Author: Julie

Hi, I’m Julie, and ever since I went on my first family vacation trip as a kid, I've been a little obsessed with seeing new places. I’ve found that there is something interesting about every place, no matter how boring it may seem at first glance. Travel is the most exciting adventure we can have! I live in a college town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore but like to escape whenever possible to see new things, eat new foods, take more pictures, and make new acquaintances. I am married with two children (only one still at home). Also living with us are a contrary tabby cat, and an goofy little dog who is part Corgi. (We’re not sure what the other part is!) When I am not traveling, or writing about my travels, you will find me planning my next trip, daydreaming about returning to one of my favorite places, reading a good book, or working on a craft project. I hope you enjoy reading about and seeing the places I’ve been. Remember, travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer…
The Galeries Lafayette Glasswalk

The Galeries Lafayette Glasswalk

When poring through the 2019 edition of Rick Steves’ Paris guide book in preparation for my trip, I came across the mention of a shopping center called Galeries Lafayette. He said that Galeries Lafayette’s stained glass dome ceiling was a must-see. I’ve seen stained glass ceilings before, but never a dome. So I made it a point to go to Galeries Lafayette in my free time.

Upon entering the store from the street, I immediately realized I was out of my depth as far as the shopping was concerned. Luxury brands like Chanel and Yves St Laurent surrounded me. And I was only in the cosmetics section of the store! So I decided to head up to the Starbucks on the third floor, where Rick Steves promised I would find seats with a view. I ordered a Frappuccino to help me energize and cool off. Alas, all of the seats were taken, but I had snapped some photos while in line, so I was good.

But wait, there’s more…

Then I noticed a small flurry of activity and went to investigate. What Rick didn’t tell me was that there was a sign (and, of course, a queue) for something called Glasswalk. Like so many other places that offer you the opportunity to look at something from above with a transparent floor, the Galeries Lafayette Glasswalk offers visitors the chance to walk out under the dome… three floors up.

Galeries Lafayette's stained glass dome ceiling can best be viewed from the end of the Glasswalk platform.

I got in the line and waited for my turn. Remarkably, when I got to the front of the line, I discovered that there was no charge to go out on the Glasswalk. I pink-puffy-heart love free things! I sashayed out on the glass like I owned the joint.

A quick picture of my feet (and the glass beneath them) was a must. How else could I prove to my family that I actually had done this? (When they’re with me, I usually leave anything height-related to them while staying on terra firma to photograph them. I guess having to conquer my fear of heights is another down side of solo travel.)

(Yes, I wear flip flops even when walking all over a city like Paris. Believe it or not, they have arch supports built in and are the most comfortable shoes I own!)

Then, I took it all in. and all I can say is WOW…

Beyond the Galeries Lafayette Glasswalk

Reluctantly, I left the Glasswalk proceded to go up to the sixth floor, where Rick suggested they would have good Paris souvenirs. After a lot of deliberation and checking my list more than Santa does, I bought macarons to bring home as well as a few to enjoy there.

All in all, I really enjoyed my trip to Galeries Lafayette (even though I couldn’t do any serious shopping there). The Glasswalk was an amazing (free!) experience, and I highly recommend that you check it out when you visit Paris. It really is the best way to see and photograph Galeries Lafayette’s stained glass dome ceiling.

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#galerieslafayette #glasswalk #underthedome
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A Review of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, NYC

A Review of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, NYC

On our most recent trip to New York, we had a few hours to kill while my daughter and her friend went to see Dear Evan Hansen. There were any number of fun things we could have done – Gulliver’s Gate, Spyscape, Madame Tussaud’s, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty… I could go on and on. But rather than do something fun, we decided to do something important instead: The 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

I’ve wanted (and simultaneously not wanted) to visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum ever since it opened in 2014. However, our trips to NYC usually left us with not enough time to fit it in. This time, we made it a priority.

Entering the 9/11 Memorial Plaza

As we approached the World Trade Center site, the first thing we saw was the new building – One World Trade Center. It was beautiful, not just in its appearance but also in what it represented: the determination to persevere after tragedy.

9/11 Memorial & Museum in NYC - One World Trade Center

Impressive, isn’t it? It stands (including the spire) at 1776 feet tall,
the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and sixth tallest in the world. The height is not a coincidence; it was chosen to symbolize the independent spirit of America.

The new building is located on the site of the former 6 World Trade Center, heavily damaged in the 2001 attacks.

A one acre pool with the largest man-made waterfalls in the United States now stands on each footprint of the Twin Towers. Known collectively as Reflecting Absence, they symbolize both the loss of life and the physical void left by the attacks. The waterfalls drown out the sounds of the city, making this an ideal space for contemplation. A bronze ledge surrounding each pool bears the names of 2983 people – those who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks and the previous World Trade Center bombing of 1993.

9/11 Memorial & Museum in NYC - the names of those who lost their lives surround the pools where the towers once stood.

The museum is housed in a strange looking building meant to resemble a partially collapsed building. Mostly glass, both clear and reflective, configured at odd angles.

9/11 Memorial & Museum in NYC - the pavilion over the museum was meant to resemble a partially collapsed building.

Inside the 9/11 Museum

Once you enter the museum and pass through security, you start to get an inkling of (or remember) the enormity of the events that day. One of the first things we saw was the flag that was raised at Ground Zero.

On the day of the attacks, a firefighter saw the flag flying on a yacht in the nearby Hudson River basin. He cut the yardarm off the boat and took it to an evacuation site at Ground Zero. There, he and two other firefighters raised it over the rubble. A reporter captured the moment and from that point forward, it became an iconic and enduring image.

To so many people, the three firefighters raising this flag on September 11, 2001, symbolized the resilience of our nation. It also seemed an act of defiance to our attackers – telling them, in effect, “You cannot break us.”

After viewing the flag, we proceeded downstairs into the dark exhibit halls. The farther down we went, the quieter it got. We came upon a map of the mid-Atlantic region, or home, to me. It showed the location of the four terrorist-hijacked airplanes at the time of their crashes. The following two-paragraph summary accompanied the map, with September 11, 2001 spelled out in big letters overhead.

It struck me as odd that such large scale destruction and loss of life could be so easily summed up.

We also saw the rough slurry wall:

A section of the slurry wall left exposed at the 9/11 memorial and museum in NYC.

If, like me, you have no idea what a slurry wall is, or why it would be significant in this place, allow me to share what I have since learned. A slurry wall is a reinforced concrete wall in areas of soft earth that are close to open water.  Its purpose is to keep water out and support the building from beneath. The building above the slurry wall (one of the Twin Towers) collapsed like a house of cards. When it did, the slurry wall could have caved in, resulting in a flooded lower Manhattan. But, thankfully, the wall held.

Of Tears and Twisted Metal

As we wandered through the space, we saw huge pieces of twisted metal hanging against the concrete walls. In a different setting, they could have been works of modern art. But here, they were a grim reminder of the force of destruction and lives lost. When destruction twists a steel beam into a grotesque shape, how could something as fragile as a human body possibly survive?

A twisted piece of metal from the Twin Towers on display at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum

Looking at these items in person put me in a contemplative, somber mood. It wasn’t until I emerged on a balcony overlooking the lower level, however, that I began to tear up and cry.

