Sunday, July 13, 2014

Home Sweet Toronto

Front of Complex
Wow, I am having a hard time coming to grips with the realization we are over seven months into our trek- Time flies when you are having fun! Tom and I were talking the other day about how we might be a tad addicted to the excitement each new city brings, all the treasure troves waiting for us to uncover while we are there; the idea of going back to reality now seems so mundane. It has been said that most people suffer post vacation depression after being thrust back into the real world; I’m not looking forward to the harsh awakening we might experience when we decide to permanently land again, a lot of vacations may need to be in the cards or maybe “nomads for life” is our calling. Who knows, we go where the stars align!

Fitness Facility
This month we can officially add international road trip to the journey, we've crossed over into Canada! We had a few stresses and concerns getting everything set up for our month here; from making sure Tom had been cleared for Global Entry, and his ability to fly, no pun intended, through customs for his return flights state side, to making sure Miss Ethel had all her paperwork in order to cross with us without having to undergo any quarantine issues. Traveling with a dog across the border can be a bit tricky; but luckily Canada and the US have pretty good reciprocity, we needed to show her vaccinations, requiring her last rabies shot prior to the last thirty days or we would've need a veterinary wellness exam for international travel. Plus Canada has higher standards for food quality than America (most countries do), so I was slightly concerned they might confiscate her food, but they didn't even ask about it! Whew! In fact the entire process was pretty simple, the conversation went like this:

Tom hands over passports and Ethel’s records.
Custom Agent: “How long will you be staying and where?"
Tom: “Four weeks and in Toronto.”
Custom Agent:  Eye lift
Tom: “Well we won’t just be in Toronto, we will be traveling to other areas in Canada as well.”
Custom Agent: “Just the one dog?”
Tom: “Yes”
Custom Agent: “Any firearms?”
Tom: “No”
Custom Agent:  Eyeing our loaded vehicle, “What all do you have in your car?”
Tom: “Mostly my wife’s clothes and shoes”
Custom Agent: “Have a good holiday,” as she handed back our documents and sent us on our way.

Welcome Gift
Besides dealing with customs with a dog, Toronto also offered us another first, we officially met our first Airbnb host after seven stays. The adorable Garine, or Verginia as she likes to be called, met us as we arrived and gave us a tour of the condo complex. She had left us with some ice cold local beer in the fridge, a nice and welcome present after loading the car in Philly, then spending nine hours on the road, and then all the unloading that needed to be done here in Toronto. Verginia is adorably sweet, and I knew she had an art show going on, so of course my inquisitive side required me googling her, because A) I was curious,  B) I am nosy and C) I wanted to see her photography.  And what do I find? That she works for the Canadian Travel Channel and has interviewed none other than Anthony Bourdain, whom I have a huge married girl crush on! So yeah, you can say I can now be connected to Anthony Bourdain via one connection if we were playing the “Back to Bacon” game!

Ethel Chilling Deck Side
Toronto has its gems and its drawbacks. What I love, the produce, it is divine! Fresh is an understatement, you go to the market and it is literally like you are purchasing strawberries minutes after they were picked. For a vegetarian and organic health nut like me, this is seriously heaven. Canada, especially Ontario, is exceptionally clean, even the trash bins on the streets open by foot so nobody has to touch the gross things, it’s like living in a version of OCD heaven! The drawbacks, Canada has a lot of rules and rules and I don’t get along so well; I hear to the word rule and I am automatically thinking of ways I can get around it. Yeah, conformity and living inside the box isn't for me, the very word “rule” causes me to get a little claustrophobic, yeah, my poor, poor parents!

Also, we have discovered Canada, Ontario specifically, isn't dog friendly. Taking Ethel out to dinner with us, even if they have patio dining, has proved to be a bit of a challenge; apparently the idea that a pet is a also a family member hasn't caught on here yet like it has in the America’s, or we have been spoiled state side and visited a bunch of pet friendly cities. Although we have found if we put Ethel in her stroller, more places are willing to cave and let her eat with us, plus, have you seen our dog? She is pretty hard to say no to!

