Tag: Dining Out

Weekend in Chicago Itinerary – 48 Hours in the Windy City

Weekend in Chicago Itinerary – 48 Hours in the Windy City

What Can You See in Chicago in Two Days?

As it turns out, you can see quite a bit. We went to Chicago for my birthday last fall because it was a place I had always been interested in seeing but had never actually visited. Unfortunately, my birthday always falls the week before a major event at work that I am partially responsible for, so my trip couldn’t last much longer than a weekend.

We were able to squeeze quite a lot into just two days of touring. So whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or you want to extend a flight layover by a couple of days, you can see the city too.  Here’s our itinerary.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary – Day One

First Stop: Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago, a large and impressive building that contains both art school and museum. It was first built in 1893 as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Two huge bronze lions flank the main entrance, where banners also hang to announce the latest exhibits.  The Institute has expanded several times over the years, most recently with the addition of a modern art wing in 2009. That expansion brought the size of the Art Institute to almost 1 million square feet, making it the second largest art museum in the USA. (The first is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.)

Normally, art museums aren’t high on my list of places to visit, but having read The 68 Rooms with my daughter a few years ago, I really wanted to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms in person.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago
One of the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. This is a shoebox sized rendition of an English cottage kitchen of the Queen Anne period (1702-1714). The blue plates are roughly the size of a dime.

I enjoyed that exhibit, for certain, but there were so many other wonderful things in the museum that I would definitely classify it as a must see in Chicago. They had a great exhibit on glass paperweights, which included this beauty:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - the Art Institute of Chicago has a beautiful collection of glass paperweights on its lower level.

Naturally, Hubs and I were drawn to the medieval and renaissance armor.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - the Art Institute of Chicago is a great place to visit, and includes a variety of exhibits, including one on arms and armor.

And there were some famous paintings there as well, like A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to visit the Art Institute of Chicago and see Georges Seurat's famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

and Andy Warhol’s rendition of the Mona Lisa:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to look for Andy Warhol's Four Mona Lisas at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Next Stop: River Cruise and/or Lincoln Park Zoo

We spent a big chunk of time at the Art Institute & Gallery. Afterwards, we explored the riverfront area and toyed with the idea of taking a sightseeing or architecture cruise. This would certainly be a good thing to do if you enjoy water tours and/or architecture. My daughter hates going on boats, however, so we did not.

Instead, we went to the north end of the city and explored Lincoln Park Zoo. Like the zoo in my home town, this zoo does not charge admission for visitors. Plus, they have polar bears, which are one of my favorite animals ever.

Unfortunately, we visited in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave with temperatures over 95 degrees. In late September! The animals were every bit as miserable as we were, and the polar bears looked shell-shocked. I felt so bad for them!

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Lincoln Park Zoo has free admission ... and polar bears!

That being said, the zoo was in a beautiful park setting and I would definitely like to visit it again in cooler weather.

Dinner: Pizza Pot Pie

Within walking distance of Lincoln Park Zoo, there is a restaurant called the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company. History buffs will appreciate that it’s located across the street from the site of the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre. Foodies will love the Pizza Pot Pie, their signature dish. It is full of cheesy goodness.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Dinner at Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company is a must. Try the pizza pot pie!

How good was it? Well, I devoted an entire blog post to it.  It was also the first Chicago post I wrote when I returned. I had the pizza pot pie eight months ago and I still have days where I think I’d love to have it again. Yummm.

Tip:  Be at the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company when they open for dinner at 4:00 pm. It’s small and fills up quickly. Besides, you’ll want to have enough time to walk off some of those calories before dessert…

Next Stop: Millennium Park

I hadn’t intended to go to Millennium Park around sunset… it just worked out that way because we got out of dinner early. As it turns out, sunset is a pretty cool time to approach the park, because you can get a photo like this:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Arriving at Millennium Park late in the day provides some great photo opportunities.

Yeah, I know it’s a little off-center. I would have had to fight off at least four people with tripods in order to get a better spot.

But that’s not the reason we went to Millennium Park, obviously. We went to see “The Bean,” which is actually an art installation called Cloud Gate. This is one of those things that if you don’t do it, you’ll end up regretting it after you’ve left. It’s iconic, and you pretty much have to see it.  Besides which, it’s really cool.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Be sure to stop by Millennium Park to see Cloud Gate (better known as "The Bean").

The mom in me wants to know how it stays so clean and shiny.  Clearly, it’s not made out of the same stuff as my kitchen sink.

The photo above is the end of the Bean.  The sides have an indentation big enough to pass through it.  When you do, be sure to look up. You might not be sure what you’re looking at, because it’s almost psychedelic.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Walk inside the center of the Bean at Millennium Park and be sure to look up!

Explore the rest of the park too… it has many other great things to see in addition to the Bean!

Dessert: Smallcakes Smash

If you saved room for dessert, head on over to Smallcakes for a cupcake, ice cream, or the most decadent dessert in town. (You might want to take a couple of people to share it with you.)

Now, Smallcakes is a national chain, not a uniquely Chicago business.  However, it’s worth a visit because of their signature, over-the-top dessert called the Smallcakes Smash.

Choose a cupcake and one or two flavors of ice cream. There are at least a dozen of each to choose from.  Then, sit back and watch as they construct the “Smash” before your very eyes.

A scoop of ice cream goes in the bottom of the cup, followed by the bottom half of the cupcake. A second scoop of ice cream tops that, followed by some whipped cream and syrup in a complementary flavor. Then the whole concoction is topped with the remainder of the cupcake. It is a masterpiece!  Behold!

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Get a Smallcakes Smash at Smallcakes!

I recommend sharing one with a friend. It’s a lot for just one person!

Chicago Weekend Itinerary – Day Two

First Stop: Chicago Tribune Tower

In the morning, we walked over to see the Chicago Tribune Tower which is in the heart of downtown Chicago. Normally, I wouldn’t make a special trip to see just a building, but the Tribune Tower is a building like no other. Pieces of famous landmarks and buildings from all over the world are embedded in its walls.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary: Look for fragments of world landmarks at the Chicago Tribune Tower.