"No Day Shall Erase You from the Memory of Time" wall at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in NYC

Amid tiles in various shades of blue, Virgil’s quote from The Aeneid overwhelmed me with emotion. “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” Not only is it a beautiful promise to remember the victims of the attacks, it is a memorial in itself. The letters were made from World Trade Center steel. The sign describing the display said:

“Originally trained as a blacksmith, [New Mexico artist Tom] Joyce was invited to harness the transformative process that occurs when iron is touched by fire. He took wounded, remnant steel – made of iron and carbon – and forged it, by heating and folding, into letters of beauty. The result reminds us that Virgil’s words are not just a statement; they are a promise.”

The Exhibition and Education Level

We went down to the lower level and saw, among other things, a portion of the “Survivors’ Staircase,” which came from an evacuation route used by many people on the day of the attacks. In the months and years following September 11, the staircase was the last remaining structure above ground level.

We also saw the remains of the box columns that provided structural support for the World Trade Center buildings. We saw part of a radio/TV antenna and a crumpled piece of shiny metal bearing an inscription from the World Trade Center Dedication Day in 1973. But it wasn’t until we turned and I saw the fire truck from Ladder Company 3 that I gasped.

The twisted metal of a fire truck from Ladder Company 3 at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in NYC

Fire trucks, as any preschooler can tell you, are big, magnificent machines. They are red and shiny, loud and fast. They are strong, just like the men who ride in them. In a word, they are invincible.

Yet the fire truck before me had none of those characteristics. Its ladder more closely resembled the plastic-coated wire tie that you find on a loaf of bread. Bent doors on the side of the truck hung at odd angles, like an injured athlete’s broken arm.

A volunteer stood nearby to tell us the story of the truck and its captain. The truck, she explained, carried eleven responders, some of whom had just gone off duty after completing overnight shifts, to the WTC site. It was 8:46 when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower. By 9:21, the members of Ladder Company 3 had reached the 35th floor.

In his last recorded transmission, Ladder Company 3 Captain Patrick “Paddy” Brown stated, “We are still heading up”. When the building collapsed a little over an hour later, all eleven members of the company perished.

The Historical Exhibition

The guide finished by telling us that we could see the historical exhibit across from the fire engine. No photos are allowed in that part of the museum, so I have none to share. But I will do my best to tell you about it because it was the most thorough and interesting part of the museum.

The exhibit made use of video clips that looped on continuous playback on monitors. There we saw Matt Lauer reporting on the attacks from the Today Show set. We saw footage of the plane hitting the building. We saw footage of the towers collapsing. And hidden away in an alcove so sensitive visitors would not have to see it if they did not want to, we even saw the clips of people jumping to their deaths from the Twin Towers to avoid the slow and inevitable death they were facing inside the building.

It was almost too much to bear. Because instead of sitting in my office watching the events of the day unfold real time with my coworkers as I did on 9/11, this time I was immersed in it. I was a spectator, surrounded by the chaos and confusion and the fear and the overwhelming sadness of it all. And rather than having time to slowly let it all sink in, I was witnessing it all at once, as if time had somehow sped up. It was brutal.

The historical exhibit also examined what happened before the attacks. I saw redacted copies of government correspondence suggesting that an attack was imminent, and urging action in response. It made me angry. Why didn’t anyone take it seriously?

And I saw exhibits on what happened after the attack. The clean up, the search for people who were missing, the nation coming together united as it has never done since. And, eventually, the re-building, and the hope for the future.

In Memoriam

Moving on from the historical exhibit to a quiet, somber, and dimly lit room, you can see portraits of all of the people who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 and in the 1993 World Trade Center attack: men and women. Latino and African-American, Asian and White. Young and old and middle aged. People who earned six figures and those who earned minimum wage. Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist. Death is the great equalizer.

I looked for Juan Garcia’s photo. I never knew him, but I wrote about him on my old mommy blog as part of a 5 year anniversary blogger project. Seeing his picture on the wall made me feel sad. I can only imagine what it must be like for those who lost someone they knew personally.

In Conclusion

If you have an opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, you should. It is important to remind ourselves of how good this country can be when we stand united. It is equally important to remind ourselves of the ripple effect that senseless acts of violence can have on society. So go. And when you do, please come back here and tell me how it affected you. I’d love to hear about your experience. Maybe the more we talk about, the more we can do to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.

9/11 Memorial and Museum - pinnable image
The Down Side of Solo Travel

The Down Side of Solo Travel

Last month, I took my first ever solo trip. I flew to Paris by myself, stayed in an Airbnb by myself, saw the sights by myself, and flew home by myself. In some ways it was an ideal trip. After all, I only saw the things that I wanted to see, spent as much time in each location as I wanted to, and made 100% of the decisions 100% my way. However, there were a few things that I didn’t like about traveling alone. And it doesn’t seem like anyone ever talks about the down side of solo travel. So here’s the ugly truth. Or at least, my ugly truth. Your mileage may vary.

1. You may spend a lot of time feeling self-conscious.

1a. Selfies

I have posted a selfie on the TravelAsMuch Instagram account exactly three times in as many years. There are several reasons for that, not the least of which is I feel very conspicuous when I’m trying to take a selfie.

For millennials and those who are even younger, sticking that phone/camera up in the air as far as your arm will stretch is almost second nature. For me… not so much. I want to hurry up and get it over with before anyone catches me doing it. I hover somewhere between embarrassment that someone will think I’m vain and worry about inconveniencing others who want a photo without me in it.

1b. Restaurants

If you cringe at the thought of having to sit in a restaurant at a table for one, welcome to my world. Guess who ended up not eating a fabulous meal in a city known as one of the best in the world for great cuisine? This girl!

I just couldn’t bear the thought of eating a sit down meal by myself. I went to two restaurants to get dinner by myself on that trip, and while I managed to survive the ordeal, I definitely did not enjoy it. For the remainder of my meals in Paris, I went to Chez McDonalds (Lame, I know!) or bought groceries and fixed my own meals.

1c. Romantic Places

I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower by myself. Everywhere I turned, couples were kissing and taking their own pictures from that oh-so-romantic vantage point above the city. They even had a poster proclaiming it as the “Place to Kiss” with a special hashtag, #eiffellove.

And there was I, without Hubs, missing him dearly, and unable to express my love. I did, however, take a selfie and sent it to him later when I had access to Wifi.

The down side of solo travel: taking a selfie in a romantic place can be daunting.
Selfies in romantic places are just one reason why solo travel can be less than glamorous.

2. If you are an introvert, you will struggle.

I am an introvert. Which is not to say that I can’t talk to people I don’t know… just that it doesn’t come naturally. When I host women’s activities at my church, I think I do a god job of greeting everyone and being a good mistress of ceremonies. But being outgoing & friendly without an agenda takes so much energy out of me and causes me so much anxiety that I tend to avoid it if possible. If you are the type of person who never met a stranger, please know that I am in absolute awe of you. How I wish I could just strike up a casual conversation without feeling like a total dork!

