Sunday, August 10, 2014

Farewell to the East Coast... For Now

A fantastic job opportunity has us relocating back to our home state of Minnesota. Our time living in Conshohocken has been life changing and full of memorable people and experiences. We tried our hardest to explore the East Coast as thoroughly as possible in the 18 months living there, and I think we succeeded! My blog writing could not even come close to keeping up, so I can luckily continue to recollect the phenomenal time with recaps of our adventures. And without a doubt we will be going back in future travels - the area is so sensational.

Our last night in Philly, for now!

So we return to Minnesota changed for the better and with a new perspective to explore the amazing state we have called home most of our lives. On to the new adventure!

Was so special being welcomed home by our Niece and Nephew's sign! Love how Ari added the Philly Love statue and Tommy knows how much I love Batman!
Our new home is in the background to the right and ideally located - We can see one of the many local breweries from our balcony!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Baseball Hall of Fame

For those who have known me a long time or read this blog from the beginning, it is obvious I love baseball. From growing up playing the game and cheering on the Twins, to my recent goal to enjoy a game at every Major League ballpark, my passion for the game has never wavered. As a kid, I would collect cards from my favorite players, watch any baseball movie that came out, and have posters of Kirby Puckett lining my bedroom wall. For those of you that are curious, The Sandlot is still an exceptional movie when viewed as an adult. I also admit to still regularly watching the 1987 and 1991 World Series videos of the Twins World Championships. One of these years that will happen again!

Twins dedication for their Championships in 1987 and 1991

So I was fairly disappointed when our first attempt to see the Baseball Hall of Fame ended in failure. Though it convinced us (tough sell) to come back. I love when expectations live up to the hype, because it was awesome! Every bit of baseball geek within me was in pure joy walking through this shrine to the sport.

The layout of the exhibits is masterfully planned, and while I usually have a two hour limit in museums, this felt rushed and we spent over three hours inside. Exhibits are located on three different floors, displaying almost 40,000 artifacts.

The big question on my mind was how did the Hall of Fame end up in Cooperstown, NY? The story is quite romantic, if not entirely true. Ultimately, as baseball became more popular, no one could truly place the person and location responsible for the game's invention. A panel was formed to determine the birth of baseball, and the honor of most compelling story went to Abner Doubleday, a decorated Civil War Officer who was said to have created baseball in 1839 in Cooperstown. The myth has since been exposed but that does not take away the thriving spirit of baseball engrained in this town. A more complete history is here.

Original guest book for the museum - Note the names Cy Young, Ruth, Ott...
From there, the tour lays out the early days of baseball, starting at the oldest professional teams to the evolution of baseball equipment. For years, gloves were not even worn because it was seen as "tough" to play with bare hands.

Next came a thorough, interactive timeline of artifacts and events from the first years of the game to the present, showcasing the legendary players, teams, and moments that have defined the sport as America's National Pastime. While this timeline weaves throughout, numerous special displays are featured, focusing on Babe Ruth, women in baseball, African Americans' history with the game, and a dedication to baseball in the Caribbean Basin countries.

Babe Ruth transcended the sport
Bat and ball from Ted Williams' 500th home run
Quality Twins artifact - Jim Thome's 600th home run ball
All of that was on the first floor we visited! We proceeded upwards to a dedication focused on the ballpark, one of my favorite aspects of baseball. Cool stuff in this gallery, and if you are interested in reading about my ballpark experiences, here are links to two previous posts:
Take me out to the Ballgame - My Ballpark Experience
Take me out to the Ballgame - East Coast Edition

Next was a life and history of Hank Aaron, an athlete that mesmerized baseball fans and has become an ambassador beyond the game. He has been awarded both the Presidential Citizens Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom! 

Hank Aaron - The true home run king
At this point, I was pretty tired and had seen a lot of awesome artifacts. However, what came next was the best yet, and I bounded through this room like a little kid. "One for the Books" is a showcase of the stories that have lead to every one of baseball's records. This is a game of stats, and I progressed from display to display with my jaw dropped and camera ready. Everything was there including stolen bases, strikeouts, hits, homeruns (controversial and legit),  RBI's... this section was collectible gold!

