So You Wanna Visit the White House…?

I’ll always remember the first time I toured the East Wing… it was the morning after I met my now husband. I told him I had to make it an early night because I was supposed to be at the White House at 8AM. You know, a typical D.C. excuse 😉 I’d only been in the U.S. and in Washington for 6 months and it was all very exciting for me.

I’ve been fortunate to go inside the White House a few more times since then. And while bowling at the Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley at 1600 Penn* is still on my DC-to-list with slim to no chance ever getting crossed off, I did get to go to the West Wing once and tour the building once during the holiday season. Here what you need to know if you want to visit the White House too. 

THE WEST WING & BOWLING ALLEY

Unless you’re invited by the White House or know someone who works there (and has West Wing access, which isn’t everyone), the personal residence and the West Wing are pretty much off limit. Because they are led by staff, West Wing tours visits typically happen in the evening or on weekends, outside of office hours. If you’re lucky enough (like I was) to visit when the president is out of town, you’ll get to peak into the Oval Office. Not go into it, but peak into it. Photographs, of course, are strictly off limits except in the press room, which is why SO many people have pictures of themselves at the press secretary’s podium. Well, at least so many people in DC… If you do have the opportunity to tour the West Wing, clear your schedule and go! Ahead of time, you’ll be asked to provide your full name, birth date, social security number, and possibly other personal data so that the secret service can run a quick background check on you. Obviously, I passed the test and I wasn’t even a permanent resident back then so being foreign won’t prevent you from being able to do a West Wing tour. Bowling at the White House requires the same kind of “friends with benefits” which I clearly do not have anymore 😉 They only get to book the lanes once a quarter so again if you’re ever invited to the most exclusive bowling alley in the country, clear your schedule and make it happen! Also, don’t forget to bring your own snacks and booze… I already have my sparkly all picked out… I just need an invite now. 

THE EAST WING

white house tours are self guided

So I toured the East Wing the first time right when I met my husband, on a traditional tour that had been arranged by my graduate program at the George Washington University. I toured it a second time during the holiday season in 2011 when the White House hosted one of its first tweet up ever. Most of our time at the tweet up was spent in the basement of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where, interestingly enough for a tweet up, we couldn’t get a signal and where there was no wifi. The White House has learned a lot since then and frequently hosts tweet ups like the one recently for the arrival ceremony for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The highlight of that tweet-free tweet up for me was meeting with and getting to ask questions of White House pastry chef Bill Yosses and White House florist Laura Dowling about what it’s like to plan and prepare for Christmas at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (planning typically starts in March.) Getting to see the end result from all of their hard work during a tour of the building afterwards was really amazing. SO many Christmas trees and gingerbread houses!

Gingerbread White House

white house 4 white house 5

Christmas season at the White House White house 6white house 1

There currently are no tweet up or instameet planned but you should check the White House Social website periodically and follow them on twitter and instagram to get alerts for the next one. Here as well, you also have to go through a quick background check, which non-Americans like myself can pass. The other way to get to tour the East Wing is, of course, through your congressional representatives, though that process is currently being revamped.  I will update this post as soon as the new information is official on April 18. 

THE WHITE HOUSE GARDENS

The easiest way to get inside those gates is the bi-annual White House Garden tour. No, you don’t get to go inside the residence, but you get to see Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden and take a really cool picture like this from the South Lawn: 

Laetitia Brock at the White House

White House Garden Tours happen in the fall and in the spring, and mark you calendars right now because the next ones are next week, on Saturday April 16 and Sunday April 17 2016. On either of those days, show up at the Ellipse Visitor Center (kitty corner from Pinea at the W at 15th and E NW) to get a free, timed ticket. Those are distributed on a first come first serve basis and the visit is obviously really popular so I recommend getting there at 8:30AM since tours begin at 9AM.
White house 10

The grounds will be less crowded earlier in the day. Bring as little with you as you can and selfie sticks are strictly prohibited, as are bags (small purses might be fine but play it safe. Diaper bags are not allowed), food, weapons (duh!) and animals other than service dogs. You’ll go through metal detectors but no background check or advance planning is required for those… White House Fall Garden Tour

You can read a little all about my 2010 White House Garden Tour right here and if it doesn’t make you want to get up early on Saturday or Sunday, remember that it’s one of your best shot at getting in before Obama’s term end. Another alternative for the gardens, if you have kids, is to enter the lottery for tickets to the White House Easter Eggs Roll. 

