Category Archives: Adventures

London, Part II

This is a continuation of my last post, highlighting some of my favorite places/experiences in London.

1. Natural History Museum

 

I can’t emphasize enough how much I love a good science museum, and this is objectively one of the best natural history museums in the world. The actual architecture of the building is beautifully intricate, with details like ceiling panels covered in illustrations of plants, and carved monkeys that seem to be climbing the arches of the Central Hall. My favorite exhibit was Treasures, comprised of objects with special stories, such as original images from Audubon’s Birds of America, a first edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and a moon rock gifted to the UK by President Nixon. Another must-see is “Hope,” the suspended blue whale skeleton.

 

2. Notting Hill

 

We wandered through Notting Hill admiring the pastel buildings, and we had lunch at the Cock & Bottle, a traditional corner pub. We ordered fish and chips, and I tried their in-house hard cider (would recommend). Embarrassingly, I used to be a huge Hugh Grant fan, so I also made it a point to visit two of the filming locations from Notting Hill: 280 Westbourne Park Road, which is the blue front door to character William Thacker’s flat, and 142 Portobello Road, the travel bookshop, which is actually a trinket shop. Thirteen-year-old Sam would have been especially stoked at this part of the trip.

 

3. Kensington Gardens

Kensington Gardens is said to have provided author J. M. Barrie the inspiration for Peter Pan, and he often wrote in the park. Today, the park is home to a bronze Peter Pan sculpture. Near the sculpture, in the bushes and trees, waits a population of bright green parakeets. We noticed some people brought pieces of fruit to attract the birds, but they landed on us even without the proffered snack. Some of the birds began to get feisty and tried to peck us, but most contentedly perched on our shoulders and backpacks.

 

4. Harrod’s

 

Unlike anything I have seen in the United States, Harrod’s is a luxury department store that is overwhelmingly massive. We primarily explored the food halls, ogling the confections and cakes. We also rode the Egyptian Elevator, and visited the gift shop on the second floor, where I bought tins of English Cream Toffee. Interestingly, Harrod’s also has a lululemon “shop-in-shop” within the building.

5. Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour

 

Part of a collection of professed adventurous bars, this one in particular feels like a Victorian living room. It had intricate wallpaper, floral couches and armchairs, and it was filled with treasures seemingly from the 1800s. A reservation is highly recommended, and that holds the table for a two-hour time slot. There is a long gin list, but we ordered specialty cocktails from “Aunt Gerturde’s Notebook.” The drinks were outstanding, the service was excellent, and it really felt like a wholly unique experience.

London Calling

When I go on a vacation that includes more than one destination, I inevitably compare the two places, and they become inextricably linked. Did I like Italy? Well, I thought it was just okay, but that’s probably because I was far more enamored with the sunny Greek islands that I visited on the latter half of that adventure. Similarly, I enjoyed San Antonio more than Austin, Texas, especially because I was there during Fiesta, the city’s annual festival. It’s possible that I would have different opinions if I visited each of these places individually, but there is some value to qualifying my experiences.

Thus, as I left for a trip that included both London and Paris, I was far more excited to walk by the Eiffel Tower, see the Mona Lisa, and explore Disneyland. I had it in my head that London would be great, but not as enchanting as Paris.

As it turns out, I adored London. I mean, I liked Paris, too. It wasn’t merely okay; it was magical. But for me, on this trip, London eclipsed even my overflowing feelings about Paris.

London Highlights:

1. British Museum: With limited time, we found a guide online that suggested what to prioritize in only an hour in the museum. We worked off of that list and took turns deciding where to go and what to see next. The museum is free, which is astounding, given that it is routinely ranked one of the best in the world according to TripAdvisor. We saw the Rosetta Stone, an Easter Island statue, Samurai armor, and the Mummy of Katebet (one of the most studied Egyptian mummies).

 

 

2. Afternoon tea: One of my absolute favorite experiences in London was a traditional British afternoon tea at Roast, a gorgeous restaurant overlooking the Borough Market. We each received a whole pot of tea, and they brought over tiered trays with dainty finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, cakes, and shot glasses full of sticky date pudding. I am not a coffee drinker, but I love a good cup of tea, so this was heavenly.