Sunset View From Deck
As far as the condo, it is clean, modern and perfectly fits all of our needs! My favorite, I have a functional kitchen; so the dining out with the dog hasn't posed too many issues, because I am over the moon to cook with good pans, knives and appliances! Ah, it is the simple things and not being able to cook a full proper meal since DC  has been a bit hard on me; those of you that know me, know I love to cook, so being deprived of this, is a challenge and it does make me appreciate the times I do have an operational kitchen. The condo complex also boasts a fitness facility, so I get to sneak out while the dog takes her morning nap and hit the gym, a fully equipped gym; for a personal trainer, this is heaven and not having one for over seven months, truly makes you take advantage of having one a stone throw away.

The view of downtown is to die for, we have an underground parking stall, so the large deck is also

home to the roof rack, damn height limits on parking garages, but we do still have plenty of space for the outdoor table and lounging with a glass of cold white wine. Which makes for a great escape, especially since our A/C unit has been on the fritz; it suffers a bit of schizophrenia and sometimes likes to quit working, so we have to reset the system and while it cools down inside, the deck makes for a great option. Plus we are in Toronto, so the high since we've been here has been 85, so it’s not like we are living in an inferno or anything.

Here she is, our Luxury Toronto Condo with a door man/concierge and all, again rented via Airbnb:
View of Downtown From Deck

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Fun In Philly

Philly offered up a plethora of activities to keep us busy and on our toes, especially those fun random events we would stumble upon that made our stay here even more memorable.

We took a weekend with our feet to the pavement and Ethel in tow, ready to indulge in some iconic American history; from the roots of our countries rich founding to modern day cinema. Speaking of cinema, one of our first stops, the Philadelphia Museum of Art to climb those steps made famous by Rocky III; taking in the vast Philly skyline and even admiring Mr. Balboa cast in bronze. Now this wouldn't be my last visit to these steps, I took it upon myself to recreate Rocky’s famous run and although I didn't have the chants from the pedestrians or the an entourage of children running after me, I managed with “Eye Of The Tiger” blaring in my ears and of course some victorious air jabs once the sprint to the top was complete! A sense of accomplishment, a dire need to pee and a realization I still need to head back to the apartment, almost burst my bubble, but I made it heat, humidity and all, and ever so glad I did!

Next stop, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell because it’s a must, you can’t come all the way to Philly and not witness the building where the major fundamentals of our country were adopted; the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution (which we actually saw both of them while in DC), it would be a crime against everything American! Standing outside the building, knowing you’re walking the same hallowed ground of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Franklin is surreal, in fact all of Philly drips with the legend of these men, of America in the making. And let’s not just focus on the men, around the corner from Independence Hall is the home of Betsy Ross, female icon of America, home where that first true symbol of everything American was sewn.  Then you take one more turn and you’re standing on the street of the oldest residential neighborhood in the country, Elfreth’s Alley, and people still live there, in these charming homes, intact and while still representing their history, completely livable by today’s standards. 

So what do you do when you take a city rich in history and mix it with art? Well, you enjoy the Mural Mile, which is completely misleading since it is technically 2.5 miles and that still doesn't cover all of the murals this city offers, but none-the-less, it’s amazing. Ethel and I had the pleasure of taking in seventeen of them in one day, walking the loop, stopping for lemonade at a local stand, a stroll through Washington Square and of course me taking lots of pictures. Throughout this loop not only do you revel in the art on historic buildings, but you develop a feel of the real Philadelphia, walking the streets of the locals, from the less crowded to the business hustle, marveling at all the diversity and little details that make this city so great! Not to mention you chance upon hidden gems I might not have known about had it not been for the mural tour, a detour to the Magic Garden. I know, not that kind of magic garden, although that would've added to the joy this marvel is to the eyes!

The Magic Garden is a mosaic, a mosaic of a building, a yard and the surrounding buildings that took fourteen years to create by Isaiah Zagar and is absolutely phenomenal. One could spend hours here, sipping wine and letting all that Zagar has created soak in; I am visualizing string lighting, jazz in the background, appetizers and evening gatherings in this place for reception parties, corporate meet and greets and of course a place for fun and eclectic gathering of friends. This is a place I would love to spend more time at, soaking it in. It literally has to be one of the most extensive pieces of art I have ever seen; seriously, each step you take, you are stepping on art: the ground, the steps the floors and the walls that surround you, it encompasses you!