* Wondering what is it like to bowl at the White House? Check out this lucky Deutsch Art Director’s account on the agency’s blog! Wondering what it’s like to visit the White House for a special event hosted by the First Lady? My friend Olga did just that a few weeks ago.

Postcard from NYC: 5 Things I Ate Last Week

Other than a week in Portugal for Thanksgiving, I don’t have a lot of trips planned this year. At least not fun trips… So I’m determined to make the most out every single work trip I have, starting with the one I just took last week to New York City. And that, of course, includes enjoying some good eats around town. There’s no shortage of restaurants in Manhattan. If anything the options are limitless and a bit overwhelming when you don’t have a lot of free time. Since I stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown many of the spots I ended up at are concentrated in that part of town. Here are some of my favourite eats from my last “work-cation” in New York City: 

ALL THE PINK PASTRIES AT DOMINIQUE ANSEL

I’ve been a fan of Dominique Ansel since before the whole cronut craze. I actually arrived in New York on Valentine’s Day so my first stops were Ladurée and Dominique Ansel, conveniently located right around the corner from each other in SoHo. Every year on February 14, the French pâtissier turns his entire pastry case pink. I grabbed two of the chestnut-cassis-rose Mont Blanc, two Paris-New York (a twist on the classic Paris-Brest) and the most amazing caramel eclairs with pink Himalayan salt. All were pink, of course, and all were amazing! 

Valentine's day at Dominique AnselValentine's day at Dominique AnselDominique Ansel Bakery is located at 189 Spring St.

 

HIBISCUS DONUTS FROM DOUGH DOUGHNUTS

In keeping with the pink theme, I loved this ginormous hibiscus donut from Dough Doughnuts. Luckily for me, Urban Space Vanderbilt just opened a stone’s throw away from the Roosevelt Hotel and Grand Central Station. The new food hall boasts fare from 21 different food purveyors like Red Hook Lobster Pound, Roberta’s or Kuro-Obi (from the team behind Ippudo ramen, a fabulous ramen spot in Manhattan). Between Toby’s EstateOvenly and Dough Doughnuts my mornings pretty much always started right (and early… good thing UrbanSpace opens its doors at 6:30AM!) After trying the pistachio cardamom bread from Ovenly, I’m a new fan of the Brooklyn bakery and I’m definitely planning to visit their cafe on Greenpoint avenue during another trip, when I have a little more free time.

Hibiscus doughnut from Dough Bakery

UrbanSpace Vanderbilt is at 45th St. & Vanderbilt Ave, in The Helmsley Building 

 

MISO RAMEN AT TOTTO’S RAMEN

The first time I made my parents wait over an hour outside of the tiny Hell’s Kitchen ramen restaurant for a bowl of soup, they weren’t too impressed (by the wait at least). But we’ve been going back to Totto Ramen ever since. I caught a later train back to Washington, DC so that I could attend a taping of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. You can read more about that here… when I had a quick hour and a half to kill between lines at the Ed Sullivan theater, I headed straight to Totto. This is one of the best spot for ramen in Manhattan and the Miso Paiten soup with ground pork, half boiled egg, scallions and char siu was just what I needed to warm up!  

Miso Paiten from Totto Ramen

Totto Ramen is located at 366 W 52nd St.

 

EVERYTHING AT IZAKAYA MEW

A basement in the middle of k-town is probably not where you’d expect an authentic Japanese izakaya but there it is! Izakaya Mew is actually a really popular late night spot and there’s usually a consequential wait to get a table, but I was able to snag a spot at the (tiny) bar since I was dining solo. It’s probably not the best spot actually if you’re eating alone since there’s only 6 seats at the bar and no television or bar tenders to distract you but the food is amazing and varied ranging from raw fish starters (called toriaezu or while you wait…) to hot pots, grilled skewers or gyoza, grilled seafood, noodles, ramen and sushi rolls. I tried the pumpkin roll since I had never seen something like that on a menu before, the grilled hokke fish (I *love* mackerel) and shishito pepper and the shime saba (told you I love mackerel). I washed everything down with a 300 ml bottle of Itami Onigoroshi, which kinda confused my waiter… Apparently, he thought I should have ordered a bigger bottle but I thought that was pretty good all by myself 😉

Charred shishito peppers at Izakaya Mew

Izakaya Mew is located in the basement of 53 W 35th Street.