 

3. Imperial War Museum: This museum was also free, and the one I unfortunately spent the least time exploring. The most incredible thing about this museum was that it was the first time I read about world wars from another country’s perspective. Aside from the Atrium, which houses a Spitfire, I spent the majority of my time in the First World War Gallery.

 

4. King’s Cross: As a kid, the Harry Potter series ruled my imagination. I remember using little pink straws in the cafeteria as wands, and sprinting outside at recess to collect all of the rubber playground balls to play Quidditch with my friends. Likewise, it would not be an exaggeration to say I have read the Harry Potter series more than five times; I even went to a midnight release party for the final book. Thus, I had to visit the Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 ¾ and pose with the luggage trolley embedded in the wall. They even have wands and house scarves to use as props in the photo. We waited in a longer line for the photo than for any ride at Disneyland Paris, but it was worth it.

 

Allons à Paris

Though our trip to Paris largely revolved around Disneyland Paris, we did spend time exploring the City of Light. After we had booked both plane and train tickets, we realized that we would be in Paris for Bastille Day, a national holiday in France. Bastille Day, celebrated annually on the fourteenth of July, marks the anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, which was a turning point in the French Revolution.

As part of the Bastille Day celebrations, we started our day watching an impressive military parade that passed along the Champs-Élysées. There were aircraft flyovers, and the parade procession included both regiments on foot and large tanks.

 

We were also able to get into the Louvre for free on Bastille Day. Allegedly, it is one of the better times to tour the museum, since the crowds are generally elsewhere. I can’t confirm that claim, because it still seemed very crowded, and we waited in quite a line to go through security and enter. With limited time, we rushed through, taking special note of the parquet flooring and the Mona Lisa.

 

We ended the day scoping out a spot to watch the fireworks. We knew that we didn’t have a whole day to spend camped out on a blanket reserving a space, so we ventured to Parc de Belleville, in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, as the sun began to set. The park is the highest in Paris, with incredible views overlooking the city. We went to a nearby market and picked up fresh fruit, cured meats and cheese, and a bottle of wine, and we picnicked while waiting for enveloping darkness. Ultimately, we didn’t see too much of the fireworks since we were so far away, but the entire experience felt serendipitous and special.

 

^ L: Parc de Belleville; R: The neighborhood surrounding the park had some really interesting graffiti.

Other Highlights:

1. Bouillon Pigalle: This restaurant had a long line of people queued up outside at lunchtime, but the line moved swiftly as patrons were seated efficiently. It definitely felt like a big production: we were served quickly, and the food arrived just as quickly (as I’m sure they have a fast turnaround on tables). But, the prices were very reasonable and the menu was exactly what I envisioned at a French bistro. We tried garlicky escargot, steak frites, and lamb stew.

 

2. Catacombs of Paris: When the city’s cemeteries became overfilled in the seventeenth century, the solution was to relocate and bury remains in abandoned, labyrinthine tunnels under the city. The tunnels were originally dug to access quarries for mining limestone, but they now house stacks of femurs and skulls. It’s an eerie, yet hauntingly fascinating, experience.

 

3. Eiffel Tower | Geocaching: I know that I would like to go back to France, and I think next time I would allot more time to explore the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t have the time to wait to go to the top, but we had time to look for one of the most popular geocaches in Paris, which was nearby the base of the Eiffel Tower. Named “Eiffel Power,” this geocache was a tiny birdhouse hung from a tree branch. So for at least the second time this year, I climbed a tree in a new city.

 

4. Our Lovely Airbnb: Since we planned on spending so much time in Disneyland Paris, which is far from the city center, we tried to pick an Airbnb that would be in between both locations. We ended up in Champigny-sur-Marne, in a cozy second floor apartment with a waterfront view of the nearby river. The neighborhood was very quiet, and, though the apartment was about a mile from the train station, we always enjoyed the walk.

