Category Archives: Destinations

Traveling with Parents

National Lampoon's Vacation - Courtesy of NYMag.com

National Lampoon’s Vacation – Courtesy of NYMag.com

I’m convinced that a switch is flipped during adolescence and/or young adulthood that acts like a headlight on an orange traffic cone in the rain, cautioning and repelling any parent or authority figure who approaches.

While I’m not a parent, I can only imagine there’s a little bit of hurt experienced when a young adult, who used to enjoy family vacations, litters the road with traffic cones and detour signs, warnings to their parents to proceed with care or to take another road altogether to avoid bumps and potholes.

Until my 40th birthday, I didn’t think much about traveling with my parents. We had great times when I was younger–weeks in the Outer Banks and day trips to historic places like Jamestown and Williamsburg–but the switch flipped in my 20s and I wanted to see the U.S. and elsewhere on my own or with friends. Back then, parents were no different than the added weight I used to throw in my hatchback to get through snow, ice, and other dangerous road conditions.

It was when I was contemplating a trip to Norway two years ago that I stepped back and thought about asking my parents if they wanted to travel overseas.  Naturally, England (specifically London) came to mind because none of us had ever visited, and there’s a comfort in going somewhere where there aren’t language barriers.

England is also a great primer for individuals who want to dip a toe into overseas travel. It’s rich with history; has a diverse landscape; a comfortable climate; and depending on where you live in the U.S., isn’t too difficult or expensive to get to. Seemed like a perfect segue for them into international travel.

When I broached the subject, my mom was instantly on board.  My dad (like me) asked dozens of logistical questions.  I get it.  The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

With a little persuasion and reassurance, they agreed to go.  I was floored, excited, and a little nervous.

Having now traveled with my parents twice overseas as an adult, I have some tips based on my experience (in no particular order):

#1:  Include them in the planning:  My parents don’t have access to the Internet on a regular basis, so trip planning rests on my shoulders.  I don’t mind; I’m a natural planner, down to the laminated checklist I keep in my suitcase of “things not to forget”.  However, our trip wasn’t all about me.  Since my parents prefer to touch and leaf through books, I sent them a few London guides via Amazon. This made creating a loose itinerary easy because all three of us were able to give input on what to see and do while leaving room for unexpected changes in weather, rest and relaxation days, and unforeseen holidays (e.g., bank holidays).

#2:  Pay attention to physical limitations:  My mom had had surgery months before we left for London. While her doctor had given her a clean bill of health without any restrictions, the plane ride to London was agonizing.  Our initial flight was canceled and we were put on a later flight.  I begged and pleaded with United Airlines to provide her with something that wasn’t a cramped middle seat, which was what she had been assigned with the rebooking.  United came through and she was given a middle seat—in the front row of an aisle in the middle of the plane cut off by lavatories.  She had more than plenty of space to stretch.  Silver linings.

#3:  Speaking of, get space!:  Cities such as London and Paris are very expensive to visit and accommodations are usually cramped.  We decided to stay in the East End of London and rented a two-bedroom apartment with creature comforts. While not expansive by any means, separate rooms helped the three of us decompress and re-collect after a long day of touring.

#4:  Respect differences:  Traveling with anyone involves a lot of negotiating. Traveling with family can add another layer of stress because there’s history. A lot of it. For example, my mom and I wanted to visit the Tate Modern. My dad wanted to visit the Churchill War Rooms. Maps in hand, we parted and no feelings were bruised.

Furthermore, spending can be tight especially if your parents are retired and/or on a fixed income. The same can be true for a son or daughter who is saddled with college debt or other expenses that come with adulthood. Set a daily spending limit that is agreeable with everyone and try to stick to it. Chances are, anxieties will be lessened and everyone can get on with enjoying the trip.  There’s no use fighting about money while traveling.

#5:  Recognize when the road is rough:  There may be times during the trip when nerve-racking, parent-child interactions from decades ago rear their heads. There may be bickering. There may be immature behavior. There may be days ruined as a result.

Get away or recommend doing so.  You may be traveling with one parent or two.  Plan your itinerary and let them plan theirs. Agree on a place to meet later over a meal, beer, or coffee. Mutually share the day’s experiences, sights, and impressions. The breathing space keeps nerves from getting frayed and makes for good conversation.

If you’re able to travel with your parents, I highly recommend it. Parents bring a different perspective and years of personal experience to the table. They see things differently and may challenge your opinions or world viewpoints.