 

THE NOVA SCOTIA BAGEL FROM MIKE’S BAGELS

For the record, I am and will always be team Montreal when it comes to bagels… but, you know, when in New York…. I happened to be in West Harlem/Washington Heights checking out some of the Audubon Mural Project street art and ordered Mike’s Nova Scotia (still gotta give Canada some love!) bagel, an everything bagel, toasted, with lox, red onions, capers, tomato & scallion cream cheese. It was almost enough to convert me. Almost… #TeamMontrealBagel

The Nova Scotia Bagel from Mike's Bagel

Mike’s Bagel is located at 4003 Broadway (at the 168th street metro)

 

BONUS: ALL THE WINE AT LA COMPAGNIE DES VINS SUPERNATURELS

I really wanted to check out this wine bar in SoHo, especially since I never got a chance to go to the Experimental Cocktail Club before it closed. Here’s a little background. Paris, and France in general, isn’t known for its cocktail culture (unless you count a kir royal as a cocktail…) but Frenchmen Romée de Goriainoff, Olivier Bon, and Pierre-Charles Cros sparked the new wave of the craft cocktail trend when they opened the insanely hard to get into speakeasy l’Experimental Cocktail Club in the Sentier neighbourhood in Paris. That spot was followed by a few others, including Beef Club which makes a mean steak tartare. They gave it a shot in New York City, but their location is currently closed for relocation. But they also opened a wine bar last year (there’s one in Paris as well, rue Lobineau in the 6eme, and in Neal’s Yard in London).

La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels - New York, NY Picture courtesy of Experimental events

La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels – New York, NY Picture courtesy of  the Experimental Group

There’s a selection of 600 wines, with a strong emphasis on French ones, and most of the by-the-glass options are poured using an Enomatic wine dispenser. If you know your wines, try the mystery wine, a $15-ish unidentified glass of wine that you can correctly guess to win the whole bottle (typically in the $100 price point). Try it!!! 

La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels is located at 249 Centre St. in SoHo. 

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I’m going back to New York for another (even shorter and busier) workation in April… any recommendations??? Those in midtown are always particularly appreciated 😉

 

Celebrating Frank Underwood in DC

Have you been watching House of Cards? Are you excited about the new season that will start on Friday March 4th? I am! The Netflix original series is one of the few shows my politico husband and I enjoy watching together and we’ve already cleared out our entire schedule for the weekend so we can binge on all 13 episodes before I head to Chicago on Monday morning. 

I work in advertising but my first love will always be politics (hey, there’s a reason I settled down in Washington, DC right?) so I’ve been LOVING the fake Frank Underwood re-election campaign leading up to March 4th. #FU2016 right? It all started with a campaign website a faux campaign ad airing during the CNN Republican debate on December 15 and the opening of a campaign office in Greenville, SC (also coinciding with a debate there.) And in a brilliat marketing stunt, it continued in Washington, DC with an “official” portrait of the fictional president that is now hanging alongside those of actual presidents in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Sadly, I wasn’t cool enough to be invited to the official unveiling party last Monday. Womp womp. British artist Jonathan Yeo appeared alongside Kevin Spacey (in character as POTUS complete with faux secret service detail), Netflix COO Ted Sarandos and real White House insiders like Valerie Jarrett and press corps members like Dana Bash and Luke Russert to the official unveiling ceremony, where guests also got a sneak peek of episode one… lucky them! But I did swing by the next day to check out the six feet by six feet painting, which will be on display through October (it’s on the first floor, right by the door on the left side if you come in on the Mount Vernon side.)