Then there is Rittenhouse Square, right outside our door offered up so much more than your regular park and nothing we had planned for, pleasant surprises that were thrown our way; from encountering park entertainers, yoga in the park and people practicing high hire acts. Then there was the day that I had taken Ethel over for an afternoon walk and ran into the beginning of Bloomsday, and we had the pleasure of sitting through over an hour of long readings from James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” it really and truly was all of these great little finds and treasures that made our trip to Philly the crème de le crème! 

Video from just one day of fun at Rittenhouse

If you haven’t picked up on it already, I loved this city and everything it had to offer. It was the perfect blend of hipster meets yuppie that appealed to me, there was visual stimulation along every corner and the people were cool! People knew us by the time we left and made a point to say hi and make conversation, I felt like within a month we were part of a community. Honestly this is a place I could seriously see us putting down roots and staying, it was that appealing, in fact, so far it’s my favorite city! I know crazy, right? We didn't even have Philly on the list originally, it just worked out that way, crazy how fate works and I am so delighted it did!

But alas, we had to leave and head onto our next destination, Toronto, which is where we are now, so stay tuned, I have more fun coming your way! Not to mention, Boston for August, Asheville in September and I just booked Saint Augustine for October! Just in case any of you get a hankering to come and visit!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Day Tripping

Philadelphia was busy, I feel as though we were on the run every weekend; exhausted all three of us, but so worth all the experiences and memories we've had and created here. Besides running around the city itself, we have had the opportunity to take off out of town for a few day trips to the outskirts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, stretching ourselves out over these states and developing a feel for the area. Our day trips have all been remarkable in their own way and I am looking forward to sharing them with you.

New Hope:

We rode into this town and we thought maybe we had taken a wrong turn in ended up in Sturgis; motorcycles lined the street and the entire city was booming with bikers and although it added a bad ass feel to the city the charm still oozed out of it. The main road was lined with outdoor dining venues, shops and then mix in grassy water canals and you have a town challenging the Netherlands for beauty. Not to mention its twin, Lambertville, NJ sits on the other side of the Delaware River and it rivals New Hope for its allure; one could easily spend an entire weekend in this area and forget about the cares of the world and lose yourself in all the beauty of what both these cities have to offer.

Now I mentioned the Delaware River and New Hope is most famous for being that place that Washington crossed a river  on one bitter cold Christmas in 1776; so of course we had to take a quick pit stop to the National Monument and check out this pivotal spot in American history. The monument sits on a lovely grass hill, next to the river and while we were there the sun was shining and the river looked rather inviting, but instead of going for a dip we opted to quench our thirst with wine. I've told you I have this second sense when it comes to wine and I can virtually find a vineyard anywhere. We stumbled upon the pet friendly Crossing Vineyards, a mile down the road from Washington’s Crossing and sat for a tasting. The grounds were beautiful, the owners were friendly, the wines were divine and they even let Miss Ethel come hang out in the tasting room with us.

Crossing Vineyards
This is definitely a town and an area I would have loved to have spent more time, but we were running late that day because first and foremost we had a Philly original to try; Tom needed a cheesesteak, so a stop at Dalessandro’s was a must, one bite and Tom was in love! Over all, a pretty perfect day!

Tom Enjoying His First Official Philly Cheesesteak

Jim Thorpe:

The town of Jim Thorpe is often called the Switzerland of the Americas and derives its namesake from the great American athlete, Jim Thorpe, whose remains actually reside in the city. Driving into this town is like driving onto the movie set of a fairy-tale, it is that cute and although I don’t know if I would call it Switzerland like, it seemed more to me like a darling little town right out of England. I promise if you ever have a chance to visit, it is like you are walking out of the pages of a book that begins with “Once Upon a Time!”

