at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain in Arizona. I have never stayed at a Ritz Carlton (honestly, I can’t justify spending the money, especially when, most of the time, we are hardly in our room on these trips). Well, I thoroughly enjoyed my 5-star hotel experience! Not only were the rooms PHENOMENAL, but the food, service and ambiance were top-notch. Honestly, Kevin left some loose change on the night stand, and room service put a doily underneath it when they were during turn-down service! Fancy stuff. A standard room at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain would run you about $400 a night.

The hotel was about a 50 minute drive from the airport and really in the middle of nowhere. This is not a resort you would want to go to if you are looking for a lot to do. There are several restaurants on property, a Jack Nicklaus golf-course, spa, and a pool, but overall I got a major relaxation vibe. In other words, it isn’t somewhere I’d take a family with kids; it is more of a romantic anniversary weekend getaway. The mountains and cacti provided a unique and beautiful backdrop, and even though we were in the desert, it was pretty chilly! The week we were there in February, the temperature never got over 63 degrees, and when the sun went down it was downright cold! No one at the conference was expecting the cooler temperatures, so a lot of folks (including myself!) didn’t pack properly. I would definitely check the weather before-hand, even though it’s the desert! The hotel had many fireplaces and bonfires around property that certainly helped and made us feel cozy.

Dove Mtn.jpg

As I mentioned, there wasn’t much to do at this particular hotel, and it was too cold for the pool, so many folks took advantage of the hiking opportunities the hotel offered in the Sonoran Desert. Hiking isn’t really my cup of tea, so I took advantage of my relaxation and food time.  Every restaurant at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain was excellent. It wasn’t cheap, but I was not disappointed in any meal (I did have to pay for my own food at restaurants).

Each day, just before sundown, we went to the Ignite Lounge patio or our room balcony for the Spirit of Adventure Celebration. A ranger shared stories of the region’s Native American ancestors, and a flute player performed in the distance from the mountains. This experience was definitely a highlight and was so calming and peaceful.

The activities we participated in while in Tucson were organized by my husband’s company. These day trips were the only times we went off property. If I travel to this hotel again, I would definitely rent a car to be able to get downtown Tucson to do some shopping and activities, but without a car, I was at the mercy of the event staff. Hey, it was free, so I’m not complaining! I especially enjoyed the cooking demonstration at The Carriage House and our day at a ranch. I would absolutely recommend taking a cooking class at The Carriage House with Chef Janos!

At the ranch, we rode horses, watched a rodeo, and listened to live music. We were able to truly admire the beauty of the desert at the ranch. Even though it can be pricey, finding somewhere to horseback ride in Tuscon would be worth the money, in my opinion.

Overall, our experience at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain in Tucson was so relaxing and enjoyable. I loved the hotel and would love to go back and visit again someday. I think this trip gave me the “American Southwest bug,” and I’d like to spend some time exploring the region in the future!

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen!

Standard
Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen!

Ever since I saw the musical Hans Christian Andersen with Danny Kaye when I was six years old and read Number the Stars when I was ten, I’ve always dreamed of visiting Copenhagen. It is a city rooted in history, culture, and fairy tales (Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, and Thumbelina, among others). We enjoyed our visit to this city very much!

Kevin and I visited Copenhagen at the end of November, and the city was alive with the holiday spirit and Christmas Markets (not to mention all the bicycles!). If you are ever interested in visiting Copenhagen go during the Christmas season! It was magical. Around the city, Glogg (hot mulled wine) and booths with crafts abound. It was truly a delightful time of year to go, and I think we wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much without the holiday twist.

copenhangen6

That being said, the temperature was pretty chilly. I was wearing a winter coat, hat and gloves, but after traveling quite a bit, I always prefer walking around when it’s cold vs. when it’s really warm. The chill kind of contributed to the holiday charm, but definitely prepare to bundle up.

We spent 3 full days in the city and it was definitely enough. Had we had another full day, we might have gone outside of the city to see more of Denmark, but we had plenty of time to see what we needed to see. We stayed at the Andersen Boutique Hotel not too far from the train station (we took the train in from the airport – it was very simple and clean). We were able to walk to hotel with our bags. I prefer boutique hotels (with breakfast) whenever we travel. This was an affordable option (about $190 a night) in an up-and-coming area of the city compared to many other hotels I looked at; hotels in Copenhagen are extremely expensive. Not only was there a full breakfast, but there was a complimentary wine hour from 5-6 PM! The rooms were bright and clean, but fairly small. We hardly spent any time at the hotel, so the room size didn’t bother me.

We spent our first day (late afternoon and evening) walking around Nyhavn. The restaurants along the waterfront are overpriced, but there was a Christmas Market and the scenery along the cobbled streets was to die for! No. 9, Nyhavn, is the oldest house in Copenhagen dating to the 1680s!

