Tips for Enjoying Cherry Blossom Season In DC


Spring is coming! Every year the highlight of the season in Washington is, of course, the annual blooming of the district’s 3,000 Yoshino cherry trees. The whole town gets cherry fever and hundreds of thousands of tourists (and locals too) descend on the Tidal Basin and the National Mall to admire the delicate white and pink flowers. This year, peak bloom will hit between March 18-23, 2 weeks earlier than originally anticipated due to the recent warm temperatures. This means most of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs from March 20 to April 17, will probably happen sans-blossom. Regardless, here are a few tips for navigating this huge Washington, DC event.

DC Cherry Blossoms

 

SET YOUR ALARM CLOCK EARLY

The Cherry Blossom trees were a gift of good will from Japan to the United States in 1912 and represent the budding relationship between the two countries. They’re scattered around the city, but the prettiest, most picture perfect pink concentration is around the Tidal Basin, just off the National Mall. Avoiding the stroller pushing, selfie snapping crowd during peak bloom around there is impossible, but your best bet for some quiet cherry blossom time will be early in the morning on a weekday. Like 7AM early, right at sunrise. The evening is also a lot quieter and you can even join a ranger on a lantern walk from 8-10PM (Fridays/Saturdays 3/18, 19, 25, 26 and March 1 and 2nd.) Don’t forget to check the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s website for a full schedule of events. The day of the parade (April 16), of the kite festival (April 2) or of Cherry Blossom 10 miler race (April 3) are likely to be even busier than usual.

Cherry blossoms at MLK memorial

LEAVE YOUR CAR AT HOME 

Seriously, don’t drive to the Tidal Basin if you can avoid it. Traffic will atrocious and there’s NO parking out there! The closest metro to the Tidal Basin is the Smithsonian metro stop on the blue and orange lines, though the circulator’s new national mall linedeparting from Union Station, will also get you pretty close. I always walk there from my place, but my best advice is to grab a cab, lyft or uber, especially if you’re going early in the morning. Capital Bikeshare is a great option for your trip back from the Tidal Basin. On your way there you might not find an empty docket for the bike. Make sure to be on the lookout for one of the pink #bikeinbloom bike too! However you get there, make sure to wear comfy shoes since you’ll be doing a lot of walking regardless.  
Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC

LEAVE THE TREES ALONE 

This really should have been tip number one. Don’t pick blossoms from trees or hold on to a branch. These are big no-nos and if you see someone doing this, you should yell at them. Don’t yell at tourists though for standing on the wrong side of a metro escalator 😉 Rookie mistake, just kindly let them know that we have rules here, and that they should be standing on the right, walking on the left. 

DC Cherry Blossom trees

BRING SNACKS… AND ALLERGY MEDICINE 

Bring some snacks if you’re planning on walking the whole tidal basin. Even better, bring a blanket, some food and have a picnic. Just remember don’t litter (there aren’t a ton of garbage cans down there) don’t drink alcohol in public. In the United States, there is such a thing as open container laws so you can’t openly drink alcohol in public places like sidewalks, parks or the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. Womp womp… leave that bottle of rosé at home! Finally – take or pack allergy medicine. All over the city all sorts of trees are booming too so even if you’ve never suffered from seasonal allergies before, you might still want to pack or take a zyrtec!

TAKE TO THE WATERS! 

In addition to the tidal basin and the Washington monument area, you can also find cherry blossoms along the shoreline of East Potomac Park, extending all the way to Hains Point. A great way to appreciate those trees is by taking a DC water taxi from Georgetown or from Old Town Alexandria. If the water temperatures are warm enough, you might even be able to rent a kayak from Thompson Boat Center in Georgetown and paddle your way to the blossoms. Perks, you also get a good workout! But one of my favourite things to do during peak bloom is renting a pedal boat at the Tidal Basin for a picture perfect view of the monuments and the dusty pink blossoms reflecting on the water. If you’re headed to see the blossoms on a weekday, you can even book your boat in advance to reduce wait time.pedalo sur le tidal basin a washington

 

THINK BEYOND THE TIDAL BASIN

While the trees along the Tidal Basin are definitely the most striking, there are other pockets of cherry blossom action in other locations across the city. Here are some alternative spots to see the pink-and-white blooms:

  • There’s  more than 20 varieties of cherry blossoms at the 95-acre Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia which is a great option if you don’t want to come all the way into the city. Bonus: the Korean Bell Garden, while not Japanese at all, makes for a very pretty backdrop.
  • Rather than risk having your dog(s) trampled by hordes of tourists at the Tidal Basin, bring your furry friend(s) to the dog-friendly National Arboretum. You and your pup(s) will be able to enjoy cherry blossoms without being overwhelmed by crowds. 
  • For families, Stanton Park in Capitol Hill is both lined with pretty cherry trees AND has a playground for your kiddos. 
  • Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown is great for off-the-beaten path cherry blossom viewing.  General admissions there will set you back $8 though.
  • Take a drive through the wealthy suburb of Kenwood near Bethesda where the streets will be lined with cotton candy trees. 

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EMBRACE THE SEASON AND THE PINK

Peak bloom only lasts 4 days and odds are, if you’re not from DC, you’ve had to plans your trip including book your hotel and travel WAY in advance. And odds are it might not coincide with when the blossoms are out. And that’s ok. There’s still SO much you can do. The White House might be blooming with tulips and the capitol ground with magnolias. You can get tickets to the DC United home opener on March 20th (there are additional home games March 26, April 9 and April 16) or the Nationals home opener on April 7 (or one of the follow up games April 9-14 as well as pre-season games April 1-2).