A 6ft-square portrait of Spacey as Underwood, painted by British artist Jonathan Yeo, now hangs in the Portrait Gallery

A portrait of Spacey as Underwood by Jonathan Yeo now hangs in the Portrait Gallery

But my favourite DC-House of Cards promo by far is the one happening in the metro right now. If you’ve watched season 2, episode 1, you know our subway system plays a YUUUUGE part in a major plot twist early on.  And if you’ve followed public transportation news, you may also know that the Washington subway system was just named the best in the country, which if you live in DC makes you really wonder how bad things must be in other cities. Because it’s pretty bad here. I walk to work everyday (thank G-d) but I did hop on the metro just so I could check out this the awesome campaign running in both metro stations and train cars. Here’s a sneak peak… “a push in the right direction”? “Back on track”? Freaking brilliant!! 

Frank Underwood: A Push in the Right Direction

Frank Underwood 2016 metro advertisement

For Your Consideration – the Brooklyn Cocktail

It’s Oscar time! Have you seen Brooklyn? The coming-of-age period drama about a young Irish immigrant blossoming in 1950s New York City was one of my favourite films last year. As an expat, I loved and related to the delicate way the film covered the immigrant experience and in a sea of rather bleak movies I appreciated the optimism of its characters. Also, Montreal plays the title role of Brooklyn!  The boarding house where Saoirse Ronan’s character, Eilis, lives in Brooklyn is actually the Memorial Chapter House of Montreal’s Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, on McGill University’s campus!

The Brooklyn Cocktail

The perfect drink to celebrate this best picture nominees is the classic cocktail that shares its name: the Brooklyn. It’s not as well-known as its classic neighbour, the Manhattan*, but it’s just as good. Here what you’ll need for one cocktail:

2 ounces whiskey (Jameson or Teeling would be a perfect nod to Ireland here)
1 ounce dry vermouth
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur (I always love Leopold Brothers small batch liqueurs)
Dash of angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry. I used Luxardo cherries, and the brand also makes a great maraschino liqueur. In keeping with the slight cherry theme, I’ll be serving Brooklyns along with a twist on Pepperidge’s Dried Cherries Pecan and Rosemary Brie en Croute, a not-so-subtle homage to best actress nominee Brie Larson. 

Sláinte and good luck to Brooklyn tonight! Will you be watching the Oscars? What film(s) will be cheering for?

* While the Manhattan is the most famous, there are actually 5 five classic cocktails named after New York’s borough: the Brooklyn mentioned in this post, the Queens (a variant of the martini with pineapple juice), the Bronx (another variant of the martini but with orange juice) and the Staten Island Ferry (malibu rum and pineapple juice). Now you know 😉

Postcard from New York: Going to A Late Show Taping

Attending a taping of the Late Show with Stephen ColbertHere’s something free and unique to do if you have a spare afternoon in New York City: attend the live taping of a late (or late-late) night talk-show! I say afternoon, because a) while the shows air in the evening, tapings typically happen earlier that day b) even though you have to book your tickets in advance, there’s a lot of waiting around in lines involved before you can actually take your place in the audience. Here’s what my experience attending a live taping of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” was like.

But first, why The Late Show with Stephen Colbert? I actually watch the show every day and I absolutely love Stephen Colbert. I love his smart humour, and think his guests tend to be more interesting than those on other shows. Also, I was busy all week with work commitments and his late show is the only one that tapes on Fridays when I finally had some free time 😉

The first step if you want to see any late night talk-show  (Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers or Trevor Noah also shoot in New York City) is to go online and get (free) tickets. I knew exactly when I would be in New York and stalked the Late Show’s website for available tix, which are typically released a month in advance and go REALLY fast. I booked my spots for February 19th on January 11 to give you an idea of the timeline. Once you’ve got the tickets, you should clear out your calendar for that entire afternoon. Attending a live taping is a BIG time commitment and involves a lot of waiting around. Even with your pre-reserved tickets, you still need to queue to physically claim said ticket on the actual day of the taping and seats are first comes first served starting at 2PM. My ticket instructed me to get in line “no later than 3PM” but I showed up at the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway (between 53rd and 54th) at 1PM to get decent seats. Each show is overbooked, and reserving a spot is no guarantee that you’ll get in. At 2PM, the line started moving, as Late Show staff checked my reservation and my I.D. They gave me a numerical ticket (111/400… not bad!), stamped my hand with a black CBS logo and instructed me to come back at 3:45PM. 