So if, like me, you’re an introvert (with or without shyness), solo travel might be really hard for you. And doubly so if you go to a destination where you don’t speak the language well enough to have a conversation. As a non-French speaking introvert, I felt incredibly isolated on my Paris trip.

Sure, the first few days alone in Paris were great (well, once I finally got my luggage and recovered from the jet lag!), but after that… I didn’t feel like an independent woman on a spectacular journey of self-discovery and adventure. I just felt… dare I say it?… lonely.

I’ve considered whether I might have met more people if I had stayed at a hotel rather than in an Airbnb. Probably, but I absolutely loved the place I stayed. It offered amazing sunset views of the Eiffel Tower and Saint Sulpice church:

(Click here for a link that will get you up to $55 off when booking on Airbnb!)

3. If you’re indecisive, you will struggle.

I didn’t realize until I went on this trip how much I rely on the preferences, advice, and opinions of others. From the mundane to the monumental, I find it difficult to make a decision without consulting someone else.

The down side of solo travel includes not having someone to help you make up your mind.
Decisions, decisions…

Traveling alone means you have to make all of the decisions yourself. Without help or feedback from anyone.

In situations that are not clear cut, I can seldom make a decision without verbalizing the pros and cons of each side, running through possible scenarios, and checking in with others to make sure I’m not the only one who has considered these things. I like to use other people as a sounding board because:

  • Sometimes I overlook important details (like the fact that the subway will be closed when we get out of a particular venue and we will have to get an Uber instead)
  • I unwittingly let external factors influence my mood & decisions (hungry, angry, frustrated, tired – I make all of my worst decisions when I am in one of these states)
  • Sometimes I don’t think things all the way through to the end (yes, Julie, that wall mirror that’s 3.5 feet across is a perfect gift for Aunt Marjorie… but how are you going to get it home?)
  • And then there are occasions when I just don’t have a preference. I can’t decide because there isn’t any factor to sway me one way or the other. In those instances, I really just want someone else to choose for me.

So, while calling all the shots has a certain appeal, you might find it a little unsettling after a while. I really missed being able to get other people’s opinions.

4. You may worry about your safety.

I want to start off by saying that I did not once feel like I was in imminent danger when I went to Paris.

However! I do believe that the only reason I didn’t feel like I was in danger was because I was almost constantly fretting over it. As a woman traveling alone in a city with which I am not at all familiar, I had to think about my personal safety in all sorts of situations. Situations that, if I had been with other people, would not have given me a moment’s hesitation. Some of the precautions I took included:

  • Taking Uber instead of the subway at night. I didn’t think it would be in my best interest to be walking home alone from the subway station after dark, no matter how well-lit the streets were.
  • Making sure the Uber car’s license plate matched what the app said it would be. And even then, still asking the driver who he was there to pick up.
  • Not looking like a clueless tourist. In all honesty, I probably didn’t nail this one, but I did at least try. Rather than constantly referring to a map, I used my phone’s Google Maps app for directions.
  • Not using headphones in both ears. When I was using my earbuds, I only inserted one so that I could still hear what was going on around me. I did not want to be caught off guard or otherwise endanger myself.

So, Is Solo Travel Worth It?

There is a definite down side of solo travel, as I’ve outlined here. But as with most experiences, you are more apt to enjoy it if you don’t have unrealistically high expectations from the outset. Regardless of whether you travel by yourself or with others, you will maximize your satisfaction with the experience by doing adequate planning and preparation before hand.

Header Image by rawpixel.com

My Notre Dame Cathedral Tour: 11 Days Before the Fire

My Notre Dame Cathedral Tour: 11 Days Before the Fire

On Monday, April 15, I returned to work after taking nearly two weeks off for my first solo trip – to Paris. I emailed my co-workers to let them know that I had brought a box of Parisian chocolates and some other souvenir trinkets for them.

Around mid-day, one co-worker emailed me back. He wasn’t in the office but had checked his work email from home. Did you hear about what is happening in Paris? he wanted to know.

I had no idea what was going on in Paris, so I Googled it. And my mouth fell open when I saw the news that Notre Dame Cathedral was on fire. Nothing could have prepared me to see the iconic church set ablaze while millions watched, helpless. Especially since I had been there just eleven days earlier.

But that wasn’t my first time visiting Notre Dame cathedral…

1984: My First Notre Dame Cathedral Tour

Notre Dame Cathedral Tour 1984 - I thought I was heading to the toilet and ended up atop the cathedral.

This photo was taken in April 1984, when I took a trip to Paris with our high school’s French Club. Now, I wasn’t studying French… I was taking Spanish. But they needed extra people to go on the trip, and because my Spanish teacher considered me “gifted” with foreign languages, I got to go. Even though the only French I knew was basically “oui” and “non.”

Part of the pre-departure lecture my parents gave me was to make sure that I got lots of pictures of me in front of “French things”. At the time I rolled my eyes and thought that was just silly. However, I’m glad I followed their instructions. This picture alone is worth it. Here’s why:

It was our first day in Paris and we attended mass at Notre Dame cathedral. Jet lagged and confused by all the French (or maybe it was Latin – I couldn’t tell), I nearly fell asleep during the service. When it ended, the teacher ushered us outside and began speaking to us in French. I’d venture to guess that everyone knew what she was saying except for me. I assumed by the vigorous head nodding and enthusiastic responses of “oui!” that she had asked if anyone needed to go to the bathroom. I certainly did! So I too nodded my head and said “oui” like everyone else.

Off we marched, back inside the cathedral, up a stone staircase that twisted and turned. Up, up, up. Imagine my surprise when we emerged not near a public bathroom, but at the top of the cathedral!

So, dutiful to my parents’ instructions, I had a friend snap this picture. I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m sneering a little because (a) I still needed to go pee, (b) I’m afraid of heights, and (c) the gargoyles were really quite creepy. For the rest of my time in Paris, I made sure that I understood the question before I said, “oui.”

35 Years Later…

On this trip to Paris, I flew from Newark NJ to Zurich and then from Zurich to Paris. Unfortunately, my luggage stopped in Zurich and didn’t accompany me to the City of Lights.

I usually travel with only a carry on – a practice to which I will now return! – and I was at a loss as to how to proceed without all of my stuff. The way I saw it, I had two options. I could hole up in my Airbnb and stay there until the courier brought my luggage. Or I could get over the jet lag, then go ahead and see the sights as I had originally planned.

After a two hour nap and a bit of a meltdown with an emotional call to Hubs at home, I decided upon the second option. After all, I had a plan for every day of my trip and missing one day would throw all of my other plans off kilter.

The next morning, I awoke rested and determined to not let a thing like missing luggage derail my vacation. After getting a call that my luggage would arrive around 2:00 in the afternoon, I headed off to see Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame, and the Deportation Memorial. All were located on Île de la Cité, one of two islands in the Seine River in Paris.

I’ll cover Sainte Chapelle and the Deportation Memorial in separate blog posts. Today, in light of the devastating fire that recently took place, I want to focus on Notre Dame Cathedral.

2019: My Second Notre Dame Cathedral Tour

Almost as soon as I arrived, the bells of Notre Dame started ringing:

As you can see, it was a beautiful day – all blue skies and sunshine. I stood outside the cathedral and took in all of the amazing architectural details.