Don’t be afraid to remove the traffic cones and deal with a few bumps in the road during your trip. You may discover a new-found dynamic in your parent-child relationship that had never been there before.

Do you have any suggestions on traveling with parents?  Feel free to leave them in the comments.

Experience: Shockoe in 24 Hours

Urban Farmhouse Market & Café - Richmond, Va.

Urban Farmhouse Market & Café – Richmond, Va.

I was visiting family near Richmond, Va. area over the past few days for the holidays.  My decision to stay downtown was a strategic one because I desperately needed content for TravelReider, and, in 41 years, I have never stepped foot in the city.

Growing up, Richmond was a passthrough from Washington, D.C. to other points south, mainly the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Florida.  From the backseat window traveling north to south on I-95, all I can remember was moving my eyes from the low-rise Robitussin manufacturing facility on the right, to dilapidated row houses on the left, to VCU’s concrete buildings on the right, then to the stately Main Street Station–its rich, brick beauty brutally robbed by an eerie, futuristic interstate–on the left, and finally, the big cigarette welcoming travelers to Philip Morris on the right.

Blink a few times, smoke up if you’re one to indulge, and continue on.  That was Richmond to me.

It wasn’t until I started reading about the Shockoe neighborhood downtown that I became interested in actually visiting the city.

Shockoe, seated on the James River and bordering the financial district to the southeast, has roots dating back to the 1600s when it was used for trading and commerce. Over the decades, it’s been restored, revitalized, and repurposed.

For someone who doesn’t own a car, it’s also a walker’s dream.

Here are some highlights on where to go and what to do while on foot in Shockoe:

  • Arrive:  Oddly, Richmond’s Staple Mill Road Station, located on the outskirts of town, has more arrivals and departures during the day than its Main Street Station.  To reach downtown by train, you will need to book your ticket to arrive at the Main Street Station. In my experience, however, trains from Washington, D.C. arrive in the morning and depart in the evening the next day.  Perfect.
  • Sleep:  Stay at the Berkeley Hotel on East Cary Street.  It’s about a seven-minute walk from the Main Street Station.  The hotel, built in 1988, looks much older style-wise and complements Shockoe’s architecture.  It’s spotless, elegant, and reasonably priced, even during the holidays.  The daytime front desk manager and concierge, Starlett, is a breath of fresh air and offers visitors efficient and much-appreciated personalized attention.
  • Eat:  You’re going to need some food and caffeine for your urban hike around Shockoe. Check out the Urban Farmhouse Market & Café a block down from the Berkeley Hotel at E. Cary and S. 13th Streets.  The café offers coffee, snacks, and lunch options in a cozy, coffeehouse environment.
  • Visit:  Conjure up your days as a student of literature and indulge your gothic sensibility by visiting the Edgar Allan Poe Museum on E. Main Street past the Main Street Station. The building where it’s housed is the oldest standing building in Richmond.
  • Hike:  Follow E. Main Street to Libby Hill Park and hike the steps to the monument. There, you will have amazing views of the James River and downtown Richmond.

I’m sure there are countless places I’ve omitted, particularly as one ventures out to other neighborhoods.  As a result, I have several reasons to return in the future.

Photos will follow soon in the photo galleries.  In the meantime, check out these links:

The Berkeley Hotel
The Urban Farmhouse & Café
The Edgar Allan Poe Museum

 

 

Weekender: Baltimore’s Fun House

Pretzel Bites - Mr. Rain's Fun House - AVAM

Pretzel Bites – Mr. Rain’s Fun House

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit and write about my new favorite art museum: the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.  I made mention of Mr. Rain’s Fun House, the museum’s café located on the third floor.

When I was a growing up outside of Washington, D.C., my parents took every opportunity they could to expose my brother and me to all of the free museums and exhibits the Smithsonian had to offer.  I’m a richer person today because of it.

What I remembered aside from the exhibits was the cafeteria where we’d sometimes stop for lunch. Back then, it seemed like the Smithsonian outsourced all of their food services to a cardboard factory.  Dry burgers served in styrofoam for eight dollars were not a meal.  We learned to brown bag it.

Museum food has changed and now caters to distinguished palates.

On Friday after a train ride, walk, and photo shoot, I was famished.  I knew I couldn’t appreciate any of the mesmerizing visuals at the AVAM without something in my stomach.