CBS logo

That gave me about an hour and half to grab a late lunch. Luckily, I knew of two great options in Hell’s Kitchen, within a 5 minute walking distance: Danji and Totto’s Ramen, both on 51st street between 9th and 10th avenue. After standing an hour outside in the middle of February, ramen seemed like the best option to warm up!

Pre Stephen Colbert Late Show RamenTotto's Ramen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At my assigned time, I headed back to the Ed Sullivan theater and waited another 10 minutes lined up in numerical order based on my ticket. Our bags were scanned before we got to queue some more, this time at least in an indoor area inside the theater. Another pro-tip: if your bags are too large, they’ll make you check them so pack light. And I was able to go in with a bottle of water. That time of the waiting was possibly the worse because you’re crammed into a rather small room with 150 other people with 2 TVs cranking out old Stephen Colbert skits as only distraction. FINALLY, a young lady with a microphone welcomed us and reminded us of a few things: mainly, we’ll be filmed (duh!) and we’re not allowed to use our cell phones. I’d attended a few tapings of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart before so I knew the drill. No tweeting, snap-chatting, instagramming and NO photography whatsoever in the studio! Womp womp! 

Attending a taping of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

IMG_6023IMG_6022

Finally, I sat down at my seat, on the fifth row, right in front of the band area. There’s pros and cons to sitting on the main level of the theater. The main pros are proximity to the stage, the host, and the guests but on the con side cameras do get in your way and you can’t see the beautiful projection on the ceiling of the theater. Around 5PM, comedian Paul Mecurio came onto the stage to get us pumped for the main show coming up. He reminded us quickly of our purpose today as audience: to laugh, preferably loudly, at Stephen’s jokes. He made a few jokes of his own and pulled a few people onto the stage, including a software engineer from Google and his friend who was an opera signer and had an absolutely beautiful voice. Then Stephen Colbert came in for a quick Q&A. The questions weren’t riveting but he did mention that his wife was in attendance with some of her girlfriends, which was pretty cool.

At around 5:45PM, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, the house band, came onto the stage to play a few tunes and before I knew it the taping was finally starting!! I will say Jon Batiste and Staying Humans are pretty awesome in person, even with an extra human tap-dancing in the “percussion” areas. I took a couple of screen shots of the show afterwards, which included special audience members from the Coast Guards, Chelsea Handler in a tight little white number, an awesome segment on Marco Rubio’s “Morning Again in America” ad that included references to some of my favourite Canadian things like DeGrassi and Poutine, Zosia Mamet and a performance of The Lumineers’ new  song Ophelia. 

Coast Guards members in the audience of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
IMG_5790Chelsea Handler on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

About the guests – when you book tickets to the show, you have NO idea who the guests are going to be. Like, when I saw Jon Stewart in Washington, D.C., I had no idea that President Obama would be his guest… the day AFTER I got to be in audience. I don’t even remember who the guest was when I went… I just remember that it wasn’t Obama 😉 I’m pretty happy with who I got to see, though honestly I would have been happy with anyone, as just getting to be in the audience was quite the treat. One of the highlights of the show that evening though was the cute interaction between Colbert and his wife (“darling”), either during the taping or during the commercial breaks as well as his interaction with us the audience the few times that he had to re-tape a segment (quite a few times actually). Otherwise, the guests pretty much just ignore the audience 😦

After the show wrapped, Colbert did a few reshoots, including Zosia’s name, which he had mispronounced. He explained to us that earlier in the day, the building next to them had a sewers issues that had prevented them from being able to do their rewrites in their typical offices and that was one of the reasons the show’s taping appeared a bit frantic and disorganized. He chatted up with his wife a bit, asking her where she and friends were headed for drinks afterwards and that was that. I myself headed to Casellula for a post-Late Show glass of vino. Overall, I had a blast at the taping, it was so fun to see behind the scene of a show I watch everyday though it was a lot of waiting around, and definitely required some advance planning. Here’s my last pro-tip if you’re planning on being in the audience like I was: wear warm clothes! The theater is FREEZING so much that the staff is walking around in their coats. I definitely wished I’d worn a warmer sweater 😉

Have you ever attended a show’s tapping, whether in New York or Los Angeles? How was that experience for you? 