Thought to be on the former site of a Roman temple to Jupiter, Notre Dame Cathedral has stood in Paris for over 850 years. Until the completion of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, the massive towers of Notre Dame were the tallest structure in the city of Paris (226 feet high).

I wish I could find a statistic for how many figures are carved into the stone facade of this amazing piece of Gothic architecture. Let’s just say a lot. But there’s a good reason for that. The cathedral is an example of a liber pauperum, or a “poor people’s book”, covered with sculptures that vividly illustrate biblical stories. During the era in which the cathedral was built, the vast majority of parishioners were illiterate. The only way they could learn about biblical stories was by looking at the figures carved into the church building.

For instance, if you face the towers of the cathedral, you will find above the middle doorway a vivid portrayal of the Final Judgment:

Notre Dame Cathedral Tour - the iconography of the central portal shows a vivid depiction of the Final Judgment.

Jesus sits on his throne in Heaven. Beneath his feet there are two figures holding scales. On the left is the archangel Michael; on the right, Satan. Each side of the scale holds a person whose life is being judged. Those who have been condemned are being led away by a demon on the right hand side.

The stained glass windows at Notre Dame are just beautiful. There are three circular “rose” windows, and the one on the west facade over the Final Judgment scene is the smallest. That said, the window still measures over 31 feet in diameter. From the outside of the church, you can see three figures in front of the rose window: the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus, and an angel on either side of her.

My Notre Dame Cathedral Tour - The Virgin Mary and two angels stand in front of the cathedral's smallest rose window on the western facade.

Below the window you will find statues of the 28 kings of Judah in “The Gallery of Kings”. During the French Revolution, rebels thought that the statues represented the kings of France. As a result, the angry French citizens lobbed off the heads of the statues. Fortunately, the statues have been restored, and you can see some of the old heads at the Cluny Museum in Paris.

While I stood there admiring the cathedral’s exterior, I started to notice some odd details that I might have overlooked if I hadn’t paused to take it all in. For instance, this poor fellow:

When taking a Notre Dame Cathedral tour, be sure to study the figures carved on the outside of the building.
I’m not sure who this king is, but a much larger man is standing on him!

Inside the Cathedral

As stunning as the outside of Notre Dame is, though, its real beauty lies within.

As with most Gothic cathedrals, Notre Dame has chapels on each side of the building. These alcoves, dedicated to saints, can hold some of the most beautiful artwork found inside the church building. For instance, a memorial to the 14th century heroine, Joan of Arc:

Notre Dame Cathedral tour - statue of Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc)
Statue of Joan of Arc

I especially liked this memorial, dedicated to Denis Auguste Affre, the Archbishop of Paris from 1840 to 1848. The phrase inscribed above his head translates to “May my blood be the last shed”.

Memorial to Denis Auguste Affre

Affre was led to believe that his personal involvement in the June Days uprising of 1848 could lead to peace between the French military and the insurgents. Mounting the military’s barricade, he waved a branch as a symbol of peace and began to speak. Insurgents heard some shots and suspected a betrayal, so they opened fire upon the National Guard. A stray bullet hit Affre, and he died two days later.

In another spot, there was a model depicting the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Notre Dame cathedral tour - model of cathedral's construction

The 14th century wall separating the choir from the main walkway of Notre Dame was decorated with stunning detail.

This scene shows Jesus with the apostles. the inscription, in Latin, says “Christ appears to the Apostles near Lake Tiberias” (Lake Tiberias = the Sea of Galilee). This scene constituted only a small portion of the scenes depicting the life of Jesus.

One massive piece of statuary that caught my eye was the mausoleum of the Earl of Harcourt:

Cancre [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Note that there are four figure here. An angel carelessly holding a torch, a woman kneeling as if pleading to someone, a man who appears to be coming out of a coffin, and a hooded skeleton holding an hourglass in his bony hand.

I read that this memorial’s name/theme was Conjugal Meeting. The angel has lifted the lid on the Count’s sarcophagus, and he has risen. The skeleton, AKA Death, is holding an hourglass to symbolize that the Countess’ time has come. The Countess is reaching out toward her husband and Death as if she is ready to join them. (She outlived her husband by ten and a half years.) It was beautiful and tragic all at the same time.

On a Notre Dame Cathedral tour, be sure to look for the three rose windows of stained glass.
The South Rose Window, one of three in Notre Dame Cathedral.

The south rose window was constructed in 1260, and most of the original thirteenth century stained glass is still intact, even after last week’s tragic fire. Larger than the west rose window that I wrote about earlier, this one measures more than 42 feet across. Unlike the north rose window, which features Old Testament prophets and kings, this one is dedicated to the New Testament.

The center medallion features Jesus reigning as King in Heaven. The sixteen panels beneath the south rose window feature the prophets of the Bible. The four center panels depict the great Old Testament prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel) carrying the four New Testament evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) on their shoulders.

From outside the cathedral, the south rose window looks like this:

A Notre Dame Cathedral tour offers glimpses of the church's three rose windows - from inside and outside the building.
The south end of Notre Dame’s transept, featuring the south rose window.

You can see the church spire sticking up above the roof in this photo. Sadly, the spire was completely destroyed by the fire.

At the very back of the Cathedral, I found a small area with the most venerated holy relic in France: the Crown of Thorns.

The Crown of Thorns display, as seen on my Notre Dame Cathedral Tour

The crown of thorns, worn by Jesus at the time of his crucifixion, has been in the possession of the French since 1238, when the Emperor of Constantinople gave it to King Louis IX.

King Louis IX had the cathedral of Sainte Chapelle built to receive and hold the crown of thorns and other holy relics. The crown stayed at Sainte Chapelle until the French Revolution, at which point authorities hid it at a different location. From 1806 until the fire, it was located in Notre Dame cathedral.

The reliquary holding the crown of thorns is in the case that you see between the candles in the above picture. A semi-translucent sheet of bright red material (resembling a cascade of blood) hangs over it. Through it, you can just make out the circular outline of the reliquary.

Inside the reliquary, the crown of thorns is actually thorn-less. Some 70 thorns were removed and distributed to holy sites across the world over the centuries, leaving just a band of rushes for this reliquary. One of the thorns was inside the rooster that sat atop the Notre Dame spire. The day after the fire, someone found the rooster in the rubble … dented but intact.

On the first Friday of every month at 3:00 p.m., the time of Jesus’ death, the faithful attend a special “veneration of the crown” church service.

Conclusion

The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral was certainly tragic, but it could have been much worse. I am so thankfully that I was able to see the beautiful building and all of its treasures before the fire took place. I am looking forward to the day when I hear that the cathedral has been fully restored and rebuilt. Until then, I will cherish the memories of my Notre Dame Cathedral Tour!

Coming Soon!

Coming Soon!

Well, friends, I was working on a post last week that I hoped to publish before I left for my Paris vacation.

Unfortunately, my blog was experiencing technical difficulties and I was unable to finish it.

I will be publishing it soon after I teturn, and will have lots of new material from this trip as well! Bonjour!