Copenhagen

The next morning we ventured to Carlsburg Brewery. This brewery, dating to 1847 was a trip highlight! We did a self-guided tour and seeing the difference modern vs. historic brewing materials was really interesting, plus we enjoy Carlsburg Beer! The brewery allowed guests the option to pay for a horse carriage ride in the Carlsburg District, but Kevin and I opted to just visit the horses in the stables. It was fun to walk around the brewery/district for the morning (hey, it’s 5:00 somewhere!).

In the afternoon we ventured onto the bus (which was clean, but not a lot was written in English, so have a person with good directional skills or a plan!) to go find the statue of the Little Mermaid. While the statue herself is underwhelming, she is a popular tourist attraction, and it was fun to go find her at the Langelinie promenade and take a picture (see above).

The meals weren’t great in Copenhagen – pickled herring isn’t really my thing, but we found a tasty Italian restaurant there called Bueno! And of course we stopped to buy a Danish (pastry) whenever we could!

On our third day, we went to Christiansborg Palace, one of the residences of the royal family. The royal family still hosts events at the palace, so it was interesting to see! I enjoyed the ruins underneath the palace, the artwork in the Royal Reception Rooms, and the Royal Kitchen. I also loved the library which reminded me of Beauty and the Beast! The cost was about 25 USD (or 150 Danish Kroner). We also had the opportunity to take an elevator to The Tower where we saw breathtaking views of the city (if only it hadn’t been cloudy and cold!).

The evening on our third day was the experience we had come all the way to Copenhagen to experience – Tivoli! Tivoli was truly one of the most magical places I have ever been, and the entire night, I couldn’t stop smiling. Tivoli Gardens is a charming amusement park and pleasure garden in the heart of the Copenhagen. It opened in 1843 and (barely!) survived Nazi occupation during World War II. The reason Tivoli was especially magical was because of the Christmas season. The lights and rides and music and ambiance and Glogg just made me feel warm inside (even though I was definitely cold on the outside!). Without a doubt, Tivoli made a good trip, a great one. If you are visiting Copenhagen you do not want to miss this on your trip, but be careful. They aren’t open year-round. They close for several weeks in the late fall to prepare for the holidays. Tickets don’t come cheap – especially if you want to go on rides. Entrance for us (no rides included) was about $40. Some may consider that a lot of money just to “walk around,” but to me the experience was worth the money.

Copenhagen was a delight, and I am glad we paired it with our trip to London. If you are looking for a European city to visit for a few days during the holiday season, Copenhagen is a fantastic opinion! Skål (Cheers)!

Lovely London!

Standard

I’ll admit it…for basically my entire adult life, I’ve been acting like a snob towards London. I never really “cared” to go to London before now; Cities like Paris, Istanbul, Munich and Hong Kong seemed must more interesting, I guess.

I WAS SO WRONG. London is one of my favorite cities to date and here is why:

  1. London has so much history. I’m the ultimate history nerd, and London has so much to offer for someone like me. Three of my favorite spots were:
  • The Churchill War Rooms (Winston’s war bunker/control rooms underneath the city AND a Winston museum)
  • Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, a pub down an alley whose patrons include the late Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. You can literally smell history while drinking a pint (well, smell as in the burning hearth and old wood)
  • The Tower of London – just because I love some good family drama and the Tudors had PLENTY of it.  Also, there were some AWESOME views of London Bridge.

IMG_4422.JPG

I am going to have to go back to London to experience more of the history in this amazing city. We also stayed in a historic hotel which just tickled me to pieces. Finding a decently-priced, nice hotel in a good location was a bit of a challenge. We chose the Georgian House Hotel, a boutique hotel in Pimlico. $220 a night included breakfast and a nice room. We usually never spend this type of cash on a hotel room when we are sightseeing, but compared to most nice places, this was a good price. London hotels are just expensive, so be prepared.

IMG_4390.JPG

Georgian House Hotel

2. London has an awesome public transportation system. Using the Tube saved us so much money since our hotel was close to Victoria station. One thing we struggled with a bit however was cramming onto the crowded Tube with our luggage. Consider budgeting for a taxi/Uber to and from the airport (lesson learned!)

IMG_4275.JPG

3. London is such a melting pot, so the food is yummy. Our best meal was Indian food at a restaurant called Dishoom. Also, I never felt like a foreigner in London since there were so many people from so many walks of life, and I really liked that.

4. For the non-history buffs, there are still so many fun things to do. We especially enjoyed seeing Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre (we got tickets at a discount booth called TKTS the morning of the show and got really good seats for $40), and we also loved having afternoon tea at 108 Pantry . The scones and clotted cream – I’m still dreaming about them ::swoon::

We did other things that were completely worth our time which include: Westminster Abbey, Portobello Road Market on Notting Hill (go on a Saturday before dark!), and the British Library.