 

^ L: the view from the front window in the apartment; R: the river nearby the apartment!

^ Couldn’t write about Paris without including at least one picture of the Eiffel Tower!

 

 

Visit PA

I will forever be thankful for my Disney College Program experience because it gave me two of my closest friends. It’s very reassuring to know that you can make lifelong friends after college, when it seems like everyone’s friendship rosters are solidified and finite. Our bond was forged over Whirley Pop, laps around Epcot’s World Showcase, ice cream, wanderlust, and a love for all things Disney.

 

Our career paths after the program spread us out across the United States, but thankfully, we have planned many trips to visit each other and explore new places. In March, we spent a weekend in a very cozy cabin in the Poconos. Normally our trips are jam-packed with activities, so this relaxing weekend of board games and puzzles, paint by sticker books, and slow cooker chili was a definite contrast.

 

For our one big weekend adventure, we decided to hike to find “The First Pocono Mountain Geocache,” originally placed back in 2001. We trudged through snow along the trails until we reached Tobyhanna Creek, and followed along the bank. I loved listening to the rushing water and looking at the frozen waterfalls. The most exhilarating part of the hike was the military cable bridge that we had to traverse. The cache, an ammo can, was on the other side of the creek, hidden amongst a field of boulders. I have found many geocaches, and this was one of my very favorites to date because it was so challenging.

 

 

TPA

Sometimes you find the place where your soul lives, and I think mine resides in Tampa, Florida. There are many reasons to love the city, including: the countless outdoor festivals, Bayshore Boulevard (my favorite place for a sunset run), a subtropical climate, diverse restaurants, the Tampa Bay Lightning (aka the best hockey team around), and gorgeous white sand beaches. I traveled back to Tampa for the first time in nearly 3 years this February for the Gasparilla Distance Classic, and to visit with one of my best friends.

 

Gasparilla is a season in Tampa running from mid-January to mid-March; the biggest event is the Parade of Pirates, held annually on the last Saturday in January. On this day, the pirates invade the city and celebrate with the country’s third largest parade. Different pirate krewes create many of the parade’s elaborate floats, and they throw beads to spectators. Other community events during the season include the Gasparilla International Film Festival, the Gasparilla Music Festival, the Sant’Yago Knight Parade, and the Gasparilla Distance Classic.

I didn’t train for the race since my decision to run the half-marathon was impulsive, but I think muscle memory carried me through. The course followed much of the same route I would run in college through Davis Island and along Bayshore. The race started before dawn, but it was already humid and warm; still, it was nice to run comfortably in shorts and a tank top.

 

The weather all weekend was beautiful, and we spent much of it outside. After the race expo on Saturday morning, we went to the beach in St. Petersburg. We also had lunch at No Vacancy, a new restaurant/bar in downtown St. Pete. It has a retro motel theme, and a great outdoor lounge with plastic pink flamingos.

 

^ Downtown St. Pete always has a lot of really great street art!

 

^ No Vacancy; I ordered a jerk chicken sandwich, which I would highly recommend!

  

^ Polaroid beach shot; the pink building is the Don Cesar, an old hotel rumored to be haunted

Other weekend highlights included an afternoon in Hyde Park with a stop at The Hyppo for homemade, all-natural ice pops; a long walk along the newly-renovated Riverwalk; brunch at Oxford Exchange, arguably the most photogenic place in the city; and the new food halls, Armature Works and the Hall on Franklin.

 

^ Riverwalk; the sculpture outside of the Amalie Arena – go Bolts!

 

^ Hyppo pops; interior shot of Oxford Exchange

 

^ Armature Works

Though I always talk about wanting to move back to Tampa, I had started to wonder if I was chasing the past. If I move back, my life still won’t be what it was in 2014. But, my weekend in Tampa was a positive reaffirmation that I love the city as much as I thought I did. It’s undergoing a lot of development, and there are a lot of exciting new places to explore.