And I don’t mean a dozen or so… I mean almost 150. It was great fun to stand there looking for these special stones – we saw pieces of Westminster Abbey, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China, to name just a few.

Next Stop: Museum of Science & Industry (with Kids)

If you don’t have children with you, you might not enjoy the Museum of Science & Industry all that much. We only went because I’ve had a bit of an obsession with Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle for over 15 years, and it happens to be on display at Science & Industry. Otherwise, I would have found a different activity, such as the Field Museum, or one of those river cruises, or something else.

That being said, the Fairy Castle did not disappoint.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Families will enjoy a visit to the Museum of Science & Industry, home to Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle

I circled it three times and was constantly finding new details each time I looked inside the rooms. An audio recording plays while you are going around the castle, and it’s worth listening to, because it has some very interesting details. The castle is full of authentic items, some of them hundreds of years old. Other items are not as old, but are just as valuable, like the miniature chair that is made of platinum and diamonds.

We looked at a few other exhibits after the fairy castle, including one on bicycle design that Hubs found very interesting, and a mirror maze. But we still had more to see and do, so we didn’t stay too long.

Next Stop: Street Art & Lunch in Logan Square

Street art makes for great photo opportunities. I found out that there was a “Greetings from Chicago” style postcard mural and knew we had to get our pictures in front of it, so that was where we headed next.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - snap a pic with the Greetings from Chicago mural as your backdrop.

The mural is located at 2226 N Milwaukee Ave, in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago.  Nearby, we saw another great series of paintings titled “Never Give Up” on the side of a family dollar store.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - There are all types of street art to amuse and inspire you in Logan Square.

It had the stories of five famous people who had, at various points in their lives, encountered setbacks and failures. Despite those challenges, they went on to achieve great success.  It was a good reminder to hang in there when the going gets tough.

Logan Square is a racially diverse and artistic neighborhood with lots of beautiful architecture, great restaurants, and street art. Unlike some city neighborhoods I’ve visited, Logan Square seemed to have a strong sense of community. There are many great restaurants, bars, churches, and local is the key word when describing many aspects of the scene. Ingredients are sourced locally at restaurants; bars serve local craft brews; galleries showcase local artists; and concerts and street fests promote local, upstart bands.

There is no shortage of good restaurants in the Logan Square area, and in a wide variety of ethnic cuisines as well. We had lunch at the Logan Bar & Grill, which had an amazing outdoor seating area. I almost forgot that it was insanely hot while we enjoyed our burgers.

Feeling refreshed and at least a little rested (not to mention re-hydrated!), we got an Uber to take us to…

Next Stop: The Tower Formerly Known as Sears

As you may have read in my blog post about the Willis Tower, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of going to the top to see the views. But eventually I did make the decision to do it, because I figured it was another one of those iconic Chicago things, like The Bean.

I wish I had paid attention to the time when we first went in to see how long we waiting in line before actually making it to the Skydeck. It was at least an hour. It felt like two. Let’s split the difference and call it ninety minutes, waiting in line, moving at a snail’s pace through the basement of one of the most famous buildings in America.

By the time we got to the Skydeck, the sun was beginning to drop in the sky, and the Golden Hour was upon us.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Catch the view from the (Sears) Willis Tower Skydeck.

With the setting sun behind us, the shadows of the skyscrapers were cast across the city and the lake. It was stunning! Suddenly, I didn’t resent that two hour 90 minute wait quite as much.

Dinner: Deep Dish Pizza

You can’t leave Chicago without eating deep dish pizza at least once, right? Well, there is apparently some debate as to who has the best deep dish in Chicago. I’m not a big fan of deep dish style pizza, so I didn’t put a lot of effort into choosing a restaurant for this meal. The first place I saw a recommendation for was the lucky winner: Gino’s East.

I don’t know if Gino’s East has the best pizza, but it’s probably got the most fun atmosphere. The entire restaurant has been covered in graffiti from past customers.

Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Make one meal a deep dish pizza, the city's signature dish. Gino's East is one of the best, and has an interior that is completely covered in graffiti.

Our server was great as he welcomed us and explained the different options. When the food arrived, we dug in and managed to finish the whole thing, thanks to his recommendations on what size we needed.Chicago Weekend Itinerary - Deep Dish pizza is the Windy City's signature dish.

However, that being said, do be careful when ordering a deep dish pizza.  Because it is so thick, eating one slice is equivalent to eating two or three slices of regular pizza. I saw a lot of tourists walking around Chicago carrying pizza boxes because they didn’t take this into consideration. It’s much better to order the right size and not have to worry about leftovers.

Next Stop: Strolling the Magnificent Mile

After dinner we walked along the area of Michigan Avenue known as The Magnificent Mile. (Can you hear that in any voice but Oprah’s? I can’t.) There are loads of shops along this stretch of road, most of which I cannot afford. Still, it makes for good window shopping and people watching.

Between there and our hotel, we stopped at Eataly, which I’ve always been curious about but have never had an opportunity to visit. Then we returned to the hotel to pack our bags for the next morning, when we would wish a fond farewell to the city of Chicago. It was our first visit there, but we all agreed that we didn’t want it to be our last.

Summary Infographic:

Chicago Weekend Itinerary in list form

Chicago Weekend Itinerary at Travel As Much
Ocean City Maryland’s Best Boardwalk Food

Ocean City Maryland’s Best Boardwalk Food

A Summer Tradition

Having grown up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, I have gone to Ocean City in the summertime as long as I can remember. There are so many great things to do there, from swimming and sunbathing to “walking the boards” and sampling all of the delicious foods sold along the boardwalk. Some of my favorites include chocolate covered strawberries from Candy Kitchen, Dolle’s salt water taffy, Dough Roller pizza, and caramel popcorn from Fisher’s. They’re all outstanding! But only one treat can claim the title of Ocean City Maryland’s Best Boardwalk Food – Thrashers french fries.