One thing that really disappointed me was the 2.5 hour line to take a picture at Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station. After standing in line for hours at the airport the day before we arrived, I couldn’t stomach the wait, but I took a picture of the platform anyways; I just wasn’t in the picture myself! If this is important to you, be prepared for a line.

IMG_4360

 

A couple other things to note: We went in November so it was pretty chilly and misty, but I was comfortable with my coat. Personally, I’d rather be chilly than super sweaty, and the cold made pubs pretty cozy. Also, be prepared to walk…a lot, so comfy shoes are a must!

I’d move to London if I could; I loved it that much. I can’t wait to visit again.

Cleveland Rocks!

Standard

My husband has family and friends in Cleveland, so we decided to spend a fall weekend there to visit with everyone and check out the city! Cleveland was in the news quite a bit recently because the city hosted the Republican National Convention (RNC). Cleveland did a really nice job sprucing up the downtown area to prepare for the RNC – most Cleveland residents are hopeful the city will maintain the fresh look.

cleveland

At the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument

Although most of our time in Ohio was spent visiting with family, we did get to explore a bit. I had no idea Cleveland’s downtown was so nice! Restaurants abound! There were hundreds of places I wanted to try in cute neighborhood pockets all around the city. The city is definitely going through a revival. One of the better meals we had in Cleveland was at a restaurant called Greenhouse Tavern on East 4th Street. This pedestrian alleyway had a ton of bars, restaurants, and shops; I’ve been told that it is PACKED on game day (Browns/Indians). We went for brunch, but the dinner menu looked delicious, too! The Brussels sprouts and animal fries were especially tasty.

Kevin’s cousin Tish drove us near Lake Erie and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so we were able to walk around and take some photos of the city and the lake. I love the water – one thing we miss out on living in Atlanta is being near a big body of water. This Chicago/Milwaukee gal surely misses Lake Michigan! We didn’t have time to tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but we did get to go inside Johnny Cash’s tour bus parked outside! Next time we visit, we HAVE to spend the better part of the day touring the museum.

cleveland-3

I really enjoy the vibe of “smaller” big cities like Milwaukee and Grand Rapids. Now I can add Cleveland to my list!  Kevin and I will be back to see what else Cleveland has to offer and maybe catch a glimpse of King James!

Independence Day in Philadelphia!

Standard

A couple days after returning from Europe, my husband (Kevin) and I flew to Philadelphia to celebrate a dear friend’s wedding. We decided to extend our trip to Pennsylvania for a couple of days to do some sightseeing since I haven’t been to Philadelphia since I was little.

Kevin spent Saturday with the wedding party, so I had a whole day to myself. We had a rental car, so instead of hanging out in our hotel (The Desmond, where the wedding was), I decided to treat myself to Chipotle and an afternoon at Valley Forge! I am a “history person” so going alone and experiencing this American gem at my own pace was great. I highly recommend independent outings – you can do whatever you want, whenever you want! I started out in the visitor’s center where they have a gift shop and some exhibits, but I eventually made my way to the museum theater and the guided walking tour of some of the grounds. This only required about a quarter-mile walk, but the park ranger was very knowledgeable, and I learned quite a bit about Valley Forge’s contribution to the Revolutionary War. I even stuck around for a musket demonstration. For those of you who aren’t quite familiar with the historical context of Valley Forge, this was the winter encampment, 18 miles northeast of Philadelphia, of General George Washington’s Continental Army in 1777-1778.

general-washington

General Washington’s Headquarters @ Valley Forge

After the walking tour, I drove and listened to the audio tour. I stopped at General Washington’s headquarters to take a quick self-guided tour inside. I had to be back in time for the wedding, but if I had more time, I probably would have taken the trolley tour instead of driving myself around. If you’re interested in early American history, this National Historic Park is a must-see.

After the wedding (congrats Greg and Denise!), Kevin and I drove downtown and stayed at the Doubletree on Broad Street. This was a good location and was walking distance to quite a bit of the action. Since it was 4th of July weekend, downtown was hoppin’ with food trucks, people, and live music. I was really glad we made early reservations for our tour of Independence Hall. The tour itself was free, but space is limited so I would certainly plan ahead and make a reservation. You know you’re a REAL history nerd when you get goosebumps in the room Jefferson, Hancock, Franklin, and many other founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. The room is smaller than one might expect, but it was such a cool experience to be there while celebrating our nation’s birthday! Afterwards, we decided not to wait in the two hour line to see the Liberty Bell – instead we walked to the side of the building and saw it through the window. Worked for me!

independence-hall-2

independence-hall

Our day @ Independence Hall!

Then of course, we had to have a Philly cheese steak. After getting a couple of recommendations from a local, we decided on Steve’s Prince of Steaks. So, so, so, so delicious.