 

#BroadStreetRun

Philadelphia’s Broad Street Run, which has a fast point-to-point course, is the largest 10-mile race in the country. I was lucky enough to be chosen in this year’s lottery entry, and I would wholeheartedly recommend adding it onto any running bucket lists (though I may be the only one keeping road race and marathon bucket lists).

 

What makes the race unique? Runners start in North Philly and run along the same street for the entire race, passing through many diverse neighborhoods en route to the finish in the Philadelphia Navy Yard. It also feels like the whole city of Philadelphia comes out to spectate and cheer on the runners. There were many live bands, DJ booths, and plenty of great signs. My favorite: “Run Like You’re Late for the Hogwarts Express!”

Found these Philly-themed nail wraps on Instagram from @sarahmariedesignstudio

Other things to check out in Philly:

1. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

This art gallery has an outdoor space filled with labyrinthine mosaic pathways. The mosaics are comprised of everything from rusted bicycle tires and chipped pottery to secret messages painted on tiles. The result is whimsical, and it’s an excellent spot for some Instagram-worthy pictures. Of note: the Magic Gardens is closed on Tuesdays, so plan ahead.

2. Rocky Steps + Statue

The steps up to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, also known as the “Rocky Steps,” are the same ones shown in Rocky’s intense training montage. It’s definitely worth recreating the scene and running up the steps because the view from the top is stunning. The statue is located at the base of the steps, off to the right.

3. Reading Terminal Market

This public market in Center City Philadelphia has been open since the late 1800s, making it one of the country’s oldest food halls. The vendors offer a vast array of fresh fruits, vegetables, and cheeses, as well as prepared food. Beiler’s Doughnuts is a must-visit; the doughnuts are so fresh, they are filled and frosted right in front of the customers. Beck’s Cajun Café also deserves some acknowledgment for their outrageous fried mac and cheese balls.

I went with the Vanilla Fruity Pebbles doughnut and the cereal on top was still perfectly crispy.

4. Liberty Bell

Philadelphia is a city steeped in history and home to many National Historic Landmarks. I was able to fill up a full page in my NPS passport with cancellation stamps in a matter of minutes. I did spend more than a few minutes in the Liberty Bell Center, though. The line for the security checkpoint moved very slowly, but it was well worth the wait to see an iconic symbol of American independence and freedom.

Geocaching Highlights

Geocaching has been a large part of my life since I first discovered it in 2012. I spent one long summer day exploring the parks around my house, and I was hooked. Even though my interest dwindled in college, I found my way back into it. Geocaching has helped me explore secluded beaches, discover overlooked bits of history, and traverse remote hiking trails. With over 800 finds to date, it is hard to narrow down the best geocaches, but I wanted to highlight some of my favorites.

1. Bridges & Arches of Central Park: GC17MX1

This multi-cache guides explorers on an extensive adventure through the 800 acres of land in Central Park. It involves visiting 32 stages in the park to count bricks and read serial numbers on lampposts in order to collect information for a final puzzle. Once variables A through FF are plugged in to a colossal equation, the coordinates to a hidden treasure (a commemorative coin) are revealed. This multi-cache could easily take days to complete, but my mom and I spent eight hours on foot doggedly pursuing the final stage. It is one of the best experiences I have had, and we still talk about it five years later.

2. Raiders of the Lost Cache: GC2HN2H

With over 700 favorite points and a “Geocache of the Week” feature in the Geocaching Official Blog, this notable cache was on my bucket list for quite some time. The cache is about a mile from the ranger’s station at Governor Dick Park, and it’s concealed within a large rock outcrop. The difficulty with this cache is finding a way in, and a way out of, the cave where it is hidden. Oh, and battling the rubber snakes, skulls, and spider webs.

3. At the Pier: GCMKWT

Along with its restaurants, shops, and street performers, Pier 39 in San Francisco is well known for its resident sea lions. They haul out on the floating docks, often territorially vying for space. There is actually a live webcam focused on the sea lions and, in order to get credit for the find, geocachers have to capture a screenshot of the feed while they are in view.

My screenshot from the Sea Lion webcam!

