Christmas in September, Bronner’s

I just have a mini-post today. I’m out on the road, traveling for work (no place fun to share, unfortunately) so I thought I’d pop up just a few pictures from a quick day trip I did a few weekends ago.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know I took a trip up to Frankenmuth recently.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that in Frankenmuth (a small, Bavarian-style town in Michigan) there is a store called Bronner’s and it is my own Heaven on Earth.

What’s Bronner’s you newbies may be asking. A Christmas store. No. Not just a Christmas store. It’s THE Christmas store.

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When it comes to Christmas, I could put Buddy the Elf to shame. I could be the Cheermeister of Whoville. I could melt the coldness from the Winter Warlock’s heart.

A store that celebrates that while covered in twinkle lights, ornaments of every shape and size and blasts Christmas music. It’s how I imagine sports fans feel come the Super Bowl.

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Every year I visit, I buy a big bag full of ornaments to the point where, in a few years, you will see no green on my Christmas tree. Just sparkles, bright colors and bells.

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What I didn’t mention last time I told you about Bronner’s, was that just down the road, is a big shopping center.

So big, a cowboy driven trolley will shuttle you between the different sections.

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Just don’t expect any extra car space on your drive home.

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If you want to read my full travel post on Frankenmuth and Broner’s, you can read it here.

Frankenmuth is a trip I try to take every year and I love it way too much to not make at least a tiny post about it.

Besides, who doesn’t like to be reminded by a Christmas fanatic that there are less than 100 days until Christmas?

Now, be honest with me. . .  is it too early to start decorating?

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

As promised, I have one more Philadelphia museum to tell you about – the one I heard the most about before going and, arguably, one of the most visited attractions in the city.

Not for what you think though.

As you approach the museum, it slowly comes into view, completely dwarfed by a massive staircase.

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Look familiar?

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How about now?

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Didn’t I warn you yesterday that you’d be humming Gonna Fly Now all day?

The stairs are jam-packed full of people taking photos of themselves, (attempting) to sprint up and lounging around but few actually made it past the top step to what’s beyond it.

Let me tell you: that’s a huge mistake.

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Beyond one of the most iconic sites in pop culture, you’ll find the Philadelphia Museum of Art – one of the very best museums I have ever gone to and that’s not something I say lightly.

I loved it so much I actually contemplated not posting photos, so as not to spoil it and just writing a critic post that this museum is incredible and should be on your bucket list.

However, I couldn’t give up the chance to relive it so I’ll give you a quick peak.

Follow me:

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The building itself is a work of art.

Massive and incredibly detailed, you can’t just rush from room to room, looking for artist names you know. You have to take in the whole experience – a work of art, housing works of art.

I know, very Inceptiony but in the best way. Believe me.

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Of course, the museum does have the big names.

Monet

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My very favorite: Van Gogh
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Grimshaw
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It’s packed with jewels to turn you a shade of green that would make Elphaba jealous.
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Then show you incredible rooms that you can’t help but picture yourself hosting a party in, wearing said jewels.

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You can almost see the the distant landscapes surrounding you just outside your palace windows (what, don’t tell me you wouldn’t think the same thing).

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There’s pottery from around the world.

Not my favorite – I’m always disappointed when there are no singing muses on old jugs and pots.
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Sculptures.

How gorgeous is this “Fall of Icarus”?

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And this portrait of a Roman who look mysteriously like Gerard Butler. photo Portrait of an Ancient Roman_zpstuienmik.jpg

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Modern art for those creatively inclined. photo Philadelphia Museum of Art Modern Gallery_zpslnhgb7t4.jpg

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Even an entire ancient courtyard, complete with a trickling fountain.

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Did I mention that elevators?

They’re very Tardis looking. I’ll let you know now though, it’s not the Tardis. I checked.

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You could spend an entire day in the museum and not see everything.

You’ll emerge into the bright sunlight with the biggest, goofiest smile on your face but how can you help it when you’ve spent a day with the greats?