About Thrashers

The story of these tasty fries begins in 1929, when J.T. Thrasher proposed a unique business concept for the seaside community. He wanted to have a food stand that sold one product, and one product only: the French fry. With just one product for sale, he had to excel. Only the best would do.

Thrasher focused on three things: quality ingredients, hard work, and above all, attention to the perfection of each cup of fries. He discovered that the perfect French fries had to come from perfect potatoes, which meant buying potatoes from different regions at different times of the year.

I’ve heard many rumors about why Thrasher’s fries are so much better than others. Does Thrasher’s brine their potatos before frying? Do they fry in peanut oil? Do they fry their potatoes twice instead of just once? Speculation abounds!  Whatever their secret (and it is very much a secret!), Thrasher’s fries have been a local favorite through five generations and eighty years. And all that time without any deviation from original procedures or original recipes!

Get Your Fries & Eat ‘Em Right

Now, fair warning: in the height of the summer season, you may have to wait in a considerable line when you go to Thrasher’s. I’ve actually seen as many as 20 or 30 people in a line for these famous fries. In fact, if you happen to be walking past and by some miracle there is no line, go ahead and get some fries just on general principle.

When you get up to the counter, you can order one of three sizes  (16 oz, 32 oz and 53 oz). Yes, that’s right: the smallest serving you can buy is a pound. Regardless what size you order, you will receive your fries in a paper tub.

Ocean City Maryland's Best Boardwalk Food - Thrasher's French Fries

When you are handed your fries, do not make the mistake of asking for ketchup. They don’t have ketchup at Thrasher’s and they probably never will. These fries are not meant to be eaten with ketchup.

Instead, should you desire a condiment, you will find apple cider vinegar at the end of the counter. Sprinkle or pour it on, depending how much you like vinegar. Then maybe add some extra salt if you like salty fries.

Now you are ready to dig in to this golden delicious goodness:

Ocean City Maryland's Best Boardwalk Food - Thrasher's French Fries

If you’ve never had boardwalk style fries before, you may think that some of them are burnt because of the dark brown coloring. They are not. Some will be as crispy as a potato chip and others (particularly if you were heavy handed with the vinegar) will be almost soggy. But they will all be delicious.

Leftovers?

If your eyes are bigger than your stomach and you ordered way more fries than you can eat, don’t worry.  These guys love Thrasher’s almost as much as the locals do.

Ocean City Maryland's Best Boardwalk Food - Thrasher's French Fries. Even the seagulls love them!

That swarm of seagulls is fairly typical when you’re holding a tub of Thrasher’s. One time my husband and I had just gotten a tub of fries when a seagull swooped by, plucking a French fry right out of Hubs’ hand!  Thankfully, most of the seagulls are not that bold. If you don’t feed them, they will eventually lose interest and fly away.

Have you had Thrasher’s fries before? What did you think of them? Let me know below!

Header image via Flickr by m01229

Ocean City Maryland's Best Boardwalk Food
The Frozen Farmer: Bridgeville Delaware Farm Creameries

The Frozen Farmer: Bridgeville Delaware Farm Creameries

If You Lived There, You’d Be Home.

The tiny town of Bridgeville, Delaware sees a lot of traffic heading to and from the Delaware beaches (Rehoboth, Dewey, Bethany, etc.). So much so, in fact, that their slogan is, “If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home NOW.” Capitalizing on the high volume of thru traffic, the town is home to not one, but two Delaware farm creameries selling homemade ice cream. The first is Vanderwende’s, which I absolutely love. The second is newer, opening just a couple of years ago. It’s called The Frozen Farmer, and it’s definitely worth a stop if you’re visiting the Delaware beaches.

Delaware Farm Creameries – More Than Just Ice Cream

From the road, the Frozen Farmer looks like a large farm shop/produce stand. It’s red and eye-catching, neatly maintained and definitely welcoming. It’s an adjunct business of Evans Farms, a third generation, 2000 acre farm that grows produce for multiple local restaurants and grocery stores. It is not a dairy farm, but they use milkbase purchased from a local dairy. The other ingredients often come straight from the fields at Evans farms.

The outside of the shop has several tables and chairs, and a bench for children that looks like a cow. Colorful blooms brighten the entrance and make you feel like you’re on a friend’s front porch, about to go inside to visit.

Delaware farm creameries - The Frozen Farmer in Bridgeville DE

Stepping inside, you see that the interior is every bit as bright and welcoming as the exterior is.

Delaware farm creameries - The Frozen Farmer in Bridgeville DE

And for children, they even have this little play area:

Delaware farm creameries - children's play area at The Frozen Farmer in Bridgeville DE

There is limited seating inside the store, but most of the seats are outside. Still, who would be able to resist sitting at this cool table?

Delaware farm creameries - Tractor table at The Frozen Farmer in Bridgeville DE

 

Flavors & Sizes

The menu was artfully displayed with all the information customers would need.

Delaware farm creameries - Menu at The Frozen Farmer in Bridgeville DE

Yes, those prices are for real! Two scoops will only cost you $3. Sweet deal, huh? (Sorry for the pun… couldn’t resist.)

Nice Cream? What’s That?

In addition to traditional ice cream and sorbets, the Frozen Farmer also sells “nice cream,” a product that tastes like traditional ice cream, but with less fat and more locally grown fruit for added nutritional content. It’s an ice cream-sorbet blend.

I wish I could tell you that I tried the nice cream in an effort to be more health-conscious. Alas, I did not.