4. Geocaching Headquarters (Groundspeak HQ): GCK25B

Geocaching HQ is a visitor center located within the company’s office in Seattle. Guests can find an enormous chest filled with trackable items to discover and trade, a photo booth, and exclusive Geocaching HQ merchandise. More than 18,000 geocachers have visited the headquarters! Also of note is the nearby HQ GeoTour, a series of nine creative geocaches in the surrounding Fremont neighborhood.

samdelle and vdelle602 @ Geocaching HQ

 

L: Enter the correct phone number and a drawer will pop open with the logbook; R: The “Chairy” Tree with a pulley to bring down the chair/cache.

5. Wheriwantago Seeking Nahn-Sea’s Heart: GC3QWMR

“Wherigo” cache types are different in that they require players to follow a certain path, arrive at predetermined stops along the path, and answers questions about the surrounding area in order to keep heading toward the next stop. This Wherigo cache was my first, and it is still my favorite. It is located within Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando, FL. The Wherigo trail covers seemingly every acre of the park, and follows a fairytale storyline about a prince trying to prove himself and win the heart of his princess.

 

The District: Part 2

This is a continuation of my last post, devoted to some of the places/experiences I love most in DC.

1. Newseum

This museum has a ticket price of $24.95 for adults, but it’s certainly worth the admission. There are many intriguing exhibits revolving around the central themes of communication, free expression, and the press. Interestingly, the Newseum houses the largest display of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany. There’s also an outdoor terrace overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue, which has an excellent view of the Capitol.

2.  Smithsonian Institution Museums

What could possibly be better than premier museums with no admission fees? The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex, which features eleven museums located on the National Mall, and six others in the Washington metropolitan area. I feel so lucky to have spent so much time in the National Museum of Natural History exploring the collections on behind-the-scenes tours, and it will always have a very special place in my heart. I also really love the National Museum of American History and the National Postal Museum. But really, the Smithsonian has unparalleled treasures on display: Apolo Ono’s speed skates, portraits of America’s presidents, the Hope Diamond, and the Spirit of St. Louis, which was flown by Charles Lindberg across the Atlantic Ocean.

Now that I’m not visiting the museums on a regular basis, I like to listen to Sidedoor, the Smithsonian’s podcast. Listeners can vicariously explore content from the collections and delve into the new exhibits.

  

National Zoo

The National Zoo is part of the Smithsonian Institution, so it also has free admission. I have mixed feelings about animals in captivity, but I frequent zoos with AZA accreditation because I think they help foster a love and respect for animals, especially in the younger guests. The National Zoo is one of only four zoos in the US to house giant pandas. The zoo’s website has a Giant Panda Cam, too!

Elephants will always be my favorite…

3. Jazz in the Garden

Every Friday evening in the summer, the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden hosts a free jazz concert. It’s definitely a fun way to end the workweek, and it was a quick walk from the NMNH. They sell refreshments, and they have arguably the best sangria in the world.

4. Taylor Gourmet

I’m a big fan of fast casual dining, and I love this local chain restaurant. Taylor Gourmet has both a selection of unchanging classic menu options and special seasonal offerings. They are definitely known for their hoagies, and my go-to over the summer was the chicken salad hoagie.

Don’t have a photo of a hoagie (probably because I devoured it too quickly), but this is the summer carrot salad

5. Dacha Beer Garden

I think this outdoor beer garden is open all year, but it’s probably better in the warmer weather. It has wooden picnic tables, misting fans to beat the heat, and it allows dogs. They have an extensive beer menu, and I was thrilled to find out that they serve Schöfferhofer Grapefruit, which was a beer I fell in love with at Epcot.

6. Cava

Another fast casual (is anyone sensing a theme?) restaurant I love is Cava, which boasts healthy Mediterranean food. I appreciate the totally customizable menu. The first step is picking a base, like a salad or a grain bowl. Then, there are various spreads and toppings to add: roasted red pepper hummus, harissa, tzatziki, pita crisps, crumbled feta, felafel, cabbage slaw, etc.