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If you go to Philadelphia, you have to stop by! You can find the museum at 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Promise me though that you’ll move beyond just the steps!

Lupin’s 2nd Birthday

I do have one last Philadelphia post for you (probably my favorite and will definitely make you hum Gonna Fly Now under your breath for the rest of the day) but when updating the layout for my blog (what do you think?) I realized I have barely any recent posts of the Wolf.

There’s absolutely no reason for this other than he hasn’t been able to travel with me recently and posts from the summer were ones I whipped up together impulsively at the start of the workday or before bed.

If you’re new here (which I know quite a few of you are), Lupin is my little wolf. The Wolf to be exact. The other half of Wanderer and Wolf.

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I rescued him back when I was living in Chicago and, for the most part, we’re pretty inseparable. You can read more about him here and here.

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If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll also know he just had his second birthday this weekend!

Naturally, he was spoiled all day with treats and cuddles (he really does live a tough life) and had a mini party fully of birthday cookies.

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Of course, we all had to have some pie too. Friends don’t let friends eat treats on their birthday alone.

Any excuse, am I right?

Some may say I’m a little crazy to have a birthday celebration for my dog. To them I say: did you get to eat pie this weekend?

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This is really just a little post to let you know he’s doing well, feisty as ever and if we’re being completely honest, it’s just an excuse to post pictures of him.

Who doesn’t love looking at puppy pictures?

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Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia

I have one more museum to show you but I figured you might need a little culture break. And a snack.

When asking around for the best places to visit in Philadelphia, one name continued to pop up: Reading Terminal Market.

An indoor farmers market that sells everything from housewares to homemade baked goods and cut from the block cheeses.

People come from across the city to shop for produce, groceries and to brunch in style.

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Throughout the market you’ll find locally grown produce, fresh meat and seafood, homemade baked goods, flowers and everything you would need to whip all your groceries up into delicious meals.

There’s also a large smattering of restaurants. No matter what your tastes or dietary restrictions, you’re sure to find something here for you.

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The market is an experience in-and-of-itself – especially in the morning.

You’ll roll in, still rubbing sleep out of your eyes and every sense will be hit like a tidal wave.

Neon signs every where you look and the sound of sizzling bacon, the whirl of blenders whipping up organic smoothies and load chatter as people discuss what they did (and what they wish they hadn’t done) over the weekend. You’ll smell coffee percolating, fresh cut flowers and straight from the oven breads.

A very Wonderland type place where you’ll walk in and the next thing you know, you’ll be checking your watch and half the day has gone by!

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I loved Reading so much, I visited it twice in one day! It really does not disappoint!

Now, I do have a serious question for those who have been there before: is it pronounced Reading like, “I’m going to read a book” or Reading as in “I’m ready”.

I’ve heard both and it’s been bothering me like a word on the tip of your tongue ever since.

Rodin Museum, Philadelphia

I left you yesterday getting some fresh air in Philadelphia after a walk back through time through in the Academy of Natural Sciences.

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Philadelphia is full to bursting with fantastic museums. You will never be bored in the city because, no matter what your interests are, you can find a museum for you where you can waste away an entire day in happiness.

Even better, many of them are in the same general area, letting you museum hop between them all.

So, after pulling myself away out of the Jurassic and a hop-skip-and-a-jump later, I found myself at the Rodin Museum.

Rodin was an artist who’s name I was familiar with but wouldn’t be able to pick out his art from anything so I figured this was a perfect opportunity to see what the hype was all about.

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The museum has a very European feel.

You first pass a massive sentry who determines whether you’re worthy to enter, through an entryway into a large courtyard and then up into the museum.

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As you walk up the stairway to the doors, you’re met with one of Rodin’s most famous works: The Gates of Hell.

The Gates took him 37 years to create (can you imagine working on something for 37 years?).