Product Review: Gemz Solid Shampoo

Product Review: Gemz Solid Shampoo

Sometimes, Facebook advertising really does work

I recently saw a Facebook ad for a solid shampoo product called Gemz. It showed how a small disc transformed into lots of lathery suds for washing even long hair. I was skeptical, but I decided to try it, since I am heading to Paris in two weeks. These discs will take up less space than a shampoo bottle, won’t leak onto my clothing, and won’t have to be put in a clear baggie at the TSA checkpoint.

When I went to the Gemz website, a couple of things really stood out:

  1. Gemz solid shampoo is fairly inexpensive, at roughly $1 per disc. Granted, given that one disc = one shampoo, it’s not as economical as using regular shampoo. But for traveling without the issues that liquid shampoo present, that’s a price I would happily pay.
  2. Shipping is free. Gotta love free shipping!
  3. Gemz solid shampoo is environmentally friendly. Not only is there less packaging than with a liquid shampoo, Gemz provides a postage paid envelope so you can return your empty packaging to them for recycling.
  4. Gemz offers multiple formulas – one for colored hair, one to tame frizziness, one that won’t weigh hair down, one to add volume, etc. They also offer solid conditioners.

So I placed an order – seven discs for $6.99. Prior to checkout, an offer to get a total of 14 Gemz solid shampoo discs for $11.99 popped up, which made the individual cost go from $1 to 86 cents. Normally, I wouldn’t take a risk on making a bigger purchase for a product I had never tried, but bargains are my kryptonite! I purchased 14, rationalizing that I could because of the free shipping.

I should note that I purchased these items myself. Gemz did not sponsor this post and has provided me no monetary compensation or free products. Everything I’m writing here is my 100% honest opinion without input from anyone else.

The Reveal – Part 1

I placed my order on a Wednesday and received a confirmation email saying that I could expect my package to arrive in 7-10 days. It arrived two days later! The contents of the box were:

Gemz solid shampoo is TSA approved and environmentally friendly

I got the 14 Gemz solid shampoo discs in a pretty mesh bag, a booklet about the product and how it works, and the postage paid return bag for the empty containers.

As you can see, I chose the “grandiose volume” shampoo because, well, I’m a child of the 1980s and I like big hair. There, I said it. Don’t judge.

Gemz solid shampoo - this tiny disc provides enough lather to wash even long hair.

I admit, I was a little nervous. The phrase “trying something new” is not one I usually utter in reference to my hair. I’ve had enough bad hair experiences over the years to know that trying something new, more often than not, will end in disaster. How can something that fits in the palm of my hand provide enough suds for my long-ish hair?

When it came time to give Gemz solid shampoo a try, I peeled back the foil seal and found this:

Gemz solid shampoo - minimal packaging and they will even recycle it for you

It looks a bit like a sponge, doesn’t it? Well, according to the directions, it kind of is. After removing it from the container, you place the disc in your hand and add water. Wait a few seconds and – voila! – you will have a pile of suds where the disc once sat.

Gemz solid shampoo - add water and wait a few seconds for the disc to turn into shampoo lather

Still, I was skeptical. That doesn’t look like enough to wash my hair. But I tried it. And guess what?

It was enough. I washed my hair thoroughly and completely with that little disc! (Also, as an aside, it smelled great!)

The Reveal – Part 2

I can’t say whether the Gemz solid shampoo really added a lot of volume (so few volume-boosting shampoos ever do with my hair, unfortunately). However, I dried and styled my hair as usual and I’m pretty pleased with the results:

My hair after using Gemz solid shampoo Grandiose Volume.

As you can see, that’s a good amount of hair to wash, and I had enough suds to do the job. I did find one bit of undissolved disc in my hair after it dried, but I am certain that was an error on my part and not a defect of the product itself.

I failed to make sure that the disc had completely dissolved before applying the suds to my hair. The video demonstration that Gemz uses to show how their products work shows a woman rubbing the disc/suds in a circular motion. I did not do that as thoroughly as I should have.

Conclusion

I would highly recommend Gemz solid shampoo for anyone, but especially for my fellow travelers! It’s a good product that you can feel good about using.

Product review of Gemz solid shampoo on travelasmuch.com
How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel… at Any Age!

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel… at Any Age!

Most kids, if we’re being honest, don’t really get the concept of travel. To them, a great vacation could be anywhere, as long as they get to stay in a hotel with a pool and cable television. So how do you get them to think about the world that awaits them outside of the hotel? How do you make them look forward to more than just surfing channels and swimming in an over-chlorinated pool? How do you get your kids to love travel?

Tip #1: Start Early

The sooner you start traveling with your children, the better. Whether it’s a trip to visit grandparents who live an hour or two away from you, or a week long vacation in another state or country, take your kids away from home as often as you can.

First time parents and/or those with very young children may find the thought of doing so overwhelming, scary, or just plain crazy. But trust me, the sooner you expose your children to the concept of sleeping someplace other than your own house, the better.

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #1 - Start taking them on trips as early as possible.

Yes, you will have to bring all kinds of gear with you. Car seat! Stroller! Diaper bag! Diapers! Blankets! Wipes! Bottles! Toys! Portable crib!

How on earth can such a tiny human need

So.

Much.

Stuff!??!?!?

Well, the truth is, they don’t. Resist the temptation to over-pack. Only pack what is necessary and leave the “just in case” items at home. If you aren’t going on a mountain hike in a remote part of the world, you will probably be able to buy any incidentals that you need while away from home.

Tip #2: Model a Positive Attitude

Enthusiasm is contagious, and our offspring are always looking to us for cues on how they should feel about something. If you’re excited about going on vacation, they will be excited too.

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #2 - Model a Positive Attitude and Show Some Excitement

If, on the other hand, you’re grumbling about how to make everything fit in the car, or having a near anxiety attack because you’re worried that you’ve forgotten something, all your kids will process is that going on vacation makes their parent(s) stressed and grumpy. Most parents, even the most loving ones, will be more likely to snap at, scold, or otherwise lack patience with their children when they are stressed or grumpy. So be uber-aware of your demeanor when planning for and embarking on your journey to avoid having your kids think of family travel with a negative connotation.

Tip #3: Involve Your Kids in the Planning Process

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #3 - Involve them in the planning process.

Regardless of whether you are a Type A vacation over-planner (like me) or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants vacationer, you need to at least talk to your kids about where you’re going and what they would like to do there. Give them a list of three or four child-friendly activities and ask what they would be most interested in. Show them some photos or videos online so they can fully imagine what it would be like. Don’t assume that you know what they would like to do most… you might be surprised by their answers! If your kids feel like they helped plan the trip, they will be more inclined to enjoy it because they will have a vested interest in it.

A side benefit of approaching them about what they would like to do on the trip is that they may be more patient when doing things that aren’t as interesting to them. “Today we are doing something that Dad wanted to do, and tomorrow we will do what you wanted to do.” Kids will learn that a family vacation is just that – a vacation for the whole family to enjoy… not just them.