Roasted Apple Salad - Mr. Rain's Fun House  - Baltimore

Roasted Apple Salad – Mr. Rain’s Fun House – Baltimore

Enter Mr. Rain’s Fun House.

The “fun house” offers fresh ingredients and imaginative lunch, dinner, and brunch choices served on proper plates with proper cutlery. They also serve booze, so you can complement your meal if you get into that.

I opted for the Roasted Apple Salad that’s oddly not on the online menu.  It should be because it was sweet, light, and well-dressed.

I asked for a wine recommendation and the server suggested the Ciderworks Kingston Black Cider.  At first, I thought it was a hard cider, but it was served in a wine glass and tasted like a succulent, apple-flavored white wine.

Ciderworks Kingston Black Cider - Mr. Rain's Fun House

Ciderworks Kingston Black Cider – Mr. Rain’s Fun House

Whatever your mood, skip the tourist traps at the Inner Harbor and treat yourself to lunch or dinner at Mr. Rain’s Fun House. Don’t forget to order some pretzel bites and brown mustard.

Who said museum food had to be boring?

Weekender: Baltimore’s Visionary Art Is a Charmer

@travelreider

From Nancy Josephson’s “Gallery-A-Go-Go Bus”

I haven’t visited the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) since the late 90s, shortly after it opened. The only thing I remember was the towering statue of local celebrity Divine that greeted visitors on the first floor.  It now resides outside. The museum’s three floors and basement are packed with stimulating visuals and thought-provoking works from its current exhibitions and permanent collection.

Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, who was doing development work at the Department of Psychiatry at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, opened AVAM in 1995.  Taken from its mission statement, visionary art “refers to art that is produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training”.  This type of art has been connected to the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Throughout my self-guided tour, I noted on more than one occasion pieces of art that were created by individuals who had been institutionalized in mental facilities.  “Horse Dress”, for example, is an intricately crocheted garment created by schizophrenic patient at the Sheppard Pratt Hospital.  The artist is listed as anonymous.

“Recovery” is a sculpture created by another mental patient.  The artist is also anonymous.  The sculpture is slender and was carved from the trunk of an apple tree.  What struck me was the concave chest representing the artist’s battle with tuberculosis.

Is there a connection between Hoffberger’s vision and her work at Sinai Hospital?  I’d like to know. What I do know is that pieces such as these further support the museum’s mission of showcasing art by self-taught individuals who are not bound by the “rules”.

The Federal Hill neighborhood sits adjacent to the AVAM.

The Federal Hill neighborhood sits adjacent to the AVAM.

The American Visionary Art Museum is located on Key Boulevard near Federal Hill and the Inner Harbor.   The museum is not free, but well worth the affordable cost of admission. Be sure to include stops at the Sideshow Shop and Mr. Rain’s Fun House, a café located on the third floor.

Also be sure to check out AVAM’s current exhibitions including Frank Bruno’s apocalyptic A Life Devoted to THE END.

Note:  Photography is not allowed inside of the museum.  However, if you want to check out photos from my trip as well as several taken outside of the museum, visit the photo gallery.

Upcoming: Weekender Edition in Baltimore

American Visionary Art Museum - Baltimore

American Visionary Art Museum – Baltimore

I made it a point this past weekend to walk around and photograph as much as I could during my 24-hour stay in Baltimore.

Charm City offered this Washingtonian refreshing alternatives that were forty minutes by train and worlds apart in experiences.

More soon.

Drink: My Top 5 Coffee Destinations

Un Café, Gare du Nord - Paris 2013

Un Café, Gare du Nord – Paris 2013

When I was in The Hague, my friend and guide remarked that the Netherlands has the best coffee.  End of conversation.

But doesn’t every country boast that their coffee is the best?

When I was growing up, I saw TV commercials for Folger’s, Maxwell House, and Sanka coffee.  Our choices seemed fairly limited back then.

However, by the late 1990s, specialty roasts began to gain speed in the marketplace as coffee drinkers’ tastes evolved.

It’s no secret that drinking coffee has become an experience and your local café has become a destination.  In fact, the Specialty Coffee Association of America “predicted that by 2015 there would be 18,000 coffeehouses in the U.S.”*  By 2006, there were already 15,500.