They were originally inspired by Dante’s The Divine Comedy but as he continued to work on it, it stopped becoming a representation of that and became a depiction of universal human emotions.

The narrative is of a chaotic world filled with over 200 people suffering from pain and despair.

The original doors were a plaster model but were cast in bronze for the museum in the 1920’s.

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The museum is on the smaller side. There is a main room with a few smaller rooms branching off in the corners but it’s not sparse by any means.

There are around 140 sculptures in bronze, marble and plaster. The first I saw was of Victor Hugo who just happens to be one of my very favorite authors.

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I think what makes Rodin so amazing is his ability to capture and freeze emotions – something I think many artists attempt but few succeed.

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After seeing every inch of the museum, I exited into the bright sunshine once again, took a stroll around the courtyard and headed off for one last museum.

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What do you think of Rodin? I think with artists people either love them or hate them. I loved Rodin but I definitely think his work is some you need to see in person. What do you think?

A Day of Dinosaurs, Philadelphia

After the biggest and best breakfast I’ve had in ages, I bid goodbye to my new friends at the Bond House and set out for a little culture.

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By culture, I want to be clear. I mean dinosaurs. I went to the museum purely for the dinosaurs.

I’m getting ahead of myself though. Let’s start at the beginning.

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The Academy of Natural Sciences was founded in 1812 and is the leading natural history museum for research, engagement and education for biodiversity and environmental science.

A very jargony way of saying, the museum is full of interesting animals and wildlife from around the world. Each exhibit is designed to engage visitors (it’s the last thing from dull), there are live animal shows and, my favorite, dinosaurs!

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I heard about the dinosaur exhibit and decided to stop by. Little did I expect to be completely sucked into the culture of the place.

Wandering from exhibit to exhibit, I looked down at my watch and realized I had been there for over an hour and still hadn’t seen the dinosaurs yet!

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After a quick walk through the butterfly house (am I the only one who doesn’t love butterfly houses? They’re hot, sticky, I’m always afraid I’ll step on one then be arrested by the butterfly police and I never manage to not flinch when they fly by me), it was finally time.

Dino time.

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My best friend growing up positively loved dinosaurs. We watched Jurassic Park more times than I can count. Played dinosaur pretend. Had dinosaur video game showdowns.

As we got older and grew apart, I couldn’t quite shake the Ross  Geller-like interest that seemed to be stuck with me.

You can then understand how excited I then was for this interactive exhibit. There were fossils, facts and animatronic dinosaurs that were motion sensitive. You’d walk by and they would start moving and roaring at you.

It. Was. Awesome.

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You exit by working up the courage to walk past this fantastic beast who pops out of the trees a-la Jurassic Park and leave the roars and the scares behind to travel back to the land of the living.

Well, kind of.

You know what I mean!

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The interactive dinosaur exhibit was a special attractions for the moment. They do, however, have a permanent dinosaur room.

Two dinosaur exhibits in one museum. Yes. This is Heaven.

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After a friendly pat on the leg (okay, that didn’t happen. It’s off limits to touch the exhibits . . . and I couldn’t reach) I left with a giddy smile and a head full of facts into the bright sunshine and a pretty great view.

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There are so many great details to Philadelphia. It’s a complete walking city and if you’re really letting yourself down if you don’t take advantage of that.

The Academy of Natural Sciences is in the perfect location for you to take a nice long walk in the sun after hours inside or for you to walk a little further and continue on your museum education.

Which is exactly what I did.

More tomorrow.

The Thomas Bond House, Philadelphia

I’m very fortunate to be able to say I’ve been traveling all my life. From Europe, to the islands, to the state next door. I’ve swam in oceans, climbed mountains, experienced new cultures and eaten good food but during these trips I have never stayed at a B & B.

When planning my trip to Philadelphia, someone close to me recommended a little B & B that he had stayed at years ago. I figured now was as good a time as any to give one a try!