Postcard from Philadelphia ~ 5 Free Things To Do in the City of Brotherly Love

We’re spoiled here in Washington that most of our museums and historical attractions are completely free, making DC a very wallet-friendly destination for tourists and locals playing tourists. Like Washington, and just a quick bus or train ride away, Philadelphia is also rich in history and pretty affordable to explore, so long as you’re willing to put up with some lines 😉 Here are a few budget-friendly things to do in America’s former capital… 

VISIT AMERICA’S MOST IMPORTANT HISTORICAL SITES

Bonus: they’re all conveniently located within a square mile. Between 1790 and 1800, while the Federal City (<– DC) was under construction, Philadelphia got to be the temporary capital of the United States. Before that, it played a key role in the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers gathered there to sign the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (though of course, to actually see those, you have to come here to DC!) . The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and Congress Hall are all right there, right next to one another, and yes, they’re all free to explore, though you’ll need a timed ticket to get into Independence Hall, so get there early in the busy summer season (like 8:30AM).  

Liberty Bell in Philadelphia

Not as related to US history, but pretty cool nonetheless, is Dream Garden, a stunning mosaic made of 100,000 pieces of Tiffany Glass that graces the lobby of the Curtis Center, just a block away from Independence Hall along Washington Square. Since it’s in an office building, you have to visit it during business hours or before noon on Saturdays. 

 

WALK MURAL MILE

With over 3,000 public murals, Philadelphia is one of the top city for street art in the US. There’s a concentration of 17 of them over a 2.5 miles route downtown that’s known as Mural Mile. You can check out my blog post for more information on doing a self-guided tour. The recommended route starts at 7th and Chestnut, steps away from the independence visitor center so you can easily combine it with a visit to the city’s most famous monuments like the Liberty Bell. While on tour, make a detour and swing by Rittenhouse Square Park, where you will find the original La Colombe coffee shop location. Grab a glass of still or sparkling water… it’s free there!! 

Mural Mile in Philadelphia

CATCH A FREE PERFORMANCE OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST FULLY FUNCTIONING PIPE ORGAN

Located in the Grand Court of a former Wanamaker department store (one of the oldest chain of department stores in the country) the 111 years old, 7 stories tall and 287 tons instrument is now one of the main reason to go shopping at the Macy‘s City Center. Grand Court Organ concerts are performed twice daily, Monday through Saturday (at 12PM and in the evenings). I found out about the organ in this Smithsonian Magazine piece and I’m definitely glad I did. 

CLIMB THE ROCKY STEPS 

If you’re not up for the exercise of the 72 steps hike leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, you can at least snap a pic with the statue of Rocky near the bottom of the stairs. Admission to the museum is a steep $20 but you can save a few bucks if you visit on the first Sunday of every month and after 5PM on Wednesday, when the museum charges a “Pay What You Wish”  admission fee. Also more affordable on the first Sunday of every month is the Barnes Foundation down the street on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, though tickets are limited and given on a first come first serve basis, so you’ll want to get there before 9AM. Next door to the Barnes Foundation, the Rodin Museum has a $10 suggested admission but is actually “Pay What You Wish” every day so you can leave less than that if you’re on a tight budget. The garden around the museum is free year round too. I know, it’s not as good as our Smithsonians here, but at least there are a few ways to see the art for free or close to free 😉

Rocky Statue in PhiladelphiaBarnes Foundation

Rodin Museum in Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EXPLORE ONE OF THE GREATEST FOOD HALL IN THE COUNTRY. 

I hesitated to add Reading Terminal Market to the list because while it’s free to walk around and see all the different food stalls, you’ll have a hard time not reaching out for your wallet to purchase a bite or two or five. At Reading, you’ll find pretty much every type of cuisine you can think of, from Asian to Cajun but the most interesting are obviously the only-in-Philadelphia options like the family-run restaurants offering traditional (and very cheap) Pennsylvania Dutch fare (try the apple fritter at Beiler’s Donuts!), authentic Philly cheesesteaks at Spataros’ or decadent cannolis at Termini Brothers Bakery. And if the food isn’t free, the wifi is… so at least there’s that 😉 

Termini Brothers Cannoli

Reading terminal market

 

BONUS: SNAP A SELFIE WITH ROBERT INDIANA’S FAMOUS LOVE SCULPTURE.