So what brought us to Jim Thorpe besides our regular desire to explore? Well I had done a bit of research searching for pet friendly fun in the area and one of the activities that popped up was the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, so I got us tickets and I am ever so glad we did. Taking in the hills and the river via train was a relaxing and fun filled family day, even Ethel enjoyed it, and we all know that girl can be hard to please sometimes.  Once we hopped off the train, the streets of Jim Thorpe were at our disposal. Now this is where the town becomes even more fairy-tale like, there were not one, not two, but three weddings happening at chapels in this town; men running around in tuxes, brides in gorgeous wedding gowns and guests dressed to the nine, so mix this with cobblestone streets, beautiful historic architecture and lush green mountains; yeah, Sleeping Beauty has nothing on this place! The inner queen in me was begging to move here, now about finding work for Tom and I might pose a bit of issue, but seriously, it is so tempting!

Ethel watching all the passengers board

Cape May:

Ethel and I wanted to do something special for Tom for Fathers Day, so we headed out towards the Atlantic for a day of whale watching, dinner and exploring the beach side town of Cape May, NJ.

Once the three of us were comfortably on a boat, we headed out to sea, to see what Mother Nature and the Atlantic Ocean had for our viewing pleasure. Dolphins, we saw a lot of dolphins that day and although we didn't glimpse any whales, the frenzy of dolphins more than made up for it. Plus we were on the Atlantic on a clear, sunny and beautiful day; what more could two humans and one dog ask for!

Right off the beach, lies the city center of Cape May, a boardwalk of shops, restaurants and bars. This is where we landed for dinner, at a cute place called Tisha’s, the food was phenomenal and they even have dog bowls with the restaurant name on them for the four legged critters that come to dine with their owners! When you think quaint little beach town, Cape May is everything and more that comes to mind! The location, the lighthouses and the homes all scream beach living at its finest!

Side Street Leading to the Beach

Amish Country:

A trip to Pennsylvania wouldn't be complete without a visit to Dutch Country, there are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it, it is a must! And lucky for us, we have some Pennsylvania friends that opted to be our tour guides to the Dutch area. So not only did we see the beautiful landscape, but the best part is we were able to enjoy the company of Volkmar and Michelle Nitz; old friends from Utah, and Tom’s old boss at OC Tanner.

Michelle, Volkmar, Ethel and Tom
Volkmar and Michelle were a plethora of information about the Amish and the Mennonites, information we wouldn't have gotten on our own and in all reality I was refusing to do a bus tour, so it worked out perfectly for us. Why no bus tour, well the idea of it made me uncomfortable and felt like I was going to the zoo and the Amish were the animals out in the wilderness for me to stare at, you know in their natural habitat as Volkmar jokingly put it. This way we got to meander at our pace, driving around and the Nitz’s pointing out things to us: the one room school houses, the metal wheels, and the differences between the Amish and the Mennonites. Not to mention this way I got to stop for the best soft pretzel I've ever eaten and homemade ice-cream along the way. Of course the best part of the trip was sitting in the town of Intercourse under the shade of a tree, chatting for hours with our own acoustic guitar player around the corner. You couldn't ask for a better atmosphere to sit, chat, and catch up on life with some old friends.

Dutch Country Side
Beautiful Dutch Garden
So Amish country, what did we think, WOW!! I think they should offer Amish camps, seriously, you sign up, and you learn to appreciate the simpler things life has to offer. The idea of shutting off technology, learning that life might actually be better that way or make one appreciate the luxuries we have now. One of my favorite moments while in Intercourse was watching a couple of Amish families playing volleyball together, not just popping down in front of a TV or a computer, but taking time to enjoy life and each other; it is these moments I think people are forgetting in life as we become so cyber connected. I mean we talk about social networks, but does Facebook count as real contact? Who remembers that one day on Facebook? Nobody!  It is the getting out and living, and I bet these families will have stories from that one day they got together to play volleyball!

Horse and Amish Buggy
Also, a giggle moment, watching a Mennonite, horse and buggy, pull up through the ATM at a bank. Seriously, I think about it and I still smile. Or admiring the gardens, I have never seen gardens like they have; they are stunning and perfect. If they cheat and decide to use technology out of a moment of weakness and see my blog post about Amish Camp, I hope they decide to offer a gardening one, because I would sign up for that in a heartbeat!

Mennonite Buggy and Horse at the ATM
The only day trip we didn't get to which I would have loved to of added, would have been a day in Pittsburgh, but unfortunately we didn't have the time to make that one happen. Overall, though our Philly stay was phenomenal and I can't wait to share all our city excitement with you!