Monday, September 8, 2014

Life in the North Loop


The first month back in Minnesota has flown by, getting settled in our new place and trying to make plans to see family and friends. I don't know how it happens, but it seems like we black out how much work moving is. There was so much stuff to unpack and setup. Particularly moving into a modern, warehouse style loft, it was hard to figure out where things would fit!

120 boxes - Thankful for the paper so everything came intact, but so much to unpack and get rid of!
Pretty sure we have spent multiple hours on our new patio everyday
Before moving, we were adamant to treat Minneapolis like a new city and we have put our exploration mindsets in full gear as we get acquainted. Our new home and neighborhood are phenomenal!

The city has welcomed us back with absolutely beautiful weather for exploring
Within a half mile of our condo, there is a who's who of top restaurants in Minneapolis. Every place has a massive patio, and the weather has been ideal for lounging outside. A common scenario is a mostly empty interior with waits or standing room only on the patio. I forgot how much Minnesotans fully savor the limited warm weather each year! A few of my favorites so far have been Freehouse Brewery (in our backyard), Smack Shack, Black Sheep pizza, and Dangerous Man Brewing Co. MUCH more to come on the food and beer scene in Minneapolis.

Patio View!
Being away from home for the last year and a half on the East Coast, we could pretty much pack up and travel somewhere new every weekend. Our calendar was our own and so many amazing destinations were only a few hours away. Moving back to MN, we are challenging ourselves to keep up the adventurous mindset and ensure we keep trying new things, even in a state we have both lived most of our lives. So we have been researching travel lists of things to do in Minneapolis and one of the highlights so far was the Magical History Tour, on segways! They are a bit awkward to drive at first but really fun to coast around once you get comfortable. We did not know most of the history shared, and the guides were fun and informative.

Going for a stroll along one of the many river walkways
While the city is new in the modern context of U.S history, it could once be described as the Wild West, far from initial big cities and located ideally on the Mississippi River. Minneapolis not long ago was actually two cities, Minneapolis on one side of the river and St. Anthony on the other. Like any property near water, its location was critical for industry and transportation that allowed it to flourish. One of its nicknames is the Mill City, a tribute to the leading flour mill industry that catapulted the city into prominence. The city's milling history is evident in ruins along the riverfront, including the well known Mill City Museum (plug for some General Mills history!).

Mill City Museum
The Guthrie Theater lookout on the left - Love the dichotomy of the modern building next to the ruins of a flour mill
Conflict over industry and land arose and those looking for an economic advantage angled for authority. It is said that a reason why the Twin Cities may not have suffered as much in early economic downturns was the mob presence in much of the early business. I think a Gangster tour is up next!

View while stopped on Boom Island - More of a peninsula actually but island sounds way cooler

Stone Arch Bridge
Christmas card material here! The famous Stone Arch Bridge in the background


Monday, September 1, 2014

Maui - Natural Paradise


Been feeling a heavy dose of nostalgia lately with the move, so we dealt with it the best way we know - by locking up the rest of our vacation days with a return trip to one of our all time favorites, Hawaii! This time, the destination is Kauai, but it forced me to go back in time to the blog vault and recap the best of Maui's natural paradise. So excited to return!

When in Maui, we stayed at the most incredible condo, the Aston Mahana, and partook in a series of island adventures. However, the heart of Maui is the absolute beauty of the outdoors. The island is constantly showing off its exquisite beaches, mountains, waterfalls, sunsets, sunrises, rainbows, and more. Hawaii is still the only place I have visited where I came back and immediately began investigating real estate options! Well, not the only but likely the most seriously.

Our morning view from the front door

The road to Hana was unlike any drive I have experienced - Slow, windy, with almost too much jaw dropping scenery. We stopped at numerous waterfalls, but mainly just tried to leisurely enjoy the drive. Some locals wanted to go much faster, but there were numerous places to turn off and let them pass. Also, the one way bridges were easy to navigate as most drivers were just appreciating the surroundings and in no rush.

One of the many waterfalls tucked away just off the main road
The road to Hana carving along the edge of the Island
Three Bears
Three Bears Waterfalls
For those planning to drive the Road to Hana, my advice would be start really early in the morning or stay a night in Hana to avoid rushing past the magical scenery. Would not recommend Lahaina area and back in one day. Though possible, it is not nearly enough time to soak in the island drive. It also allows time to drive beyond Hana and see the wondrous seven sacred pools. Another benefit of our overnight - we shared coffee the next morning with some wonderful locals, learning more about Hawaiian culture in one hour than the rest of the trip combined. They literally had a sign on their mailbox promoting coffee and we sat with them in their front yard, it was so cool!

Road to Hana
The reward for driving past Hana - Pools of ‘Ohe’o (aka Seven Sacred Pools)

Drive carefully - Bad tourist drivers and impatient locals aren't the only thing that you need to watch out for!

While we stopped maybe four or five times on the drive, once in Hana, the real treat is the black and red sand beaches.
Hana
A bit of a tricky beach to find, but the contrast of red sand against clear blue water is astounding
Yes, those are fashionable water shoes, but this black sand was super soft and comfortable

Another must do experience (and early on in the trip before the jet lag goes away) is the drive to the top of Haleakala for an awe inspiring sunrise. It requires a very early morning alarm (I think ours was 3 am), and a dark, windy drive while being fueled by too much caffeine. But what you witness is surreal. Pack warm clothes if this is in the plans. The numerous people wrapped up in hotel towels over their beach gear did not seem to enjoy the wait as much.




Maui
Sunrise above the clouds
Yes - it really can be cold and windy in Hawaii. Take the guide book advice and pack an outfit for this!

I can't go any further without paying homage to what most want to see and spend their time on in Hawaii, the beaches. While my posts about Maui make it seem like we ran around as crazed tourists the whole time, we are experts when it comes to relaxing on vacation. I finished three books in a week and a half while sitting on the pristine beaches and soaking up the never ending perfect weather. The laid back atmosphere of the Island is addicting and it is impossible to not slow down and revel in the natural paradise. 

A 5 minute walk from our place - We snorkeled here most mornings
Always nice to take a break for a quick swim

Until next time!

Pictures don't come close - But the nightly sunset was an event of its own

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!