Delaware farm creameries - Sweet & Salty ice cream at The Frozen Farmer in Bridgeville DE

This is two scoops of Sweet & Salty, a smooth and creamy ice cream with bits of chocolate and pretzels in it. It was an unseasonably warm evening, so it melted quickly. Normally I eat my ice cream quickly enough that it doesn’t have a chance to melt! 😉

The Inevitable Comparison

So, how does The Frozen Farmer compare to Vanderwendes? Well, I still think Vanderwendes has the best ice cream around. But The Frozen Farmer is more child-friendly. So if you’re traveling with young ones, I would definitely recommend stopping at The Frozen Farmer.

The Frozen Farmer is located at 9843 Seashore Highway in Bridgeville, Delaware.

Delaware Farm Creameries - the best scoops in Bridgeville
What you REALLY need to know about traveling to Iceland

What you REALLY need to know about traveling to Iceland

Planning is the Key.

I tend to do so much research before I take a trip, I almost feel as though I’ve already been there before I even arrive. So, needless to say, I studied up quite a bit on Iceland before we went there last month. I read all the blog posts, looked at all the pictures, and watched a few YouTube videos. In hindsight, I can say that there are seven things that did not pop up much in my pre-travel research. But they definitely should have, because they turned out to be absolutely vital. Here are the seven things you need to know about traveling to Iceland that other bloggers aren’t telling you.

#1 – Crampons are essential for winter hikes.

While this may sound like a medieval torture instrument for women, it is not. A crampon is a gadget made of stretchy rubber and metal spikes. You pull the crampon to fit over your shoes, with the spikes on the sole. This allows you to walk on compressed snow and/or ice without slipping. We did a 45 minute hike up a mountain and would have definitely been on our backsides a couple of times if we had not put our crampons on.

Click on image to view this item on Amazon.com

They aren’t expensive ($10-$15 a pair), and they’re worth every penny. I broke my tailbone due to a winter fall about 15 years ago. It was incredibly painful and virtually untreatable. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

#2 – You need to have a reusable shopping bag.

Iceland is a more environmentally conscious country than the US.  They do not put every little thing you purchase in a plastic bag.  They don’t put the big things in plastic bags, either. So if you are trying to save money and are buying food at a grocery store (more on that below), you will need a reusable shopping bag to carry your things out of the store.

If you do not have a reusable bag and you need to use the store’s  plastic bags, you will be charged for them. Most stores have free courtesy bags available at most places, but they are small and very thin/prone to tearing.

I like this highly rated reusable bag on Amazon:

This bag holds up to 42 pounds, but folds up small enough to fit in your pocket. (Click to see more details.)

#3 – Iceland may be the most expensive country in the world.

To be fair, a few bloggers did mention that Iceland was expensive. I kind of shrugged it off. I’ve been to the UK, with their 20% value added tax (VAT). It isn’t ideal, but for a week, it’s bearable.

However, Iceland is so ridiculously expensive, it makes the UK look like a third world country.

For starters, they also have a VAT, and theirs is 24%. But their prices are outrageously high to begin with.  Here are a few examples:

  • a burger in a table service restaurant: $25
  • a bottle of beer: $11
  • a gallon of gas: $9

And items for tourists are even more marked up.  We saw beanies for $90 and dollar-store quality souvenir keychains for $6. I bought a souvenir Christmas ornament and it was $25. All of my other souvenirs were photos.

Needless to say, a lot of our meals in Iceland consisted of yogurt and granola. I didn’t mind the yogurt (called skyr) as it’s absolutely delicious and comes in a great variety of flavors.  But even that, after a while, got old.

#4 – Eastern Iceland is a great place to explore.

this almost ignored corner of the island nation was probably my favorite part. It was so peaceful and beautiful,zigzagging around the fjords. It didn’t hurt that we were there just as the sun was starting to go down.

What you need to know about Iceland - Eastern Iceland is one of the most beautiful areas of the country.

Also, we were driving through this area of Iceland when Hubs spotted a reindeer off to the side of the road. I slowed down so we could get a better look. But, when I looked back at the road again, another reindeer was standing in the middle of the road, staring me down. I slammed on the brakes, causing all sorts of exclamations from Hubs and our daughter. I was dumbfounded and just stared at him, which is why I don’t have a cool reindeer-in-the-middle-of-the-road photo to share. For his part, he looked pretty unimpressed with us, and meandered off to join his friend.

Then we spotted a third reindeer, this time on my side of the road. As I took his picture, he immediately pawed at the ground as if he wanted to charge at us. That was my cue to leave.

what you need to know about Iceland - there are reindeer!

It was also in this area of Iceland that we were able to see the Northern Lights.

#5 – You can take the Internet with you wherever you go.

Iceland is nothing if not a beautiful place to photograph. And as a travel blogger, I try to post on my Instagram account every day. But with the sparsest population of any country in Europe, iceland cafes with free wifi were few and far between.

The solution was a portable 4G wifi hot spot, which cost us $9 per day. It was small enough to fit in our pocket when we were out of the car, and it gave us internet access 24/7.

It couldn’t have been easier – reserved and paid for the wifi online at the Trawire website and printed out the confirmation. Then when we arrived at the airport, we picked it up on our way out.  Then, when we were leaving to come back home, we just dropped it in the mailbox at the airport. So easy! Highly recommend if anyone in your party is an internet junkie and/or needs to check email often while in Iceland.

#6 – Don’t choose “fill up” at the gas pump

When we got a via text message alert that Hubs’ debit card had racked up a couple of $250-ish charges, we were a little panicked. The charges were from gas stations and while I know that gas is expensive in Iceland (see above), I knew $250 was excessive for gas.

what you need to know about iceland - don't choose "fill up" at the gas pump if paying with a debit card.
Photo via Flickr by Helgi Haldorsson

Fortunately, Google saved the day. I was able to find out that being charged these high amounts was standard procedure when you choose the “fill up” option at the pump. It’s like the pre-authorizations that they do here, but because you’re in a different country it takes a lot longer for it to clear. It will go away after 2-3 days.. but if your account isn’t well-funded, that could be an issue. To avoid this problem, only use a credit card for gas purchases, not a debit card. Alternatively, you can select a set amount rather than a fill up at the pump.