Tip #4: Have Them Document Their Travels

This is my absolute favorite tip for how to get your kids to love travel! Encourage your children to document their travel experiences in an age appropriate way. This could be as simple as videotaping an “interview” with your kids telling you at the end of each day what they enjoyed most. Again, their answers may surprise you! (My daughter’s favorite memory of our trip to Cornwall when she was 8 was leaving grapes along the fence rail for the seagulls, of all things. She is now 16 and she still talks about it. Would I have guessed that feeding the seagulls would be such a happy memory for her? Certainly not.)

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #4 - Have them document their travel with photos, artwork, or journaling.

If your kids are older, you can go a step further and have them keep a journal. Encourage them to illustrate their notes with drawings of what they saw/did. Alternatively, have them complete postcards to send to family and friends.

If they’re old enough, you could consider giving them a camera to take their own pictures as a way of documenting the journey. These little mementos of a trip – as seen through the eyes of your children – are priceless and they make the best souvenirs, in my opinion.

BONUS: writing and drawing are activities that they can work on in transit, which will keep them busy. It might keep you from having to hear “Are we there yet?”

Tip #5: Bring a Little Bit of Home with You

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #5 - Bring a little piece of home with you.

Let your kids bring one small thing from home that they really love. For younger children, this might be a stuffed animal that they sleep with. For older kids, a favorite toy. If you can’t take your pets with you, consider bringing a photo of them for your children to have on the table next to their bed. These pieces of home serve as small reminders that vacation is temporary, and they will soon return to the places, people, and things they know and love.

You could also make a game with their favorite object. For instance, take a photograph of their favorite toy/stuffed animal at every location you visit and let them make a scrapbook or story about it (see Tip #4 above).

Tip #6: Resist the Temptation to Use Screens as Diversions

Look, I get it. Traveling (especially by car or plane) for more than a few hours with kids in tow can be tedious at best. It can be hard even when you’re traveling without kids! But I beg of you, please resist the temptation to just hand them a phone or tablet and let them play games or watch videos as you travel.

The more engaged they are with their surroundings, the more they will enjoy travel. The more they are engaged with their family members, the more fun memories and traditions you will build on the trip. So let them look out the windows of the car or observe people at the baggage carousel in the airport. Let them see what makes a place different from home, and what makes it similar.

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #6 - Don't give them a video pacifier, but rather have them look out the window as they travel through unfamiliar areas.

And if not handing your kids an electronic device to placate them while traveling seems unrealistic, think about what you did when you were a kid going places with your parents. There was life before we all adopted video pacifiers… there can be life after the fact too!

My own daughter, at age three and a half years, traveled by car from Maryland to Florida (that’s 14 hours not counting stops). She did so without a portable TV/DVD player and without playing games on anyone’s phone/tablet. We talked about things we saw while we drove, talked about how excited we were to be going on vacation (see Tip #2 above), made up games to play, and so on. There were no meltdowns. There was no whining. It was incredible, not to mention enjoyable!

Tip #7: Let Them Choose a Souvenir

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #7 - Let them choose a souvenir to take home (no matter how tacky)

If your kids are traveling with you, allow them to select a reasonably priced souvenir to bring home as a memento of their trip. If it’s something that they can start a collection with, even better, because then you’ll be on a quest to find one of those items at every destination.

One of my favorite things to have my children collect were the pressed pennies that have the name and an image for the place you visited. They are cheap – typically $.50 – $1.00 each – and fairly ubiquitous at tourist destinations. What’s more, most Penny Presses have an assortment of designs to choose from, so if you have multiple kids with you they can each get a different design.

Regardless of the souvenir they choose, though, it will prove a tangible reminder of the time they spent away from home and the fun things that they saw and did. The key is to let them choose what the souvenir will be. It doesn’t matter if they want a souvenir water bottle and you already have an entire drawer full of them at home. it doesn’t matter if they want a keychain, but they have no keys. Let them pick what they find meaningful and the chances are good that they will enjoy it for years to come.

Tip #8: Slow Down!

No one likes to be rushed. Especially young ones who are seeing new places, people, and things for the first time. So make sure that in your day to day travels on vacation, you are moving at a pace slightly slower than you normally would. Give them time to walk beside you without rushing to keep up, to ask questions about what they’re seeing, and to just stop for a moment to take it all in.

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #8 - Slow down and give them a chance to take it all in.

Along those same lines, make sure you leave some wiggle room in your travel itinerary for the little ones. Build in some time for a nap, if needed. Time for a visit to a local playground at your destination. Time for relaxing. And yes, even time to enjoy the hotel pool and/or cable television.

Tip #9: Be as Hands On as Possible

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I love museums. I am a history geek through and through, and nothing excites me more than being able to see items that have witnessed hundreds of years of history and survived.

But history is kind of a weird concept to a child, and they aren’t likely to appreciate a museum with as much gusto as I would. For children to be engaged, and to get your kids to love travel, you have to give them opportunities to be as hands on as possible.

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #9 - Visit places with hands-on children's activities, or come up with your own

That doesn’t mean you have to forego the museums… but it may mean coming up with a scavenger hunt-style game for them to play while you’re going through the museum. Many tourist attractions these days will offer young visitors a way to stay entertained, whether it’s a touch tank at an aquarium or a craft activity at a museum. Exhibits with buttons to push are always popular with young ones, too. Check at the visitor’s desk wherever you go and ask if they have any children’s activities/exhibits.

Tip #10: Break the Rules… or at Least Bend Them

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #10 - Break the rules (or at least bend them) while you're on vacation.

Kids love to think that they’re getting away with doing something that they wouldn’t normally be able to do. And there’s no better time or place to let them experience that joy than on vacation. You’re away from home for a fixed period of time… why not let them enjoy a bit of special rule-breaking?

A few caveats, though. First, YOU should be the one to decide which rules are okay to break. Then make sure that the kids know they are only allowed to break those rules and no others. For instance, an 8:00 PM bedtime rule does not need to be enforced on vacation, but they absolutely must still follow the rule about brushing their teeth before bed.

Second, remind them (often, if need be) that this bit of rule-breaking is only happening because you are on vacation. Once you return home and to your normal routine of work and school, the rules will once again be in full effect.

Third, be prepared to reinstate the rules if behavior gets out of control. Sticking with the example above, relaxing the bedtime rule will need to be re-evaluated if it results in cranky, overtired children.

In Conclusion

Travel is something that everyone can enjoy – and children can come to love – if approached with a bit of creativity and enthusiasm. Your family vacations will be full of laughter, love, and memories to cherish for years to come if you get your kids to love travel.

Ocean View, Delaware – Where You Can Enjoy Dinner on a Train

Ocean View, Delaware – Where You Can Enjoy Dinner on a Train

As previously mentioned here, my husband loves trains. Not in the sense of being a collector/builder of model railroads. The idea of traveling by train just fascinates him. And we’ve done it a few times as a result. So for Valentine’s Day this year, I suggested that we check out a restaurant called The Salted Rim in Ocean View, Delaware. The Salted Rim frequently has themed dinners in their restored rail cars… and I just knew Hubs would love to have dinner on a train!

Delaware?

Yes, Delaware! Don’t say that you would never go there, because the fact of the matter is that there are loads of beautiful beaches in the First State. The Atlantic coastline offers a variety of destinations, from Lewes and Rehoboth to Dewey, Bethany and Fenwick. All have their own special niche, and all are 30 minutes or less from Ocean View.