Yes, there are LOVE sculptures all over the world now (including one, en español/Italian, right here in DC), but this one, installed in 1976 is probably the most famous one of them all! The park where it’s located, which everyone calls Love Park though it’s official name is JFK Plaza, is currently undergoing a major renovation. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when it’s done! For some more great instagram snaps, head down to Elfreth’s Alley, America’s oldest continuously inhabited residential street. 

How ‘Bout Them Apples? Discovering Loudoun County’s Cideries

When I first moved to the United States, the only cider that was “widely” available was Vermont-based Woodchuck or Boston’s Angry Orchard, fruity beverages that dominated the American cider scene back then. In recent years though, the refreshing and light apple-based drink has exploded here. As craft beer became increasingly popular, cider’s appeal also rose, particularly as an alternative to beer for those who can’t drink (especially those who are gluten intolerant) or those who just don’t like the taste of it. Fast forward to 2016, and cider is definitely having a moment in America! And that includes in the state of Virginia, of course (I mean, Jefferson grew apples at Monticello and produce cider after all). So when my friend Calla suggested we venture out to some wineries during the MLK long weekend, I brought up the possibility of us checking out a cidery too and before I knew it our little day trip had a cider theme! 

Virginia cideries are clustered around Charlottesville and in the Shenandoah Valley, which is a little far from Washington, DC if you’re just going for a day trip. So instead, we opted to check out two tasting rooms in Loudoun County, tucked in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Starting with the newest and furthest away from the city, we found ourselves in the tiny, very definitely MICRO Wild Hare Cidery (open Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5PM) in Bluemont, VA. Wild Hare is one of the area’s newest cidery producer and the tasting room is intimate at best, with no seating, but the tasting was free and the people were very friendly. 

Wild Hare Cidery in Bluemont, Virgnia

 

Also, the cider was good. Dry and hoppy Hatch was my favourite, reminding me the most of your typical Brittany cider (the fact that they described it as the champagne of cider didn’t hurt either I’m sure….)

Wild Hare Cider

 

Next, we headed to Corcoran Cidery, a small family owned winery and cidery situated on a family farm in Waterford, VA. Since it was the the first cidery to open in Loudoun County we basically went from the newest one to the oldest one 😉

Corcoran cidery
Corcoran CideryThey also do beer, but that’s not on the same site. The good news is if you have a mixed group of wine and/or cider lovers you can sample either wine or cider or a mix of both at the tasting room there. We all opted for the $7 cider tasting flight, and tried all 4 ciders they have to offer. 

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On warmer days, the owners also fire up the BBQ but it was a bit too cold and snowy when we were there so we got a bit hungry after the tastings and headed to Purcellville for some burgers at Market Burgers Fries and Shakes. Since you really can’t go to Purcellville without stopping to sample some cocktails at Catoctin Creek Distillery, we did just that too! Before the hour and a half drive back to the District,  we stopped for some coffee and sweets at Mom’s Apple Pie Bakery, barely making it before the shop closed at 5PM.

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All in all, it was a super fun day trip. I learned a lot along the way about Virginia cider, got to go back to Catoctin Creek Distillery which I absolutely adore and even made a few new friends along the way. I don’t think it gets any better than that 😉

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Postcard from Philladelphia: Mural Mile

I didn’t venture too far for my first trip of 2016. Philadelphia is just an hour and half away from New York by train and less than two hours from Washington, so my NYC bestie Caitlin and I met up halfway for a quick early January birthdays day-trip in the City of Brotherly Love. Neither one of us had visited the new Barnes Foundation so we had agreed to make the new-ish museum our first stop (purchasing tickets for timed entry in advance is highly recommended). Afterwards, however, we took a break from the Renoirs to explore the open air “museum” that is Philadelphia’s Mural Mile. 

With more than 3,000 murals, Philadelphia is one of the top cities in the US for street art (according to this Huffington Post ranking, it’s # 2 in the country!). Most of the edgier and more interesting work is located in neighborhoods that tourists rarely venture to, like the Market Street corridor in West Philly, Point Breeze or the up-and-coming Fishtown. But not all and there’s a concentration of 17 of them over a 2.5 miles route downtown that’s known as Mural Mile. The recommended route to see them all starts at 7th and Chestnut, steps away from the independence visitor center so you can easily combine it with a visit to the city’s most famous monuments like the Liberty Bell.