#7 – You might not be able to continue watching your favorite shows on Netflix.

Because I knew we would have internet access while we were in Iceland, I didn’t bother with downloading any shows on Netflix. When we got there, I looked for the show I had been watching the week before we left and it wasn’t listed.  It was middle of the month, so I thought it couldn’t have been removed from Netflix. First I panicked, then I Googled.

Turns out that there are licensing restrictions in Iceland that make some shows unavailable to view via Netflix. if there is something you are pretty sure you will want to watch while you’re there, it might be a good idea to download it.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Are there any that you would add? Leave a comment below!

Here's what you need to know about Iceland before you go - seven important things that aren't usually mentioned in blog posts about Iceland travel.
Infographic: A Weekend in Canterbury, Kent

Infographic: A Weekend in Canterbury, Kent

A Weekend in Canterbury

Made famous by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales over 600 years ago, this Kentish town is still thriving and has plenty to offer weekend visitors. Just two hours away from London, it makes the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. From UNESCO World Heritage sites to a Bollywood style dance class, a weekend in Canterbury has something for everyone to enjoy.

How to spend a weekend in Canterbury Kent, England.

Washington DC’s Best Pubs

Washington DC’s Best Pubs

Drum roll, please!

These are the best pubs in Washington, DC.  And as luck would have it, there are exactly seven… so you can try one each night for a week!

The seven best pubs in Washington DC
The seven best pubs in Washington DC
Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Part III – Paddle & Pour

Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Part III – Paddle & Pour

Paddle Your Glass Off

I’ve been to wine tastings before. I’ve been kayaking before. But I have never kayaked to a wine tasting. I never even knew you could do such a thing. But you can, and I did!

The Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism office arranged for me to go on Southeast Expeditions‘ Paddle Your Glass Off tour. We drove the short distance from Cape Charles to a tiny village on the bay appropriately named Bayford. It was a beautiful day for November – nearly 70 degrees, and the water of the Nassawadox Creek was calm and still. Perfect kayaking conditions!

The waterman's wharf at Bayford, on Virginia's Eastern Shore

Dave from Southeast Expeditions was there when we arrived. He has over 15 years of experience as a  professional guide and expedition leader. But more than that, he’s knowledgeable about the area and very easy to have a conversation with. We chatted with Dave for a little bit, and once everyone had arrived, we set about starting our expedition.

Dave offered us a brief “paddling clinic” to teach us how to hold the paddles, how to steer the kayak, and so on. This was incredibly helpful for someone like me, who has only kayaked once before and needed some pointers.

We paddled for about 45 minutes south toward Church Creek. The Southeast Expeditions web site says that they always see wildlife on this expedition, and they were right – a beautiful blue heron took off from the marshes and flew right past us. (Sadly, no photo as it caught me by surprise and my camera was stowed. I had already learned that sudden movements tend to make the kayak wobble a lot and feel like it’s about to tip over. I’m not a fan.)

We chatted with the other kayakers and with Dave as we paddled and the 45 minutes passed quickly. Before I knew it, we were pulling our kayaks up onto the shores of Chatham Vineyards, which is the only winery on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore will give you many opportunities to see wildlife and explore waterways.

As we walked up from the creek and our landing site, we saw a gorgeous Federalist style house in the distance. Dave told us that we were looking at the main entrance/front of the home because when it was built, visitors would come via the water. The rear of the house faced what is now the road. Now, however, the front and the back of the house look pretty much the same, with a symmetric design and columns gracing the main door.  Here’s the view from the road.

The Chatham estate, a working farm for four centuries and now a vineyard & winery. Just one of the many places you can discover when you go kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore

The land at Chatham was patented in 1640, and the house dates to 1818. Major Scarborough Pitts built the house and named it for William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, who was a friend of the American Revolution. Chatham Farm has been a working farm for four centuries!

There are 20 acres of grapevines at Chatham vineyards. We were there so late in the season that no grapes remained on the vines, but we did at least get to see the plants.

Only vines, no grapes. Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore to Chatham Vineyard & Winery.

As we walked from the vineyard to the winery, Dave told us about the owner, John, and how he had studied wine-making techniques and the science behind the production. He’s a second generation winegrower, and he has also made numerous trips to Europe to continue learning about his craft.

Just before we reached the winery, we met Chester, a happy-go-lucky Labrador retriever who greeted us with a great deal of enthusiasm and let us shower him with affection for a few minutes. Then it was time to get down to business, sampling the wine made on this very property.

We entered the winery and saw lots of oak barrels, some wine-related merchandise, and a lovely woman behind a bar area who was eager to talk about the wines and answer our questions. It was interesting to learn that the grapes are grown in soil with a high mineral content. The mineral content came from a meteor strike at the southern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore some 35 million years ago.

I know almost nothing about wine. I just feel the need to say that upfront. If you are a wine aficionado, please keep that in mind when I express my opinions below. Descriptions are straight from the Chatham website because to me, wine tastes like wine.

The first sample was of the Church Creek steel-fermented Chardonnay. As the name implies, the wine undergoes its fermentation  in steel tanks. This wine has won several awards (including being in the top 100 out of something like 12,000), but I preferred the oak Chardonnay, which was the second one we tasted. Again, as the name implies, the oak chardonnay is fermented in oak barrels.

Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore can take you to a myriad of places, including the Chatham Vineyards & Winery.

The steel has notes of honeysuckle, pineapple, and mineral elements on the nose. Its palette is pristine, with ripe, sweet stone fruit tangerine acidity, and just a hint of grapefruit. The oak, on the other hand, has a round mouth feel with a creamy texture. The result is a pleasing combination of ripe pear and apple, notes of clove and lemon zest with fresh acidity.

Then we moved on to the Rosé, which was a 50-50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It was a dry Rosé, with notes of raspberry and white peach.

