Category Archives: United States

Boston: It’s All Here!

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For Spring Break this year, Kevin surprised me with a trip to Boston! He’s never done a surprise trip for me before, so this was especially exciting. I knew a week before that we were going SOMEWHERE, but I didn’t know where until the day before we left.

Since I am a history nerd (especially colonial history), I was thrilled to find out we were traveling to Beantown (AKA Boston) – I had never been to Boston before! It was early spring, so we dressed warmly (sweaters and rain jackets). We were lucky enough to have a couple days of sun!

Kevin arranged for us to use Hilton points to stay right downtown at the Hilton Faneuil Hall. The room was small but clean and comfortable, and it was a great location. Had we not used points, the hotel could have run us $350+ a night. The benefit to selecting a location that was walking distance to public transportation restaurants and tourism was that we didn’t have to rent a car. Aside from a car rental cost (which isn’t cheap in Boston), we would have had to pay $50 per night for parking. A taxi from the airport to the hotel ran us about $30, but we did not arrive during rush hour. Even still, spending a little more on a hotel in a good location near MBTA (Boston’s public transit) would be more economical in the long-run.

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We arrived on a Friday and our first stop after checking into the hotel was to Sam Adams Brewery! We walked to the subway and took the Orange line to Stony Brook. From there, it was a 7-8 minute walk. I have been to several breweries, and this one is definitely in my Top 3. The tour and tastings were completely free, and we met folks from all around the country! Plus, I really like their beer. After the tour and tastings, we stuck around for another hour at the bar and had a couple more drinks before departing for dinner.

That night we ate at Bostonia Public House. They had a really cool atmosphere, and Kevin was excited to have a lobster roll! Since our trip, he has actually been back to Boston a couple of times for work dinners, and he still enjoys it. After dinner, we walked to Quincy Market to grab some ice cream for dessert. Quincy Market is tourist-y but still really great. It was constructed in the 1820s and has lots of quick restaurants and snack shops to choose from.

The next morning, we woke up bright and early to take a guided walking tour of the Freedom Trail. We didn’t have to make reservations because of the time of the year, but I definitely would go ahead and make reservations during peak season. For being pretty chilly that day, it was still super crowded. Our stops included the Massachusetts State House, the Old State House and the Old South Meeting House. Our guide was dressed up in colonial-wear and he had a lot of information, but it was sometimes difficult to hear among the hub-bub of the city.

After the walking tour, Kevin and I decided to go north to Paul Revere’s house. Admission was $5 which we were happy to pay since the money goes to preservation efforts. Be warned that admission is CASH ONLY. We were only there for about 30 minutes since the house is small, but it was still really interesting and the docents were informative and friendly.

We didn’t make a lunch reservation, but we should have. Everything that was recommended to us in the north end was a 1-2 hour wait. We were lucky and stumbled upon a Mexican restaurant called Tenoch Mexican. No frills, just good food. Eventually we made our way to Mike’s Pastry for cannolis. Mike’s Pastry was founded in the 1940s and they have a couple of locations – we went to the original on Hanover Street. It was Easter weekend, so it was PACKED but the cannolis were 100% worth the wait. So delicious.

After eating our cannolis in the park, we made our way to Boston Harbor to see where the famous Boston Tea Party took place in 1773. It was fun to see all the historic sights that day, but it was a LOT of walking. If you are planning on seeing Boston in a long weekend, good walking shoes are essential.

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We DID make dinner reservations that night. Again, on a weekend, reservations are necessary. Italian food in the North End is authentic and YUMMY. We ate Trattoria di Monica where homemade pasta is the specialty.

On our last day, we had a late flight so we ventured out to the JFK Presidential Library. To get there we had to take a bus and a train, but the experience was worth it. Since it was Easter Sunday it was an extremely light crowd, but the museum was huge. Admission was $14 per person. Every presidential library has a (to-scale) replica of the Oval Office, so we enjoyed seeing how JFK’s was set up. Overall, we had an awesome time nerding out by looking at all of the First Lady’s outfits and the Kennedy family’s personal effects.

Our last stop of the day was Bunker Hill. This monument commemorates a major battle that happened nearby in 1775. You could climb all the way up the obelisk, but Kevin and I decided that after all the walking we did, we could enjoy the view without climbing all the way up!

Our weekend trip to Boston was just the tip of the iceburg – I’d love to go back to explore some more! We ate like royalty, saw 15/16 sites on the Freedom Trail, and enjoyed springtime in the northeast. Until next time…

Washington D.C. and Virginia

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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.

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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!

 

Dove Mountain (Tucson) Arizona

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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.

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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!

Cleveland Rocks!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.