So, without further ado, let me introduce the Thomas Bond House Bed and Breakfast:

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The Thomas Bond House is more than your average B & B. It’s a restored house from 1796 that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

Each room is restored to look the way it did in the 18th century. Walking through the front doors truly makes you feel as if you’ve stepped back into colonial times.

Come on, let me take you on a tour:

The Dining Room:

 

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Guests get a continental breakfast during the week and a full, home cooked breakfast on the weekends.

The Inn Keeper also makes fresh cookies every night that she leaves out in the kitchen for anyone with a late night sweet tooth.

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One of the things that set me off about B & Bs originally was the idea of communal meals. Don’t get me wrong, I love be dinners with friends and family but I don’t enjoy eating with strangers. Is that just me?

At Thomas Bond, you can eat at a long dining table or at your own private table.

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The Parlor:

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You can sit back and enjoy the paper and a cup of coffee in the morning, lounge around with your book during siesta or enjoy a complimentary glass of wine during happy hour.

It’s incredibly welcoming and comfortable –  full of squashy couches and arm chairs, maps, old leather books and is complete with a wooden chess set.

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In true Philadelphia style, the stairs are steep and winding. There’s no elevator so be sure to pack light when you visit!

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Each room is unique and named after a famous man or woman of the time. You can actually view all the rooms online and request a specific room when making your reservation (here).

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I’ll be honest, one thing that had me worried about staying at a B & B was cleanliness but I need have not worried, the room was immaculate!

The bed was big and fluffy with nice crisp sheets.

Each room has it’s own air conditioning and a great view (mine was of the site of William Penn’s home and City Tavern). There was a small closet, large wardrobe (with a TV) and a desk.

Everything you could ever need and want in a room. It was cozy, comfy and, most importantly to us millennials, had great wifi.

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After you check in, you can wander down cobble stone streets to the sites or head across the street to City tavern for a porter!

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After a good nights sleep, you’ll spring out of bed anxious to get down to the kitchen for breakfast.

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You’ll step into the kitchen to choruses of “good mornings” and the best sentence anyone can ever ask you, “can I bring you a full plate?”. Don’t ask questions. Just say “YES”!

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What was on the menu during my stay? I’m glad you asked.

Homemade french toast that was perfectly soft and fluffy on the outside with a crunchy cinnamon top, brown sugar ham (which made me consider giving up being a vegetarian – okay, not really but everyone around me was rolling their eyes in delight over it) and a jumbo fruit cup piled high with melon, berries, peaches, apples and pineapple.

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*Drool

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I have to tell you, staying at the Thomas Bond House was the highlight of my trip.

The staff is beyond friendly, the house is spotless and beautiful, the food is incredible and no detail is missed.

It’s truly an unforgettable experience and I can’t recommend it enough! If you go to Philadelphia, you won’t find a better spot to stay!

Bells, Banks and Walnuts. Oh My!

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Here is something you most likely didn’t but probably should know about me: there are 3 things in life I am utterly and completely obsessed with. Things that I have become known for to anyone who knows me personally.

What are these things you ask? Baby elephants (especially baby elephant youtube videos. I just can’t handle how cute they are), sunflowers and bells.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Not yet? Philadelphia is home to one of the biggest, most magnificent bells in history. To say I was a little excited to see it in person is a mild understatement.

At this point you’re probably thinking: God, Caitlin I had no idea you were so weird. I, on the other hand, look at it as enjoying the little things in life.

Okay, you’re right. It’s weird too but I’m totally fine with it!

The Liberty Bell is located at Independence Park right across from, you guessed it, Independence Hall.

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You’ll follow the crowd, catching up on the history of the bell and how many different movements it became a symbol for throughout our history.

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Finally, the room will open up and there it is. Displayed front and center with Independence Hall perfectly positioned behind the glass wall.

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The bell is huge and absolutely marvelous!

Did you know, no one knows what the bells sounds like. It cracked in the early 1840’s (most likely from 90 years of hard use). They decided to repair it by widening the crack to prevent further spread and to restore the tone of the bell.