On the 4th of July, Kev and I waved our flags at the parade in the morning, and we visited Ben Franklin’s museum and grave site (Ben is probably one of my favorite historical figures – three-year old me named my pet fish after him). The museum was more interactive than artifact-based, and there was a small fee to get in, but I had fun! Kids would enjoy it, too.

I loved getting to spend the weekend in Philadelphia. They city was getting ready for the DNC, but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of homelessness I saw or the muggy July weather HOWEVER it is Mecca for American history, and I really enjoyed my time there.

 

Besties in Wien! (Vienna, Austria)

Standard

Vienna (Wien) is such a delightful place. I posted about Salzburg a couple of years ago, and while Vienna is not considered Bavaria (you won’t have the mountains in Wien like you do in Salzburg), it is still very beautiful in its own way. After leaving Paris, Lynnsey and I flew KLM to Vienna to visit a friend, Beth, who lives there. We flew round trip from our hometown (Atlanta) to Paris, so we purchased an intra-European flight from Paris to Vienna. One difficulty we had was luggage. Since we flew internationally we did not have to pay to check baggage from Atlanta to Paris, but on the KLM intra-European flight, they charged to check a bag which increased the price of our tickets. If you are traveling this way, be sure to check baggage fees (which normally DO apply within Europe) and plan accordingly.

As soon as we arrived in Vienna, our first stop was for Wiener-Schnitzel. For it to be TRUE Wiener-Schinetzel, it must be from Vienna. The traditional Wiener-Schinetzel is tender calf’s meat served with potato salad (which is different than American potato salad – no mayo). The restaurant & brewery Beth took us to was called Salm Brau. The food and beer were delicious and the servings were huge…I could only manage to eat half of my meal.

schnitzel

After full bellies and a good night’s sleep, we decided to spend the day in Bratislava, Slovakia – about an hour and fifteen minutes from Vienna by bus. Round trip bus tickets cost about $30, and the bus had A/C and WiFi. I love going to a place that I don’t know much about, so I have no expectations and am never disappointed! Bratislava is a hidden European gem! The weekend we were there, the city was celebrating the coronation of Maria Theresa of Hapsburg, so there were food, drink and crafts tents in the main part of town. A half-liter of beer was only 1 Euro – what a deal compared to the expensive city of Paris just a few days before! We even had a good laugh about the “roast beast” cooking on the spit.

We spent the day wandering around the city, and we made the uphill climb to the castle. We didn’t go inside, but the views of the city and the Danube from atop the hill were worth the walk.  Bratislava was definitely a highlight of our entire trip to Europe. I have heard that it is a pretty sleepy town if a festival isn’t taking place, but the hustle and bustle of the center of town made for a really fun day!

bratislava-2

Atop the hill with the Danube River behind

slovakia

View of Bratislava

We talked about going to Budapest (a 3-hour bus ride) another day of the trip, and although we were very tempted, with only two days left in Vienna, we wanted to explore the city we were staying in, BUT know that Vienna is very centrally located. If someone were in the city for a week or ten days, it would be a great location for “home base” and from Vienna travel to Salzburg, Budapest, and/or Bratislava for day/overnight trips.

To get around in Vienna, we bought tram tickets. Tram-ticketing is basically done on the honor system – we paid, but no one ever asked for our tickets (this was the same in Prague). I wouldn’t advise jumping on a tram without paying not only because its dishonest, but you can also receive a ticket if you’re caught. For our tour of Vienna, Beth took us to Schonbrunn, a palace that was the former imperial summer residence. After taking an hour-long audio tour of the palace, we paid a small fee for a sample and baking demonstration of (crisp) apple strudel, walked up to the Gloriette for Viennese coffee, and took photographs of the lovely gardens. I really enjoyed this outing and is a must-see for Vienna. Be sure to wear good walking shoes!

strudel

Strudel-Making Demonstration!

 

We spent our final day in Vienna looking at the city’s gorgeous architecture. That is probably my favorite part of Vienna…you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy European beauty. Just walking the streets/grounds is a treat because the city is so beautiful and clean! So, we walked the grounds of the Belvedere and Austrian Parliament and took photos not only of the buildings but the statues and flowers. We couldn’t have asked for better weather in late June. WOW. Every picture I took looked like it came from a postcard.

vienna

The Belvedere

We found a great spot for lunch in the Naschmarkt. The restaurant we ate at (Neni) was actually Israeli food, but the Naschmarkt area has many different options, and it was fun to walk around there! With a yummy lunch that we needed to walk off, we enjoyed going into St. Stephen’s Cathedral and a replica of the Parthenon.

I adored Vienna. It exceeded my expectations, and I can’t wait to go back for their famous Christmas markets someday! Until next time Wien, Auf Wiedersehen!