The Salted Rim

The Salted Rim in Ocean View Delaware offers themed dinner on a train events that are fun for the whole family.

So, if you’re visiting the Delaware beaches, you should definitely check out The Salted Rim. Before I tell you about their wonderful dinner on a train events, you should know that they offer a lot more. Happy Hour specials on drinks and food run Sunday-Friday from 11-7 PM and 3-7 PM on Saturday.

Here are the ongoing daily specials (as of this writing – they are subject to change):

  • MONDAY – All you can eat tacos 4-9 PM, plus Bingo at 6 PM
  • TUESDAY – Karaoke starting at 8 PM
  • WEDNESDAY – Domestic beers $2.50, Mingo (music bingo) at 7 PM
  • THURSDAY – Fried Grouper Sandwich $5.99 11 AM-4PM, Trivia at 7 PM
  • FRIDAY – 2 Shrimp Tacos for $5.99 11 AM-4PM, DJ providing music

Their menu is as diverse as the entertainment. From seafood to Mexican fare, plus a great selection of appetizers, burgers, and sandwiches, the food is fresh and tasty. The service at the Salted Rim is also excellent.

Dinner on a Train

There are two train cars located adjacent to the restaurant proper. Their themed events offer a breakfast or dinner buffet, depending on the time. The breakfast offers guests scrambled eggs, pancakes, chocolate chip pancakes, French toast, breakfast potatoes, sausage, ham, and rolls. The lunch/dinner option includes salad, mac & cheese, scalloped potatoes, tater tots, chicken nuggets (I’m told they are very similar to Chick-fil-A nuggets!), corn, BBQ chicken legs, pasta & marinara sauce, fresh fish in Lemon Butter, and dinner rolls.

Prices are $12.99 for children ages 1-7, $17.99 for children ages 8-12, and $26.99 for ages 13 and up.

Frozen

Young guests are invited to dress up as their favorite princess or other character (or just come in their pajamas) and enter the magical, frozen world of Elsa, Anna and Olaf.

"Frozen" princesses Elsa & Anna  are the stars of the Frozen theme dinner on a train at the Salted Rim in Ocean View DE

Inside the rail cars, decorated for the event in shades of white and blue and an abundance of snowflakes, guests can watch the movie on a large screen television and enjoy the buffet meal. There will be a special visit from the Princesses as guests sing-a-long to their favorite songs from the movie.

Polar Express

Decorated for Christmas - guests can experience a Polar Express dinner on a train during the holidays at the Salted Room in Ocean View DE

Offered around the holidays, the Salted Rim’s Polar Express meal is a must for any young fans of the movie or book. Just like the kids in the story, they should attend in their pajamas! Many families use the occasion to take photos with the decorated trains in the background, and then use the photo for their Christmas card greetings.

Upon arrival, guests check in with Mrs. Claus, who issues golden tickets to the diners. Then, when the train is ready to board, Mrs. Claus will make the announcement and all families will walk a short distance down the deck to the train entrance.

The Conductor punches the tickets of guests on the Salted Rim's Polar Express dinner on a train in Ocean View DE

At the entrance to the train car, Mr. Conductor greets the guests and punches the golden tickets just like in the movie. Then guests meet the Elves, who are the servers, and they escort to your assigned seat. After all guests are seated, the buffet dinner begins.

Once everyone has their food, the movie begins. During the rousing hot chocolate scene in the movie, the guests receive hot chocolate and cookies. After that, families are free to just sit back and enjoy the movie.

At a certain point, the Elves pause the movie to announce a special visitor. Direct from the North Pole, it’s Santa Claus! Santa visits with each child, asks them what they want for Christmas, and gives them a special gift. He poses for pictures with the children, and the Elves are happy to help if the whole family wants to be in the picture with Santa.

The movie resumes after Santa’s visit and everyone claps as the movie ends! It is truly magical! They even have a mailbox for children to mail their letters to Santa!

Harry Potter

The latest offering from the Salted Rim is dinner on a train that might resemble the Hogwarts Express. Guests can arrive in Hogwarts uniform or other costume (optional). The may also bring their wands, but broomsticks must park in the front of the train.

Harry Potter fans can enjoy a Hogwarts theme dinner on a train at the Salted Rim in Ocean View DE

In this magical world, guests are sorted into Gyffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff as you watch one of the eight Harry Potter movies. Pick your favorite, then sit back and watch Harry, Ron and Hermoine learn how to battle the evil forces of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Movies will be shown on large screen TV’s in authentic train cars decorated in true Harry Potter style.

You will enjoy a first course of a garden salad served family style to your table, an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet and a butter beer cupcake dessert served by Hogwarts characters.

Holiday Specials

The Salted Rim also offers fine dining specials for holiday meals. Hubs and I went there for Valentine’s Day dinner this year, and it was a great experience!

Hearts and roses and rhinestones adornted the rail cars:

The Salted Rim offers guests the opportunity to celebrate holidays by having a romantic dinner on a train.
Couples can enjoy a Valentine's Dinner on a train at the Salted Rim in Ocean View, Delaware.

I don’t know if you can see it in the photo above, but they had some special Valentine’s Day drink specials on the menu. They all sounded really good, but the one that really caught my eye was “Love at First Bite,” which was described as a “strawberry rattle snake margarita.” I love margaritas, and I love strawberry margaritas. So I ordered it.

Isn’t it pretty? Well, let me tell you – looks can be deceiving! My mouth burned from the very first sip, because I neglected to ask what the rattlesnake reference was for. After the initial sip, when I realized that the rim was coated in Old Bay seasoning, I drank the rest through a straw in an effort to cool the burning sensation on my lips and tongue. Big mistake. It turns out that the tequila used in this particular margarita was infused with some really hot pepper. I can’t remember if it was jalapeno or habanero – either way, it was too much for me! But then again, I think Chipotle is too spicy. Your mileage may vary.

Needless to say, that’s the last time I will order a drink without finding out what’s in it! Fortunately, the food was much more to my liking. I ordered Chicken Chesapeake and Hubs had Grouper stuffed with crab imperial, both served with some yummy mashed potatoes and a vegetable. Then we split a creamy, decadent Bailey’s Irish Cream cheesecake for dessert.

It was a great evening, and we couldn’t have been more pleased. The next time you’re in the Delaware beaches area, make sure you check out the Salted Rim and see if you can have dinner on a train!

NOTE: I have not received any compensation for this article. My husband and I paid for our own meals.

The Best Place for Lunch in Easton, Maryland

The Best Place for Lunch in Easton, Maryland

Back before Christmas, I met a friend in Easton, Maryland to spend the afternoon catching up. It was a welcome time of relaxation in an otherwise hectic December. We enjoyed some coffee, strolled through the town admiring the various shops and historic buildings, and then we decided to have some lunch.

We stopped at a place called Sunflowers and Greens, and it was nothing short of amazing. What follows is my review of the restaurant. To be clear, I walked in off the street with no knowledge of the restaurant. I paid for my meal and received no compensation for this review.