Up for debate, but is this this bat hit the longest home run ever?
More than 10 million votes were cast online to determine the fate of Barry Bonds' 756th home run. The asterisk won and serves as a reminder of this tumultuous period in baseball.
Ty Cobb's shoes - Old school
My day would have been complete from there, but we still had to make our way to the Hall of Fame Gallery, where all of the bronze plaques of the inducted players rest on the walls. This room was church-like, with people slowly walking through in almost complete silence.

The first inductees
My all time favorite
The Hall of Fame is in a challenging location to visit, but it is a must see for baseball fans. Even Anna thoroughly enjoyed the experience with minimal knowledge of baseball history. It could be paired with trips to Boston, New York City, or the Finger Lakes - all amazing destinations.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Finger Lakes - Wine and Relaxation

While our experience in the Finger Lakes was highly influenced by the phenomenal B&B experience at La Belle Vie posted here, the area alone was sensational. After a wave of big city traveling, the Finger Lakes' personality closely modeled our own and we were able to completely relax and rejuvenate! Actually, after our first visit we already went back just a few weeks later to soak in more of the pleasant, relaxing atmosphere and enjoy time with our fascinating new friends Llewellyn and Laurel. 

Wine on the porch, lake views, perfect weather - Yes please!
Our first trip began with a stark reminder that no matter how much you plan, going with the flow is critical as unexpected events occur. Only a few hours out of the way is Cooperstown, NY and the Baseball Hall of Fame. As an avid baseball fan my entire life, we got up bright and early (not usual for us) to take the detour. Cooperstown is also home to the stellar brewery Ommegang, so we got ready for the museum with tasty food and beer. However, rumblings around us signaled some major event in town. Well, not just a any event, but President Obama happened to be planning a speech at the Hall of Fame! A random Thursday in May and it was the first time a sitting president had visited in the museum's 75 year history - can't plan for that! It is always worth finding a silver lining though, and because of our thwarted plans we decided to come back for the second try. More to come in a later post, but it was baseball euphoria!

Wonderful beer eased the pain of our failed three hour detour
Onward to our original destination of the Finger Lakes. It is a series of glacier formed long and narrow lakes in Upstate New York. The area is defined as a bioregion and its climate and ecology perfectly blend to allow for superb wine production. I won't even try to describe the specifics, but it all results in lush vineyards covering the hills around the lakes. Picturesque scenery that tastes quite nice too!

Easily, our highlight was the Keuka Lake Wine Trail (and just wine in general). Honestly, I was a bit nervous visiting a wine destination and planning time around vineyard stops. I enjoy wine but would never consider myself an aficionado, and I wasn't sure how approachable all of the wine connoisseurs would be. Wow, what is a pleasant surprise. The people who conducted our tastings were so nice, patiently and simply explaining the characteristics of each wine and proudly discussing the process of creating the amazing beverage. Red wine has always been our favorite but the white wine of this region is internationally recognized and for good reason. We barely drank red wine all week and a quality Riesling is now a preferred option!

The region and its wineries are Internationally recognized 
For the wine trail, we splurged a bit and booked a driver through Grapevine Country Tours. I highly recommend this option. It was so incredible to have a driver not only so we could both enjoy as much wine as we wanted, but also to have a guide familiar with the area. Overall, we stopped in 7 wineries on our first day! I will try quickly to do justice to some of our favorites.

The lakes are lined with vineyards
Keuka Springs - Family run and closest to the B&B, we made several stops here. Sensational views and friendly staff would have been enough, but throw in some award winning wine (Riesling in particular) and this place started off our tour on a high note.

The patio outside Keuka Springs
Ravines - Another family owned winery, we received world class service while reveling in a cheese and wine pairing. Another location with spectacular views of the lake, we spent more time here on our first trip than any other location. Our tasting host Abel was well versed in the wine making process and did a wonderful job explaining the characteristics of the wine and also the process behind its creation.

Domaine Leseurre - This is an up and coming winery in the region, and all others better watch out. The owners and winemakers were both born in France (from complete opposite sides of the country), further enhanced their wine knowledge in New Zealand (where they met), and now own a winery in the Finger Lakes. Just go there and know that wine is going to taste really good!

Dr Konstantin Frank - Dr Frank's is the most well known spot in the region, and rightfully so. Dr. Frank is credited with bringing European variety wines into the Northeast and starting the movement that has turned the Finger Lakes into a wine making powerhouse. Enough said, the wine was great, location was superb, and other than the swarm of party buses and limos, this is a must stop.