Ironically, a second crack appeared and it’s been silent (almost) ever since.

On D-Day the mayor rang it 7 times: one for each letter of the word liberty.

They have created a digital reconstruction of what they believe it sounds like. Check it out here! 

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On the way back to the hotel, I passed by the Second Bank of the United States and decided to pop in.

The gorgeous greco-roman building was once the bank, then a customs house and now a portrait gallery.

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You’ll walk through the massive front doors and immediately become engulfed in high ceilings, marble columns and . . .  pink walls!

Back in the 18th century, pink was a masculine color and since the bank was a place for men, it was only fitting that the walls would be pink.

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The vast majority of the portraits were painted by Charles Wilson Peale who would meet the most influential men of the time in places like City Tavern and would ask if he could paint them. He would paint them in their everyday clothes to capture their real appearance which appealed to the masses.

The majority on display are originals but some are paintings of paintings.

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If you visit Philly, I highly recommend a stop at the Bank and when you’re there, be sure to talk to the Rangers.

The National Historic Park Service has Rangers at many of the sites throughout the city and their job is to interpret history for you, to make it fun, lively and like a story.

They are full of fun facts and make history incredibly interesting! You’ll start talking to them and next thing you’ll know an hour has passed and you’ll still not be wanting to leave!

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I eventually pulled myself away from the museum and got changed for a night at the theater.

As per usual, I was incredibly early so popped into Le Pain Quotidien.

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I sat sipping wine, watching the sky turn into rich shades of blue as the world whirled by.

It was very peaceful . . . until people from the naked bike ride rode past. Talk about a mood killer!

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When the sun finally dipped below the horizon, I headed over to the Walnut Street Theater.

The Walnut is one of the most historic theaters in the States. It opened in 1809 and has housed actors from the Hepburns (both Audrey and Katharine), Marlon Brando, Robert Redford and the Marx Brothers.

Fun fact: It was purchased in 1863 by Edwin Booth. Sound familiar? You may have heard of his brother John Wilkes. He’s kind of famous for theater as well.

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The night ended with a fabulous production of South Pacific. Rodgers and Hammerstein can do no wrong in my opinion and South Pacific just proved that.

If you ever want a show that makes you laugh, think and hum along in time with the music, I can’t recommend it enough!

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I headed home well after the stars came out and crawled straight into my big, cozy bed.

Philadelphia is so rich in history, every place you go has a story. By the end of the night you go to bed feeling so very full in the best way.

Indulgent Nights, Philadelphia

My second day in Philadelphia was spent locked up in a conference room looking at statistics and charts during which various field experts lectured in a way that would have put Charlie Brown’s teacher to shame.

The following day was much of the same with the exception that we got out early which suited me just fine. I was in desperate need for a good drink in the sunshine.

As soon as the applause ended for the last lecture of the day, I was out in a flash and found myself at Spruce Street Harbor Park. I fell in love. Instantly.

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A harbor park right on the Delaware. There are games (including a life-size chess set, who doesn’t like that?), food trucks, places to relax and, my favorite, twinkle lights everywhere.

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The entire harbor is full of bright colors – the perfect contrast from a dull dreary office. I really can’t imagine a better place to come after a long work week.

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You can unwind in lawn chairs, tables, hammocks or a net suspended over the river. Take your pick – there’s no wrong choice here. Just make sure you have your sunnies on and a good drink in your hand.

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You can even pop over for a little culture to tour the Olympia.

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As the sky grows darker, the lights come on and the park positively buzzes with energy. Spruce Street Harbor was by far one of my favorite places I visited in Philadelphia.

However, as night started rolling in, there was one more stop I wanted to make.

Franklin Fountain.

If you’ve never heard of it, you can leave now. Okay, don’t go – I’ll tell you about it but you have to promise you’ll make the trip to Philly just for the stop here. It’s one of the places to go (according to all my frantic foodie googling before leaving).

