Monthly Archives: July 2016

Independence Day in Philadelphia!

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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.

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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!

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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)

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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.

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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!

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Atop the hill with the Danube River behind

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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!

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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.

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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!