The Keuka Lake trail is special because it is quiet. While not as densely filled with wineries as the larger lakes, all are high quality and complete with astounding lake views. In total, the drive around the lake is about an hour and can be leisurely enjoyed without fighting traffic on the road or major crowds in the tasting rooms.

I hope my future garden can grow something similar
Quick travel advice here, but this is just another reason why we love shoulder season travel and doing major activities during the week. Weekdays are the prime day to winery hop. We received exclusive service at almost every stop, really enhancing the tasting experience with a very personal connection to each winery. Visiting in May still produced nice weather, everything was open, and crowds were minimal.

Another highlight was Watkins Glen State Park. The main hike is up a glacier formed gorge carving through a variety of rock walls. The trail contains more than 800 steps of scenic hiking, including 19 waterfalls! I recommend going early though as crowds can build here.

The Finger Lakes area is a outdoor playground, lush with options including hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, and boating. While we focused on wine and relaxation during our first stops, our next trip back will definitely include more of the lake activities that make this spot a special place. Coming from Minnesota and the land of 10,000 lakes, this area felt a bit like home!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The City of Brotherly Love

While we continue to explore the North East, I feel my writing has neglected the wonderfulness of the days we spend in Philly. Something I have learned in this move is that the closer something is, the easier it is to take for granted. Knowing this, we continue to try and maintain our adventurous mindset everywhere we go, and nowhere is better equipped for that than Philly.

Love the skyline view of old and new
I will start this off several months back, with our first holiday season away from MN. The passion and enthusiasm for the season was obvious in the decorations and events. It might be cheesy but my inner child always get a bit giddy surrounded by the lights, music, and decorations that take over December. At the Comcast Center, an hourly holiday show is displayed on the building's innovative video wall, one of the highest resolution screens in the world that covers 2,100 square feet. Not far down the road is the Macy's Christmas light show. Located in the historic Wanamaker Building (the country's first department store), the show is a 3 story display of more than 100,000 holiday lights. It is accompanied by music from the Grand Organ, the oldest working organ in the country. We also accidentally stumbled upon a German Christmas market in Love Park.

Separate from the holidays but no less festive, we also booked "Philly on Tap," a bar crawl offered by Urban Adventures. What a great way to learn more about the history of the city while drinking beer at local spots along the way. First stop was McGillin's Olde Ale House, where beer has been served since 1860. Filled with eclectic holiday flair, it was a glorious example of the old, one of a kind places scattered throughout Philly. We shared a pitcher and learned about early city politics due to its close proximity to City Hall. The tour discussed not only the science of beer making, but also the history of beer drinking in the city and how it integrated into Philly's storied past. Highly recommended for beer and history buffs alike. 

A bit of a beer theme developing here (big surprise!), but we took another beer centric tour through City Running Tours and ran a historic 5K. Starting at Yards Brewery, we jogged along the river and into Old City, seeing numerous sites and historical monuments. The run circled back to Yards, and with exercise out of the way, we took a tour of the brewery and enjoyed some time in their wonderful tap room. This is a brilliant idea, because there are not many ways to get me to want to run - putting a brewery at the end is nice motivation! 

We were blessed over Easter break to have my sister and brother in-law come for a visit. Playing host in a new home continues to make us appreciate this experience to a greater degree and recognize all of the differences that make each place special. Ready for action from the start, Matt and Megan wanted to see as much as possible, and I think we delivered. A big priority was to show off the marvelous food scene, and we luckily started strong with lunch at Barbuzzo, one of the best restaurants in Philly. Obviously, cheesesteaks were required, so we went with an authentic experience at Dalessandro's. We even got in a few meals at a few of our favorite Conshohocken stops, El Limon and Chiangmai.

Tiffany Mural called "Dream Garden" - Contains 100,000 pieces of favrile glass
For the third time we took the Urban Adventures Old City history tour. With a new guide this time we had a completely different learning experience, including the discovery of an awe-inspiring Tiffany mural. We explored all the history that made Philadelphia the country's first capital. From there, we tried ethnic foods, brought our own wine/beer into restaurants for dinner, found a bar with 200+ beers, and saw the Liberty Bell lit up at night!