Philadelphia's Mural Mile Map

While organized tours are available,  you can easily walk Mural Mile on your own using the map above from the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s website or this curated Google Map. Caitlin and I leisurely meandered through the streets, admiring the architecture of the city as well as the murals. Good thing it was unseasonably warm that day 😉 

 

Philadelphia's Mural Mile: A Taste of Summer by Ann Northrup

This lush mural about food as art by Ann Northrup is on the side of Vetri Ristorante, a landmark northern Italian restaurant at 1312 Spruce Street

Philadelphia's Mural Mile: Winter-Crystal Snowscape by David Guinn

Winter: Crystal Snowscape by David Guinn, one of four murals in the “Four Seasons” series painted by the Philadelphia based artist around town

Philadelphia's Mural Mile: Meg Saligman's 'Philadelphia Muses'

Meg Saligman’s ‘Philadelphia Muses’ is located near Avenue of the Arts, Philadelphia’s cultural center

Philadelphia's Mural Mile: 'Women of Progress' by Cesar Viveros and Larissa Preston

‘Women of Progress’ by Cesar Viveros and Larissa Preston shows the progression of women in various roles and professions over time. It’s painted on the side of the New Century Trust, an organization that highlights the contributions of women to society.

Philadelphia's Mural Mile: Gimme Shelter by David Guinn

Philadelphia native David Guinn painted “Gimme Shelter” near the Morris Animal Shelter on Lombard Street

They may not be the edgiest – or even the most colourful – but all of the 17 murals of Mural Mile give an insight into Philadelphia’s history, its communities and their creativity. They also sure look better than plain brick walls … and I can’t think of a better way to discover a new city!

Postcard from New Mexico: Dried Red Chile Ristras

Red, green or Christmas? In New Mexico, Christmas is more than a holiday. It’s a food preference, local parlance for mixing red and green chile sauce on your enchilada or burrito. Chile is a cornerstone of the New Mexican economy and of its cuisine, so much that the state is the only one in the country with an official question (“red or green?”). Earlier this year, I met up with my parents in New Mexico during the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, which falls right after the chile harvest. By then, chiles are all red, strung together in colourful ristras drying in the hot New Mexican air. 

Chile ristras in historic Old Town Albuquerque

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Chile harvest happens in the late summer and the fruits are strung together and hung outside homes and restaurants to dry so they can be ground into chile powder or used for cooking and eating during the winter. Ristras are not only a vibrant decoration on the state’s traditional Adobe houses, they’re also a sign of good luck. By Fall, when I visited New Mexico, you can buy ristras at farmer’s markets and roadside stands (and of course in pretty much every tourist shop!) 

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Postcard from Philadelphia: 13th & Locust’s Rainbow Crosswalk

It was the day after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide in the U.S. My parents and I were in Philadelphia to catch the Hermione tall ship while she was making her way up the East Coast. We were wandering around the city’s Mural Mile, a 2.5 mile loop through downtown, to catch some of Philadelphia’s most iconic street art. Suddenly, a pop of colour on the ground caught our attention for a change. At the intersection of 13th street and Locust, rainbow stripes had been painted on the pedestrian crosswalks, forming a bright and bold square.

Rainbow Crosswalk in Philadelphia

 

Turns out, this didn’t just pop overnight following the Supreme Court decision. It had been planned long before 😉 Starting with West Hollywood back in 2012, a handful of North American cities brightened up their crosswalks in historically gay or gay-friendly neighbourhoods like Vancouver’s Davie Street VillageSan Francisco’s CastroSeattle’s Capitol Hill or Toronto’s Church Street. Even Key West’s got a Rainbow Crosswalk and now Philadelphia. Isn’t it time DC got one as well!? As the Washington Post highlighted in this article last year, why can’t crosswalks be more fun, like this series of artist-designed crosswalks up in Baltimore’s new Bromo Tower Arts & Entertainment District or San Jose’s crosswalks at Paseo de San Antonio? We got a decent start with the awesome star-spangled crosswalk that livens up the intersection of 14th and S streets NW, but it could use a little sprucing up right now, it’s looking quite faded. And we could use more!! Wouldn’t you love a rainbow crosswalk in DC? If yes, where do you think it should be?