The Best Lunch in Easton Maryland - Sunflowers & Greens

The Best Lunch in Easton Maryland

When we walked in, an employee promptly greeted us and asked if we had been there before. When we replied that we had not, she took a few moments and showed us around, explaining how the restaurant operated and what sort of foods they offered. The warm welcome we received was a breath of fresh air in a day when customer service is a dying art.

The Salads

While the restaurant offers soups and sandwiches, the real star of the menu is their salads. The blurb on their web site says it best: their salads contain “the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients… composed to each guest’s specification”. All salads come with handcrafted dressings and a piece of traditional sourdough bread.

Best Lunch in Easton Maryland - Signature Salads at Sunflowers and Greens.

I ordered the Poached Pear Salad (pears are my very favorite fruit), which is one of the chef’s signature salads on the menu. It consisted of garden greens & baby spinach, maple roasted Cheshire pork loin, poached pear, roasted pecans, Vermont Creamery goat cheese, honey balsamic vinaigrette.

As soon as I placed my order, the folks behind the counter got to work. It was interesting to watch them preparing the salad because they made it with their (gloved) hands. They placed all of the salad components in a large wooden bowl and hand mixed them. It seemed really strange at first. However, I realized it was probably a far more efficient method than using an awkward pair of tongs to do the job!

Best Lunch in Easton Maryland - poached pear salad at Sunflowers & Greens

I have to say, it was quite possibly the best salad I have ever eaten! The slice of bread that came with the salad was scrumptious. We could tell that it had been baked fresh that day.

Customers who don’t find the signature salads appealing can create their own custom salad by specifying which ingredients they want. (But trust me, you really need to try that Poached Pear Salad!) You can’t go wrong with their fresh ingredients, procured from a number of local and artisanal sources and is organic whenever possible. Working with the finest purveyors of meat, poultry and fish, Sunflowers & Greens serves select cuts of Wagyu and Prime Beef, Russ & Daughters’ smoked salmon and antibiotic and hormone free poultry.

If You Go

Sunflowers & Greens is located at 11 Federal Street in Easton, Maryland. The menu changes daily, but you can see the daily menu on their website.

There is not a lot of room for customers who wish to dine in, and I would imagine that they are very busy on weekdays around noon, when nearby office workers stop in for lunch. I would recommend going before noon or after 1:30 to minimize wait time.

The best lunch in Easton Maryland is at Sunflowers and Greens on Federal Street.

Most Decadent Desserts: Crazy Shakes at Black Tap

Most Decadent Desserts: Crazy Shakes at Black Tap

I love having special treats for special occasions, so I am constantly in search of the most decadent desserts. When I treated my daughter to a trip to NYC for her sixteenth birthday party this past June, we intended to celebrate by getting Crazy Shakes at Black Tap. Sadly, our time between other activities was in short segments that would not have sufficed. We went to Black Tap twice and both times the line was so long outside the door that we would not have gotten inside and ordered in time to move on to the next activity. So when we went to NYC again this month, we were determined to get those Crazy Shakes.

Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer

I know, their name doesn’t even mention their Crazy Shakes. But trust me, these Insta-worthy, most decadent desserts are what’s drawing the crowds to their three New York locations. (They also have a location inside The Venetian in Las Vegas, and one in Singapore. More restaurants will soon be opening in Downtown Disney Anaheim and NYC’s Herald Square.) We dined at their midtown Manhattan location (136 W 55th St).

There’s no doubt about it – Black Tap is a fun place to eat. The decor is a cross between old fashioned soda fountain, 1980s retro, and street art grafitti. Our booth was next to this bit of artwork:

Decadent Desserts (and Decor) at Black Tap in NYC

Also, the music was awesome!  Just the right mix of my old 1980s favorites and some more modern songs. All of it was upbeat… the kind of music that you find yourself bopping along to in your seat even if you haven’t heard the song before.

The Burgers

They describe their restaurants as a new take on the classic burger joint. The menu is fairly simplistic at first glance – offering burgers, salads, fries, and shakes. But when you look a little more closely, you realize that these are not your average run-of-the-mill burgers. Black Tap’s “Greg Norman” burger won the People’s Choice Award three years in a row at the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s annual Burger Bash. Ranging from $16 to $20 per burger, you can choose from the classic All-American, a falafel or vegan burger, pizza burger, or a Carolina BBQ pulled pork burger.

We decided that for the four of us (Hubs and my daughters friend were also there) would split two burgers and two crazy shakes. We did this not only to save money, but also to keep us from leaving there looking like engorged ticks and feeling even worse. I selected the Bison Burger (bison burger, fresh mozzarella, pesto mayo, arugula, shaved Parmesan, roasted tomatoes, $19), and my daughter chose the Pizza Burger (prime burger, zesty tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, shaved Parmesan, $17). Both came with a side of fries.

The burgers and the fries were very good. I’d never eaten bison before, but it honestly didn’t taste much different to me than a beef burger would have.

The Crazy Shakes

Black Tap serves classic milkshakes ($9) in nine different flavors, from standard chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, to the more exotic caramel, Nutella, and coffee. But it’s the Crazy Shakes ($15) that grab the glory.

The Most Decadent Desserts: Crazy Shakes at Black Tap in NYC

If these Crazy Shakes aren’t the most decadent desserts you’ve ever seen, then please tell me what is!

On the left is the Cookie Shake: vanilla frosted rim with cookie crumbles topped with a ‘cookiewich’, crumbled cookies, chocolate chips, whipped cream & chocolate drizzle. And that’s on top of a vanilla milkshake! On the right is the Cookie & Creme Supreme: vanilla frosted rim with crushed Oreos topped with a ‘cookies ’n cream’ sandwich, crumbled Oreo, whipped cream & chocolate drizzle, served on top of a cookies & creme milkshake.

Here’s a closer look at each one.

Most Decadent Desserts - the Cookie Crazy Shake at Black Tap in NYC

Most Decadent Desserts - the Cookie & Cream Supreme Crazy Shake at Black Tap in NYC

And when the description mentions a frosted rim, they don’t mean it in the sense of frosted glass, or a coating of sugar. No, they mean frosted as in cake frosting. So essentially you have a milkshake with a couple tablespoons of cake frosting, cookies, an ice cream sandwich, and whipped cream. Thank goodness they don’t publish calorie counts on the menu!!

Other Crazy Shakes at the midtown Manhattan location include:

  • Sweet & Salty (peanut butter/chocolate/pretzel)
  • Cotton Candy (strawberry shake with cotton candy and other candies)
  • Sour Power (black cherry shake with sour candies)
  • Brooklyn Blackout (chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate)
  • Bam Bam (Fruity Pebbles, Pop Tart, candy)
  • Cake Shake (cake batter shake with a slice of cake and lots of sprinkles)

Honesty, you can’t go wrong here. It was difficult (but obviously very necessary) to pick just one!

If You Go

Get there plenty early, because lines do form outside the restaurant (even when it’s ridiculously cold outside, as it was when we were there). You may have to wait about an hour for a table, possibly more in nicer weather.

Consider sharing an entree and/or dessert with a friend, so as not to overdo. You don’t want to end your euphoric dining experience feeling like you’re going to be ill.