Liberty Bell!
For a different bit of history, we also visited Eastern State Penitentiary, one of my favorite attractions in a city full of noteworthy sights. While open, the prison was at one time a more popular tourist attraction than Independence Hall. It was a model for prison design and penitence throughout the world, and since its closure in the 1970's has been maintained as a fantastically preserved (likely haunted!) ruin. We also quickly toured two of our favorite local stops, Manayunk and Valley Forge. I wish we had a week together because picking only a few days worth of activities was so challenging!

Locked up!
Spring Flowers
Valley Forge in the spring
Another great neighborhood is South Philly, home of the Italian Market and a lot of the city's famous food options. The area is also featured prevalently during Rocky movie montages, but no, Rocky's Philly runs were not real. The actual distance he covered in Rocky II has been scientifically calculated to a whopping 30.6 miles!

Either way, it is an original, grittier part of the city, with authentic cuisine lining the streets. Di Bruno Bros. famous cheese shop and the Pat and Geno's cheesesteak battle take center stage. Our favorite though, Cardenas, is a delicious oil and vinegar tap room. You sample complimentary bread with any of the over 50 olive oils and infused oils and vinegars. We are unable to leave without at least a couple of bottles, including fig and pomegranate flavors we use for salad dressing or a vegetable marinade, yum!

Notice the line - This was at 3pm
This area is also host to the annual Italian Market Festival. Thousands of people come to walk around, listen to music, eat amazing food, and shop in the area. We sampled some awesome food there (tomato pie, sausages, Mexican street corn, and gelato sandwiches, to name just a few). We may have even caught a glimpse of Rocky himself!

Looks like Rocky!
Part two of this post will come soon, highlighting more of the phenomenal food scene, a collection of world class museums, and the plethora of spring festivals. I love this city!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Home Away from Home - La Belle Vie B&B

I started the Home Away from Home blog posts to capture those special places, the unique occasions when a trip is not just vacation, but also feels like home. Our recent weekend in the Finger Lakes defined this impeccably!

The wine country of the East Coast was too tempting to ignore, and a few hours of Googling and researching on Tripadvisor lead us to Keuka Lake due to its proximity to most of the area. From there, it was a simple decision on where to stay. I have researched a lot of trips and labored over tough decisions, but this search ended almost as fast as it began. We found a B&B that was priced within reason and had over 100 reviews with nothing but 5 star ratings. Oh, and in 2013 it was ranked #19 of the top 25 B&B’s in the entire United States! La Belle Vie B&B was the spot we chose, which appropriately means "The Beautiful Life." 

What made it so incredible was those intangibles you can’t plan. I love traveling because of the new things you learn, not just about a place but also about the people who live there. Ultimately, we hope to become better people as a result. 

The hosts Llewellyn and Laurel perfectly reflected this for us. The conversation was endless. We discussed all topics including art, travel, photography (even antique photography!), quilting, food, teaching, real estate, work, TV shows, etc, etc, etc. It was a never ending flow of wonderful stories! Incredibly gracious, they easily discussed any topic with humor and knowledge that comes from a wide array of experiences and listening to the tales of their guests. Their recommendations were flawless and gave us many reasons to visit again. 

This is what we had to contend with to get our parking spot!
Beyond the awesomeness of the hosts, all of the characteristics of a quintessential B&B experience were prevalent. For those of you who have not stayed at a B&B or are skeptical, I highly encourage it at least once as we have found it very fulfilling. The right one is comfortable, quaint, starts the day with a sensational breakfast, and forces you to meet what are almost always fascinating new people.

Food is often discussed on this blog, so I must start there. We stayed 4 nights and had 4 amazing breakfasts, which always set the right tone for hiking, winery hopping, or both! Here is a quick summary of the meals – I dare you not to be hungry after this. Breakfast one started with poached pears and German apple pancakes. Day two was a beautifully prepared egg roll up with sauteed basil and tomatoes, served with cheese and spinach. Day three was mascarpone stuffed French toast (my favorite hands down!) with a side of ham in a honey mustard glaze. Day four was lemon ricotta pancakes and scrambled eggs with basil and mouthwatering melted cheese.  All meals were started with fresh fruit as well.