Here are my favorites from here and there:  

  1. Visiting or living in Washington, DC?  Hit Peregrine on 14th Street or Filter on 20th. Peregrine serves up coffee with time and care, resulting in a drink that rivals any European café.  Filter offers espresso and French pressed coffees.
  2. La Maison du Gateau in the Lake Geneva area of Nyon, Switzerland offers fuss-free coffee, pastries, and quiches, and is located across from the train station.  Hop off the train, fuel, and go.
  3. The Outer Banks of North Carolina has the Front Porch Cafe.  There’s a reason why this coffeehouse has been voted the local favorite four times.  The rich-tasting coffee is roasted locally by Kill Devil Coffee Roasters and served by a friendly staff.  In the warm months, take your cup out front and relax on the porch.  (Website ordering is available.)
  4. Wired Puppy serves up the best coffee in Provincetown, Massachusetts.  Located on Commercial Street, it’s a happening hangout any time of the day and a convenient place to fuel before a bike ride in the dunes or a day at the beach.  (Website ordering is available.)
  5. Remember my Dutch friend?  Zebedeüs in The Hague is intimate and tucked away on a busy shopping thoroughfare.  Sit outside and order a latte.  Hungry?  The restaurant serves great lunches including omelets served on bread with salad on the side.

Tip:  If you like your coffee rich and inexpensive, check out Sweden’s Gevalia.  You can buy it at CVS or your local grocery store.

*Source:  Highbeam Business

 

 

Eat: Lo-Cal Treats from The Hague

Hopje - The Hague

Hopje – The Hague

I was fishing around my camera bag today in preparation for my trip to photograph Baltimore this weekend and came across a sweet treat from The Hague:  a Hopje.

Last month, I wrote a post about my wonderful stay at the Hotel Petit in The Hague.   Each afternoon, I’d find a personalized note from the housekeeper thanking me for my stay along with a Hopje.

According to history, the Hopje originated in The Hague.  This coffee-tasting candy is named after Hendrik Hop.  Legend has it that Mr. Hop was advised not to drink coffee. Bucking doctor’s orders, one day, he made a concoction of coffee and sugar and overcooked it.

This stove top mess resulted a thick, caramel-tasting treat.  He enlisted a neighbor’s help to create  candy lumps that could be savored, I imagine, without the negative effects associated with coffee.

Over the years, U.S. coffee chains such as Starbucks, Caribou, and Dunkin’ Donuts have capitalized on Americans’ palates for the highly caloric and have concocted drinks containing hefty amounts of sugar and fat, yet only a whiff of coffee.

For example, take the Caramel Macciato, Starbucks’ third favorite drink ranked by customers.  The calorie count clocks in at 140 for the “healthier” 12 oz. tall with nonfat milk to a staggering 340 for a venti with whole milk.  Furthermore, on top of the hundreds of calories, the venti contains 40 grams of sugar and 13 grams of fat, eight of which are saturated.

I’m neither a nutritionist nor entirely slim, but I can imagine what Mr. Hop’s doctor would say about a daily diet of venti Caramel Macciatos.

I’m also not asserting that the Hopje provides any nutritional value.

However, each piece contains 15 calories and can be an occasional caramel-coffee alternative to the gut-busting and wallet-draining “coffee” drink from a chain.

Free yourself from the excess calories of a coffee drink and enjoy a Hopje or two instead.  On occasion.

Want coffee that doesn’t come in a wrapper?  Check out my top five coffee destinations.

The easiest way to order a package is through Amazon.  However, you can also order from Hollands Best and The Sweet Life.

Special thanks to Absolutely The Hague for providing an overview of Hendrik Hop’s culinary misfortune that evolved into a fortune.

Gritty Paris In Transition

MDear Clementine - Taken in the 10th Arrondissement

Dear Clementine – Taken in the 10th Arrondissement

When I was in Paris in September, I needed to be near the train station to make a quick entry from Charles de Gaulle, a quick exit to The Hague, and a quick re-entry back to Paris so I could get home to DC via Reykjavik, Iceland.  That was a lot of unpacking and repacking.

During my five days in Paris, I experienced the transitions in the 10ème in more ways than one.

Paris has 20 districts known as arrondissements.  Each is assigned a number and may appear with a suffix of -e, -er, or -ème.  Arrondissement is sometimes abbreviated as Arr.

The 10ème has two train stations (Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est) making it convenient for day trips and for getting to Paris attractions in minutes via the Metro.

At Le Balto - 10ème Arrondissement

At Le Balto – 10ème Arrondissement

This once gritty and overlooked part of Paris has gotten a makeover over the years and is exploding with restaurants, bars, and sites that beg to be noticed.