When you approach, the line will most likely be right out to the door if not spilling out on the street but don’t let that deter you. It will be worth it. Trust me.

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Fully designed to be a classic ice cream parlor, no detail is left out. From the old fashioned cash register (no credit cards accepted here) to the staff wearing hats and bowties, you can take it all in as you anxiously wait in line, listening to jazz playing in the background.

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My advice: ignore the calories, at least for the night. Get the biggest milkshake, sundae, cone, soda, whatever you fancy. The ice cream is homemade and oh-so worth it.

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Stroll down the streets of Philadelphia as the sky darkens and the lights come on and enjoy one of the best treats you’ll ever have.

Trust me, it’s worth the visit alone.

Playing Tourist, Philadelphia

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Blogging is kind of funny, isn’t it? You put your life on the internet but have to figure out the fine line between what you want public and what you want private. Such as being MIA from you blog for over 2 months. Do you talk about it? Explain yourself? Pretend like you’ve been here the whole time? Personally, I don’t like any of those options. I’ll just say, there’s been a lot going on and blogging has been the last thing on my mind.

The combination of a slow work load and a feeble attempt to get my life back on track has me back now and that’s all I’ll say about that.

Last week I found myself trading the Motor City for the Birthplace of America. I had a conference in Philadelphia which gave me the perfect excuse to play tourist for a few days.

Philadelphia is one of those places I never thought of visiting but am so happy I did!

You wander down cobblestone streets, past imposing, historic buildings, immaculate gardens and homes landmarked for belonging to some figure from history who you haven’t heard about since your government class in elementary school.

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After hastily depositing my bags at my hotel I rushed over to Independence Hall to squeeze in a tour, beating the weekend rush, before my conference began.

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Your tour begins in a little room adjacent to Independence Hall where your guide will give you a SparkNote version of American history leading up to the Declaration of Independence.

The guides are so passionate and excited as they tell you the who and the whats of history, the excitement in the room (from history lovers and non-lovers alike) starts mounting to become absolutely tangible.

Finally, they lead you through the doors of the hall and straight into an enormous and ornate entrance way.

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First, the Courtroom where your guide will describe the events that happen here so precisely that you’ll swear you can hear crowds jeering, sticks banging and bells ringing.

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Finally, you’re ushered across the hall and into the Assembly Room or, as the guides so eloquently put it, the most important room in American history.

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Washington’s Sun Chair.

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The guide explained that unlike many state rooms across Europe, this room is very basic as this was not a room to impress, it was a room for ideas.

Everyone around was nodding fervently, snapping pictures and left the tour with big Cheshire Cat grins, feeling very inspired and lucky to be an American.

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You can leave after the tour (which is really only about 45 minutes) or you can take my advice and head across the courtyard to Congress Hall.

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The Philadelphia County Courthouse was the home to Congress for 10 years when Philadelphia was the temporary capital of the United States.

The first floor was the House of Representatives which is arranged now to look as it did when John Adams was inaugurated.

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The Senate is on the second floor.

Let me tell you, those Senators must have had the most incredible calf muscles because those stairs are no joke.

Steep and narrow stairs seems to be a theme in Philadelphia – very rough after a long day but the perfect excuse to not workout as you can consider it leg day.

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If it were me, I’d want to be a Senator over a Representative just based on the rooms. I mean, just look at this:

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There would be worse places to work, I guess.

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When the bell started chiming, I rushed back to the 21st century and over to my conference only to emerge a few hours later, utterly starving.

I skipped out on hotel buffet food and headed over to The Olde Bar in the Bookbinder building which came highly recommended.

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An old fashioned bar with dark wood paneling, dim lighting and a killer old fashioned. Just my kind of place.

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I can’t recommend The Olde Bar enough – if you’re in Philly, you absolutely must check it out and be sure to have an old fashioned for me!