Keuka Springs - One of our favorite wineries that was of course recommended by Llewellyn and Laurel
The next priority is comfort and here it felt like I caught up on a month of rest and relaxation. The only noise outside our window was that of nature, either the melodic sounds of the birds or the clip-clop of the hooves from horse drawn Amish buggies. Ahhh, I may have just taken a brief nap at just the thought of writing that sentence! Even with the aforementioned breakfast waiting, I struggled to climb out of the amazing bed each morning. The house was also exceptionally clean and well-appointed with antiques and other decorations perfectly suited to its old charm.

Finally, the experience would not be getting a write up without the people. I already highlighted the hosts, but we also shared fun meals each morning with the other guests. In particular, a wonderful couple from Canada – everyone we meet from Canada is so nice!

Our stay at La Belle Vie B&B was refreshing and rejuvenating. It is on a short list of places that we would visit again rather than try out a new spot. In fact, we already booked another weekend this summer! Can't wait to go back!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Cape Cod

Thanks to the closeness of things on the East Coast, we are now over a year into our splurge of vacations and weekend excursions. However, there is still so much to see and Cape Cod was near the top. Luckily, Anna's family planned a trip to Falmouth, MA and we drove out to meet them for several days. Having explored the Atlantic coast as far north as Maine and as nearby as the Jersey shore, I was surprised with how different Cape Cod felt and immediately loved the area.

Cape Cod
The beach across the street from the place we stayed in Falmouth!
A theme of our recent traveling has been big city. Don't let that fool you though, our personality ultimately fits on the water, relaxing on the beach, or wandering the quaint main street of an old sea side town. All of my senses are pleased and relaxed near the water. The fresh smell of sea, salt, fish, and clean air settles nicely as a natural aroma, and the sound of waves spilling into the shore is hypnotic. It is so relaxing to walk slowly along the soft sand beach and stare into the color wheel of blue water. And ultimately, the wonderful taste of fresh seafood all of the time = a happy belly all of the time. Lobster rolls, clams, oysters, cod - it was delicious!

Our Happy Place!
We met a wonderful artist named Thanassi in Provincetown who painted beautiful serene visuals in deep blues and calming images reflecting the water.  He described his style as meditative and as I reflect on how calming the water can be, the art struck me even more. So of course we purchased a piece, but the story is more symbolic of how Cape Cod resonated with us and what a wonderful trip it was. An absolute added bonus is sharing this with family!

We went to Cape Cod without any plans or ideas for what was coming and were surprised by the awesome aspects of this area. I have a lot I could write about this, but my  monologue above and pictures best describe the feel of this trip for me. 

Cape Cod
Our first full day we boarded a ferry and went to Martha's Vineyard. I honestly knew nothing about this and thought it was a high end wine destination. It ended up being a beautiful island of rare, varying places. Prior to departing though, we made a quick stop in Wood's Hole and visited a fascinating aquarium, where the highlight was meeting a seal named Lucille! All of you Arrested Development fans will know exactly why I couldn't stop laughing.

Cape Cod
Fishing boats ready for action
Martha's vineyard
Cliffs and lighthouse in Aquinah
Gingerbread Houses
"Gingerbread Houses" in Oak Bluffs - An entire community of brightly painted and designed homes
Provincetown is awesome, and it can boast to having a series of characteristics that would make so many other places jealous. Beautiful surroundings on the ocean with massive sandy beaches, lighthouses aplenty, art galleries galore, and numerous shops and restaurants mostly tucked into one main street.

The northernmost point of Cape Cod, just minutes from Provincetown main street
One block behind main street Provincetown

Eclectic main street 
Lobster rolls were enjoyed at least once a day and often from a tiny fishing village or no nonsense shack. My belly was very happy on this trip!

Larsen's in Menemsha - Amazing lobster roll
Lobster Roll
Order window - Seafood as fresh as it gets!
Mac's Crab Shack - Had to stop once we saw that entrance
First time eating raw oysters and clams - So fresh and so good
Quahog Republic Dive Bar - Located in a strip mall with amazing seafood and low key, friendly service
Cape Cod is lush with beauty. We loved going a few weeks before the craziness of the summer rush. We were able to drive up and down the cape and had wondrous beaches completely to ourselves. A bit too cold to swim, but the peacefulness outweighed that.

Cape Cod