Want to stay close to everything yet don’t want to spend a lot?  Want an area where cultures from all over interweave?

Consider the 10ème.

Here are the top five things I experienced during my stay:

1.  Walk:  Visit the Canal Saint-Martin.  The waterway connects to the Seine and offers soothing walkways for picnics and people watching.

2.  Eat:  Steps from my hotel was an intimate Italian restaurant called Da Giacomo on the Rue du Château Landon.  Had your fill of croissants and pâté?  Stop by and enjoy the friendly service at this non-hurried restaurant.  They have great pizza that you can take back to your apartment or hotel.

3.  Browse:  Visit Coin Canal for some nostalgia.  The store on Rue de Marseille sells high-quality, streamlined mid-century-to-70s-style furniture.

4.  Gaze:  Stop by Le Balto for an espresso or Jupiler and take advantage of its covered outdoor seating.  Watch the people and traffic as everything collides at the intersections of Rue de Maubeuge, Boulevard de Magenta, Rue de Dunkerque, and Rue Saint-Vincent de Paul.

5.  Get Out:  Use the easy access of Gare du Nord to your advantage.  Hop on a Eurostar train for quick access to Lille, Brussels, and London, to name a few.

The 10ème is no longer the gray and gritty neighborhood of Paris it once was.  It offers a vibrant spirit, sets trends, and gives you a launchpad for easy access to other destinations in Europe.

Interested in snaps from Paris?  Visit the photo gallery.

 

 

Play: Victoria Park Has Picked Up Speed

Victoria Park - London (Photo Courtesy of londonhubguide.blogspot.com)

Victoria Park – London (Photo Courtesy of londonhubguide.blogspot.com)

I’ve been a runner since I was in my late 20s.  I’ve logged 5ks, five-milers, 10-milers, and a half-marathon.  I only run now for personal satisfaction.

When I travel, I like to pack my running shoes and get out early to explore, even if I’m going to be on foot most of the day sightseeing.  Given our surprisingly sunny weather in London, I was able to strike an even balance between our daily tours of sights on concrete and cobblestone with a fast-paced and scenic sample of the lush and soul-calming Victoria Park.

The location of Victoria Park is 1.3 miles from the Bow Apartment and one of its entrances sits at the end of Grove Road, giving you options to sleep, eat, and play while in the East End.

Since I stumbled upon Victoria Park during a run (the guide book I brought didn’t give it a mention), the following are some fun facts and a link to year-round activities that will make you want to pack your tennis shoes, carefree spirit, and visit.

Fun Facts:

  • Victoria Park is London’s oldest public park.  Created in 1845, its space spans 212 acres.
  • The park is situated entirely in the borough of Tower Hamlets.
  • Victoria Park is also known as the People’s Park and locally as “Vicky Park”.
  • In a 2012 poll, Victoria Park beat 1,424 parks and green spaces, becoming the nation’s number-one park.
  • The park’s Chinese pagoda is a replica of a former pagoda that was moved from Hyde Park to Victoria Park in the 19th century, but later destroyed in World War II.
  • The park has over 4,000 trees.

What to Do and See:

  • If you are a runner,  walker, or cyclist, take advantage of the wide pavement, walkways that pass through mature trees, and flat surfaces.
  • Victoria Park has waterways, a pavilion, and hosts sporting events and concerts.  Want to keep up to date on goings-on?  Be sure to check the Tower Hamlets site for fun events during your visit.
  • Forget driving to Victoria Park.  In fact, when I visited, parking looked scarce.  Cars aren’t allowed unless you qualify for a Blue Badge permit.
  • Get there easily.  Take the Central line to Mile End and walk down Grove Road.   You’ll reach the entrance in minutes.
  • Thinking of cooking out while visiting?  Think again and take a picnic lunch or dinner.  Barbequing is not allowed in Victoria Park, so ditch the Hibachi.
  • Forget to pack a picnic and find yourself hungry while walking around and taking in the park?  Check out the Pavilion Café  or The Crown, located at the end of Grove Road near the entrance to the park.  The Crown is cozy and its seating is varied to accommodate your mood.   The pub offers a variety of traditional British dishes.  Grab a pint and enjoy.

Victoria Park is active, large, and set apart from London’s guidebook attractions.  Make sure you visit if you like outdoor activities.  Enjoy sprinting, slow walks, mature trees, pick-up games, and other outdoor activities.

Special thanks to Tower Hamlets for additional insights while staying in Bow and visiting Victoria Park.