The whole town also turns pink during cherry blossom season, and while it might seem cheesy, I love the way restaurants celebrate with special menu items. I typically stick to the desserts and cocktails though and also use the festival as the official kick-off date for rosé-drinking season. This time of year is also the perfect excuse to discover or re-discover some of the best japanese restaurants in town. Finally, if you’ve never done afternoon tea at the The Willard Intercontinental Hotel, now’s your chance! The original Japanese delegation to America stayed there in 1860 and the hotel goes all out that to commemorate, with spring décor, a cherry blossom afternoon tea and cherry-inspired cocktails. 

Cherry blossoms inspired eats

Cherry rose cookie from Momofuku Milk Bar in Washington, DC

Whether you’re a veteran cherry-blossom festival goer or this is your first time in DC, I hope these tips will to help you navigate cherry blossoms season. Washington is truly pretty in pink and while the Champs de Mars’ cerisiers are very lovely too, short of going to Japan Washington’s cherry blossoms are truly some of the most beautiful in the world. If you’ve got any tips to share about cherry blossoms time in DC, let me know in the comments!

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

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 (snowy) Washington, DC ~ Jonas 2016 Edition

Exactly a month ago, we were celebrating Christmas in t-shirts. Well, the warm spell is over! Winter has (finally) arrived and mother nature made up for loss time by blanketing the north east with a pretty thick coat of snow. According to the National Weather Service, 57 cm (22.4 inches) fell in Washington, DC at the National Zoo (much to the delight of our giant panda Tian Tian)  which was enough to shut down the federal government, metro and pretty much the entire city. We don’t do well with snow here 😉

While I did brave the snow to toast Mandu‘s fifth anniversary on Friday night, it snowed really hard for most of Saturday so I locked myself up indoors and watched the blizzard with my cat Chloe from the warmth of my cosy apartment, eating semi-homemade pho and catching up on the Oscar nominated films available online. I loved the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? (available on Netflix). Have you seen it yet? You can also stream Ex-Machina on Amazon. I really loved that one too. By Sunday, the snow had settled and we were treated to a warm(ish) and Sunday. I had planned to just go to the U.S. Capitol and snap some pictures but then when I got there I thought, why go home now, the mall is right there… and before I knew I basically played tourist in my own city, walking close to 7 miles and seeing all the big sights! Here are some highlights from my walk:

Snow removal during Jonas 2016 in Washington, DC

SnowselfieSledding on the west lawn of the US capitol
Washington Monument in the Snow
Snowselfeet at the World War II MemorialWorld War II memorial in the snow
Sledding at the Lincoln Memorial
Korean War Veteran Memorial in the snowMLK Memorial in the snow
Jefferson Memorial and frozen Tidal bassinTidal Bassin and Washington Monument in the snowEmpty pennsylvania avenue during Jonas
dc snow

Clyde's Stays Open during Jonas 2016Do you want to build a snowman?

How pretty does Washington, DC look under a fresh powdery coat of snow? Did you get snowed in too? How did you weather Jonas 2016?

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!

Season’s Greenings at the US Botanic Garden

Every holiday season in Washington, I look forward to escaping the winter cold by taking a quick tropical break at the United States Botanic Garden. The dry heat in the desert environment and the warm humidity in the lush tropical rainforest immediately transport you hundreds of miles away. The colourful orchids also have a way of brightening up any grey day! 

Cactus

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Of course, this year, there’s not much winter chills to be escaped, but I still looked forward to visiting the indoor garden for another reason: the annual display of National Mall landmarks made out of dried plant materials in the Garden Court. I’m always amazed at how detailed the structures are. For the bigger structures like that of the US Capitol, Paul Busse and his team at Applied Imagination can spend up to 600 hours turning pine cone scales, acorn caps and cinnamon sticks into intricate works of art! Check it out:

Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian

Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial

The National Monument

The National Monument

The US Capitol Building

The US Capitol Building

US Botanic Garden

Even the US Botanic Garden gets a plant-made replica!

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress structure is so intricate!

Albert Einstein Memorial

One of my favourite DC statue got a replica too: the Albert Einstein Memorial

The Smithsonian Castle

The Smithsonian Castle

The Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial

The White House

The not-quite-white White House

In addition to the replicas, there’s also a train display in the East Gallery that perfect for young children. Be warned though, there’s typically a long line to get into that exhibit. Otherwise, it’s free as well, just like the rest of the Botanic Garden. Season’s Greenings typically opens the day after Thanksgiving and closes right after the new years. For 2016, the exhibit is open until January 3rd, 2016.  

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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Holiday Spirit on Ice at City Center DC

I’m pretty sure the folks over at City Center DC didn’t anticipate that it would be 70 degrees outside when they planned a live ice sculpting event for December 12th. Despite the unseasonably warm temperature, the event was a ton of fun! While two sculptors worked on an ice dress and a Christmas tree at the Park at CityCenterDC, additional sculptures were slowly melting away in Palmer Alley! My favourite was the Birkin bag, of course 😉

Check out some of my pictures below. 

Ice sculpture at city center DC

Live ice sculpting at City Center DC

Ice sculptures at City Center DC

 Ice Menorah at City Center DC

Carolers at City Center DC

Ice sculpture at City Center DC

Ice sculpture at city center DC
And while I’m pretty sure none of the sculpture survived the evening, you can catch more icy action at the National Habor where ICE! at Gaylord National features 2 million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures and five ice slides, among other attractions, inside 15,000-square-foot tent kept at a cool 9 degrees. Ok, that’s actually cold not cool! Brrr.