The Merlot, which takes over 18 months to age, is a well-balanced wine full of cherry and black currant, with a soft tannic structure. Hints of brown spice linger on the palate.

The Cabernet Franc is a blend that is 82% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, and 6% Petit Verdot. This wine is lush and ripe with prominent berry flavors of raspberry, cherry and a touch of cranberry.

The Vintner’s Blend is hand-selected by the owner, and differs every year. The blend we tried, from 2016, consisted of 30% Petit Verdot, 25% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Cabernet Franc. Blend offers fresh acidity and bright fruit flavors of cherry and black current. Coffee bean, chocolate and spice, too, make-up the flavor profile of this blend. I quite liked this one and it was probably my favorite of them all.

Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore can lead to many fun adventures - including a wine tasting at Chatham Winery

The final sample was a Red Dessert Wine.  It had 3% residual sugar as a result of leaving the fruit on the vine to dehydrate slightly. With hazelnut, spice, tobacco and notes of dried fruit, this wine lingers on the palette. It was Hubs’ favorite.

After the tasting, we sat at some tables overlooking the vineyard and enjoyed a cheese and bread platter. I was kind of hungry and ate a slice of the olive bread before I thought to take a picture… sorry!

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Kayaking to Chatham Winery

It was delicious! And just the right thing to enjoy after wine.

We had a bit of a snafu with the timing on this trip. We had all forgotten that we “fell back” for the end of daylight savings time the previous night. So even though our clocks said that it was nearly 5:00, the sun was setting fast and it was as dark as it would have been at 6:00 the night before. The prospect of kayaking back in the dark didn’t sounds like much fun. But before we could fret about it, John, the owner of the winery, loaded everyone up in his van and took us back to our vehicles. That was so nice of him!

The price for the Paddle Your Glass Off expedition includes a free bottle of wine for every two kayakers.  Hubs picked the dessert wine, which we hope to enjoy at home soon.

This was an excellent end to a wonderful day of adventure. I cannot say enough nice things about Southeast Expeditions and Chatham Vineyards. Everyone was so welcoming and hospitable! The scenery was lovely and the wine was first class. If you’re in the area and you want to experience kayaking on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, I highly recommend taking the Paddle Your Glass Off tour from Southeast Expeditions!

The Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism bureau provided me with tickets for Paddle Your Glass off. However, all opinions expressed here are my own. 

Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore - Travelasmuch.com
Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Part II – Cape Charles

Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Part II – Cape Charles

Part I of this post focused on the culinary festivals that take place on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, particularly oyster roasts in the fall.  To read that post, click here.

Virginia’s Eastern Shore – Cape Charles

Day two of our expedition to Virginia’s Eastern Shore took us way south to Cape Charles. It’s a small town (population of about 1000) situated on the western side of the peninsula, with beachfront along the Chesapeake Bay.

Driving on Virginia’s Eastern Shore is stress free and easy.  Basically, there’s one highway (US-13) that runs the length of it, north to south. The Virginia end of the peninsula is 70 miles long but only  5-12 miles wide.   So we ambled in to Port Charles, turning off of Route 13 and heading toward the beach.

Along the way we passed lots of small independent stores.  I was just itching to go shopping but Hubs wanted to see the bay first.  We got to the beach and found this great sculpture waiting for us:

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles. This LOVE sign represents the community and greets visitors to the beach.

In a state whose tourism motto is “Virginia is for Lovers,” this LOVE sign adds a unique twist because it represents Cape Charles specifically. The L is made of sea glass and seashells to represent the local community. The O is a tractor tire to represent agriculture. The V is made of kayaks to represent outdoor adventure activities and the E is made of crab pots to represent aquaculture.

Just past the sign, we saw the weathered wood of a fishing pier zigzagging out into the Chesapeake Bay.

Virginia's Eastern Shore Cape Charles public fishing pier at the beach

But before heading out to the pier, we took a quick stroll along the beach. It is truly a blessing to live on the Delmarva Peninsula because we have two very different types of coastal beaches.  First is the Atlantic to the east  with its crashing waves and the roar of the surf.  It’s beautiful and intimidating all at once. Then there’s “the bay side” which is the coastline along the Chesapeake Bay. The water there is calmer, warmer, and very different.  What struck me was how clear and calm the water along the Cape Charles beach appeared.

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles' public beach faces the Chesapeake Bay and has much calmer water.

We walked the beach a little, then headed out to the end of the fishing pier.  We saw a couple of freighter ships in the distance, and a group of a half-dozen or so pelicans closer than that.  Seeing the pelicans was a surprise – I have never seen any outside a zoo and did not even know that they lived in this area!

We left the beach and headed back up Mason Avenue, which is the main street in town. There are several shops, an art gallery, a gourmet market, and a couple of restaurants.

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles' Mason Avenue

Our first stop was a little shop called The Boardwalk, which was full of beach-themed decor items, gifts, and jewelry.  I saw SO MANY cute and/or awesome things! I probably could have done at least half of my Christmas shopping there if I’d had enough time. This pillow was one of my (many) favorites:

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles shop The Boardwalk offers beach theme gifts and decor.

Another store, which was closed at the time of our visit, had these amazing nautilus shell and stained glass creations in its window:

Virginia's Eastern Shore Cape Charles has a thriving art community.

I did a little shopping, and then it was time to head to lunch.  So we drove on over to The Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery.

Virginia's Eastern Shore - in Cape Charles, the Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery offers waterfront dining and fresh seafood.

My husband ordered a clam basket and I ordered a crab cake sandwich.  It was an unseasonably warm day for November, so we got to dine on the deck, and that was a real treat.  The menu offered a variety of seafood items.  When we asked if the clams and oysters were local, our server said yes, and pointed out that we could actually see the clam beds from where we sat on the back deck of the restaurant.

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles' Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery has seafood so fresh, you can see the clam beds from the restaurant.
(The dark stripes just beyond the rocks are the clam beds.)

After lunch, I was craving something sweet.  Ice cream, to be specific.  A Google search for ice cream in Cape Charles provided me with the name and address of Brown Dog Ice Cream.  We went over there but found it closed until spring.  A visit to their web site suggested we purchase some of their ice cream at Gull Hummock, a gourmet market about one block down from their shop.  The Gull Hummock had some very interesting and unusual flavors of Brown Dog, but ultimately we stuck with something basic – chocolate.

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles' Brown Dog Handmade Ice Ceam

It was smooth and creamy and quite delicious! We took the pint to go with two spoons.

While we were enjoying our ice cream, and before heading to our next destination, we drove around the town a little to see what we could find.  Imagine our surprise when this sight came into view:

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles is an area where cotton is grown.

In the background, the Cape Charles lighthouse.  But in the foreground – are those what I think they are?  We went closer.

Cotton plants on Virginia's Eastern Shore (Cape Charles)

Cotton plants!  Something I only associated with “the deep South” but was right next door on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  I was out of my cotton-pickin’ mind to think it couldn’t grow here.  (Hahahaha, see what I did there?)

Part III of my adventure on Virginia’s Eastern Shore will feature kayaking and a wine tasting.  Stay tuned!

 

 

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Cape Charles is a tiny town with a lot to offer visitors!

 

Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Part I – Culinary Festivals

Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Part I – Culinary Festivals

Virginia’s Eastern Shore: Culinary Festivals?

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is probably not the first place that comes to mind as a culinary destination, even for Delmarva locals. However, if you drive to the southern end of our peninsula, you will find an area that is brimming with opportunities for foodies to enjoy. Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism arranged for me to spend a weekend wining and dining there.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much there was to do!

The Island House Oyster Roast

We received tickets to the Island House Oyster Roast, an annual event held in Wachapreague, Virginia, to benefit the Navy Seal Foundation.  This was the Oyster Roast’s sixth year, and from what I could gather, it is something that the locals really look forward to.  In fact, tickets to the event sold out in advance! It’s the first of at least six oyster roasts on Virginia’s Eastern Shore just in the month of November.

The Island House is a waterfront restaurant, and the Oyster Roast is held on its grounds/in its parking lot.  When we arrived, the first thing we noticed was the massive roasting operation taking place to the side.

The men dump a hundred or two oysters onto a big metal tray and spread them out over a fire. Then they take a burlap sack that has soaked in water and lay it on top of the oysters.  The water and the fire combine to steam cook the oysters.  When the shells start to open, they’re done. Then the guys dump them into a basket and carry them to the oyster-eating tables nearby:

virginia's eastern shore culinary festivalsisland house oyster roast wachapreague

Yeah.  Eating oysters can be kind of messy.  But the Oyster Roast had more than just roasted oysters.  Guests had the options of raw oysters, clams, and pulled pork as well.

virginia's eastern shore culinary festivals island house oyster roast clams

It was delicious!  And although the food was a big draw, there were other great aspects of this culinary festival.

First, the proceeds go to the Navy Seal Foundation.  The foundation provides “a comprehensive set of programs specifically designed to improve health and welfare, build and enhance resiliency, empower and educate families and provide critical support during times of illness, injury, loss and transition.” At one point in the evening, the widow of a Navy Seal took the stage. She spoke about the day that officers came to her door to notify her that her husband had been killed in action. Her appeal for the support of these brave men and their families was touching.

Second, and on a much lighter note, was the music! A band called The Deloreans played and they were so much fun to listen to! They played nothing but music from the 1980s, with all of the costumes and accessories to take you back in time to that wonderful decade.  They played Prince, Cyndi Lauper, Twisted Sister, Billy Idol, Michael Jackson, and so many others.  If you live in or visit the Virginia Beach area and they’re playing, go see them – they are the best!

virginia's eastern shore culinary festivals island house oyster roast wachapreague deloreans bank 80s music

In addition to the tickets that raised money for the foundation, there were some live and silent auction items also.  There were stunning art photographs, hand carved decoys, jewelry, and more.

virginia's eastern shore culinary festivals island house oyster roast wachapreague auction items benefit navy seal foundation

But my favorite had to be this jaw-dropping fire pit:

virginia's eastern shore culinary festivals island house oyster roast wachapreague mine fire pit

All in all, it was a great evening, with good food, good music, and a good cause.  What more could you ask for?

How about a good night’s sleep?

The Inn at Onancock

When we left the oyster roast, we made our obligatory stop at Walmart to buy the necessities that I had forgotten to pack.  It a eems like there is always something that doesn’t make it into my bag.  Thank goodness for Walmart and Dollar Tree! Then we were off to our overnight lodging at the Inn at Onancock.

The Inn at Onancock’s slogan is “Arrive as Guests, Leave as Friends.” I would have thought that kind of hokey if it weren’t for the fact that we met a couple at breakfast who said they have stayed at the inn several times and always come back because they feel so welcomed there. Some extenuating circumstances prevented us from getting to interact much with the innkeepers. A family emergency had called Kim away, so we only met Matt, who was very friendly and hospitable.

virginia's eastern shore culinary festivals

The rooms are gorgeously appointed in different themes (Provence, Tuscany, Far East, etc.).  We stayed in the Far East room and found the bed very comfortable. That may not sound like much, but I am like the Princess and the Pea when it comes to sleeping in a strange bed. It isn’t very often that I can say another bed was comfortable.

The innkeepers anticipated any need that their guests might have.  The hallway outside the guest rooms contained a mini fridge stocked with cold beverages, and a Keurig coffee station. In the morning, the innkeepers set up a tray outside our door with our morning beverages of choice (coffee for Hubs and diet Coke for me). I cannot over-emphasize how much I appreciated the opportunity to get some caffeine in my system before I had to go downstairs and make small talk with strangers over breakfast.  Life saver.

We missed it because we were at the oyster roast, but every evening at the Inn, they have a “Wine Down” hour – an opportunity for guests to socialize and enjoy a glass of wine together. The inn’s breakfast is delicious and filling, with a variety of delicious foods.

The inn has received rave reviews and awards, which were proudly displayed in the foyer. My only (minor) complaint about the accommodation was that the walls seemed very thin and we heard a lot of noises.  I would recommend using either earplugs or a white noise machine to help keep it quiet while you rest.

The Island House Oyster Roast takes place at the Island House restaurant in Wachapreague, Virginia every year. If you’re thinking about going, try to get your tickets early as they do tend to sell out.  Also, tickets are only available for sale at the Island House, so you will need to visit the restaurant in person to purchase them.

The Inn at Onancock is open year-round, with a total of five bedrooms with private baths.  One of the rooms (The Maine Room) is pet-friendly, so that’s the one to book if you are traveling with four-legged family members.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism bureau provided me with tickets to the event and our accommodations. However, all opinions expressed here are my own.

For Part II of our weekend adventure on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, click here.

virginia's eastern shore culinary festivals
Deep Dish Pizza with a Twist in Chicago

Deep Dish Pizza with a Twist in Chicago

The Quest

For my birthday this year, I decided to go to Chicago and I can’t wait to tell you about everything that we saw and did there!  It may seem odd to start off by telling you about one of the meals we had there.  But here I am, two weeks after eating it and it’s still something I think about longingly at mealtime.

Naturally, before heading to the Windy City, I did my usual pre-travel research on Pinterest to find out what we wanted to see.  I also searched for restaurant recommendations, because as I learned in Staithes, UK,  life’s too short to eat mediocre food when you’re on vacation.

One pin about great places to eat in Chicago caught my eye and when I clicked on it, just about everything in that article looked crazy delicious.  It was the Pizza Pot Pie at the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company (hereafter referred to as CPOG) that really caught my eye, because So. Much. Cheese.  I love cheese the way Paula Deen used to love butter.

Our first afternoon there we finished up sightseeing around 2:00 pm and took an Uber to CPOG. Because we had been so busy seeing the sights, we had not yet eaten lunch and we were quite hungry.  Sadly, we discovered that the restaurant would not open until 4 pm.  So we stopped at the Starbucks on the corner to enjoy a cold, creamy Frappucino. While we were there, we figured out how to adapt our plans without missing out on the Pizza Pot Pie.

The Lincoln Park Zoo was within walking distance, so we decided to head over there and kill an hour or so before returning when the restaurant was open. The zoo was in my top five places to see because they have polar bears, but given the very limited time we had in Chicago, I wasn’t sure if we would be able to get there.  So, having to kill time before dinner there turned out to be a great solution. (I’ll write about our zoo visit soon!)

The Restaurant

We returned to CPOG at nearly 4:30, and to our delight a free table was available for us.  I think that was because it was still very early for most people to be eating dinner.  For us tourists who skipped lunch and are a time zone ahead of Chicagoans, however, it was well past time to eat.

pizza pot pie in chicago
Illustration on the CPOG menu

The restaurant’s interior was dark and rustic with wood paneling. Even though it’s at street level, it feels more like it’s in a basement.  The tables have fold down sides that can turn a rectangular table for four into a round table for six.  The flexibility of the seating surprised me – very clever and accommodating.

While we waited for our food, I read the back of the menu, which told us the history of the restaurant.  It was almost directly across the street from the site of the Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929.  During the late 1920s, gang warfare was a reality in Chicago. Irish gangsters ruled the north side of Chicago (where this restaurant was located) and Italian gansters, led by Al Capone, ruled the south side. Typically, gang activities consisted of the illegal trades of bootlegging, gambling and prostitution. Capone wanted no rivals – he wanted to rule the city. The Chicago gang violence reached its climax in a garage on North Clark Street on February 14, 1929. Seven men associated with the Irish gangster George “Bugs” Moran, Capone’s longtime enemy, were gunned down by men dressed as policemen. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was never officially linked to Capone, but he was generally considered to have been responsible for the murders.

History lesson over.  Now back to the deliciousness…

The Food

The menu at CPOG is not extensive. There are salads and appetizers, but as far as entrees go, you have a choice of the pizza pot pie, an oven grinder (sort of a toasted sub sandwich). or a dinner salad, which is big enough to feed two to four people.  The menu had this to say about the Pizza Pot Pie:  “The Pizza Pot Pie is an individual serving, made from scratch with triple-raised Sicilian bread-type dough; a homemade sauce consisting of olive oil, fresh garlic, onions, green peppers, whole plum tomatoes and a special blend of cheeses; sausage made from prime Boston butts; and doorknob-size, whole, fresh mushrooms.”

The pot pie only comes in two sizes – half-pound or pound. By this time, we were nearly starving, but practiced restraint and only ordered a half-pound each. When they brought out the Pizza Pot Pies, they looked a little bit like short-stemmed mushrooms, with round bulbous tops hiding a smaller base.

Pizza Pot Pie in Chicago
Fresh out of the oven.

But then the magic happens. The server flipped it upside down and loosened the food from the dish.  And behold:

pizza pot pie in chicago

The cheese… do you see all that cheese?  It was so hot and gooey and wonderful.  And that’s not just a thin layer of cheese, either…

pizza pot pie in chicago

Some of the tastiest, most perfectly seasoned meat sauce I’ve ever eaten lurked beneath the cheese.

pizza pot pie chicago meat sauce
(We asked for no mushrooms in ours.)

Needless to say, we cleaned our plates.  We left the restaurant very full and feeling satisfied.  It was the best meal I had while we were in Chicago.  Yes, we did try traditional deep dish pizza in Chicago as well, and it was good. But the pizza pot pie at CPOG still remains my favorite!

When we left the restaurant around 6:00, a line had started to form outside.  If you visit CPOG, try to arrive early! But even if you don’t, it’s worth the wait!

pizza pot pie chicago

The Pizza Pot Pie at Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company is seriously delicious! Definitely a must-have meal when visiting Chicago.