Thursday, July 5, 2012

Philly pics: murals, gardens and food.. oh my!

Philly 7/12

Philly day 5: Happy 4th!!!

Hi everyone, and happy 4th of July!!! We went out for breakfast then headed over to Longwood Gardens to tour the incredible 1,077 acres of amazing gardens. Wow, you will not be disappointed.

The land was purchased from William Penn in 1700 by a Quaker family named Peirce. An arboretum was planted on the lands. In 1906, Pierre du Pont purchased it in order to preserve the trees. The lands were cultivated to the gardens seen today from 1906 through the 1930's. In 1946, the lands were turned over to a foundation, and in 1954, following du Pont's death, a director was hired to run it.

There is an open air theater, a conservatory, a tower overlooking a beautiful waterfall, a restaurant with casual and fine dining, as well as the large residence once occupied by the du Pont family. All are open for tour now. The home chronicles the history of the land, and is occupied by several cats (which didn't make their presence known to us, sadly.)

In 1907, Pierre started building the 400 foot flower walk. He had no master plan, but built out the gardens when inspiration hit. Following trips to Europe he built out an Italian water garden, including over a dozen fountains, lilly pad lakes, rose gardens and a topiary garden. There are several areas with fountains, and the 4-acre conservatory showcases thousands of plants from around the world. This is truly a horticultural masterpiece showcasing a great love. For the kid in you, there are several tree houses and two children's gardens Tours are offered, and this property offers continuing education classes to carry on the traditions of horticulture and to cultivate a love of it. The passion that led to the construction of this masterpiece is clear with every step.

It was quite hot and muggy, but we did enjoy this place for a while. We headed to lunch at the Pub, a large restaurant with a medieval theme and large portions, for an early dinner then back to the house to cool off a bit.

We headed out to see some fireworks as I was not about to miss them on the 4th! It took around 35 minutes to get there, and the fireworks sure didn't last that long! It was kind of funny.. by the time I got my camera set up to record them, they were over! Oops. Well, we tried. We headed home and watched the Philadelphia ones on the Museum of Art's steps and the NYC ones on the tv!

Heading to the airport to return home today. It's been such a great trip! I enjoyed visiting with my friends and family and seeing the sites of the city and the surrounding countryside. Hot and muggy aside, it's been a really wonderful trip! I can't wait to do it again! S

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Philly Day 4

We woke up and decided to grab breakfast before heading into the city. We went to a place that was closed (I see a theme on this trip!) so went to another called Mil-Lee Diner. It's a quaint old-style diner in Lower Makefield (I think!) We got leaded up on coffee and got omelettes and oj then headed into the city. My friend had some work to get done, so she dropped me where my cousin works so he could grab my bag. He works at One Penn Plaza/JFK Boulevard, above a train terminal and site of an old terminal station. There are mosaics in the lobby that show the history of the place.

I decided to cab it over to the museums, which would have been a 20ish minute walk had I known where I was going. The cabbie was frustratingly hilarious. 'Where are you going?' 'The Barnes Museum at one Ben Franklin Boulevard.' two minute pause. 'where are you going?' 'One?' 'What road?' Wow. So after clearly stating 'One Ben Franklin Boulevard' about 100 times, I gave up and demanded he let me off. The meter ran up a few extra dollars during this interchange, and we passed it a while back at that point. The funny part too was that he pulled over to ask someone where it was, and that person clearly had no better grasp.

I walked down Ben Franklin and stopped at the Rodin Museum. The Museum is closed for renovations (yes, we did find that out before leaving) but you can walk the grounds. It was really beautiful and there were statues around the grounds to enjoy. A large replication of the famous "The Thinker' was out front, reminding me of when I was in Paris and almost got tossed from the Rodin Museum there of taking a picture of it.

I saw a Whole Foods and decided to pick up some of the soap my friend had at her house (she has a 'thing' with soaps, lol!) They unfortunately didn't have it, but it was nice a cool and a good break from the heat and humidity. I continued walking to the Barnes, to find out, yes, you guessed it! It's closed on Tuesdays. Ugh. Sad but true. It just opened in mid-May so would have been really nice to see. Oh well.. So, I admired the building a bit then made my way to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

There was a beautiful and large statue of George Washington on his horse on the grounds in front of it that I stopped to look at, then headed to the South Entrance made famous by Stallone in the movie 'Rocky.' To commemorate it, they have a large statue of 'Rocky' at the base of the steps, and of course, tourists were having fun talking a picture posing in boxing stance, beside it. I walked up the steps by a family who did a race up them, so it was pretty entertaining to watch. Especially when the youngest boy of the crew declared 'I'm dying!' and nowhere near the top. The stairs are an architectural feature and quite impressive. Near the top there are quite a few beautiful sculptures, and the building is beautiful to look at.

There was an exhibit on 'Arcadia: Gauguin,Cezanne,Matisse that was really beautiful and well-done with an auditory accompanyment. You could also play music from the era as you walk around. The museum has a lot of Monet, Renoir, Gauguin and others, so I enjoyed walking around. There's also an armour collection which was interesting, and some modern art as well as European art from other time periods.

I spent two hours touring, pretty much my museum limit, then headed back toward's my cousin's office. I stopped in the Comcast building next door, which has huge displays on the wall inside the building, offering constant movies. Downstairs is a food court, but a rather upscale one. I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat for a bit, enjoying the coolness!

My cousin got out of work early so we headed over to the Continental for a drink. It's a funky place that we ate at the last time I was here (maybe three years ago.) It has a rooftop restaurant as well with a nice view, so we went up there when it opened. We met up with my cousin's wife and two friends of hers from work, and talked for a bit.

We left and made our way to Parc, where we were eating. It's in the Rittenhouse area of Philly, which is very nice and beautiful, with a large park in the center. The restaurant is french and very good, with gorgeous tiles on the floor, almost like a mosaic, and very french-style seating. For dinner I got the scallops, and my cousin got french onion soup (when in rome!) and spaghetti bolognese and Lisa got chicken. We got an order of pomme frites (french fries) for the table. It was great.

After we left, we decided to walk around the park, which is very dog-friendly, and the area. They showed me million-plus dollar condos on the square which didn't seem quite so impressive. We walked back to the car and came home to Northeast Philly. Their cat, Ashley, is not very happy about visitors, and that hasn't changed. Surprisingly, she isn't hiding constantly though, and has stared at me a bit.. from a distance. I think that means she likes me! Today we go to Longwood Gardens, which I'm looking forward to. Then *fireworks*.. yay! I LOVE fireworks. Have a great day!! s

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Philly Day 3

Good morning! I need to get caught up from yesterday, which was a busy day! And fun! We got up early again and enjoyed an amazing cup of coffee with Penzey's cinnamon and nutmeg (the cinnamon, I found out today, from Vietnam, China and Indonesia! Yum!) Even though I lived in New Jersey for a year, I never went to Princeton! We had plans to go somewhere in Jersey and decided to add it to the trip!

We parked near the campus and walked down the main road, Nassau Street, a while. We stopped in Small World Coffee and had a cafe au lait. They gave us separate little decanters with coffee and warmed milk so we could mix our own. A nice touch! My friend introduced me to this coffee a couple of years ago and brought me a bag in Phoenix. It's a great, small independent place that roasts the beans in Marlton, NJ. I purchased two bags (Joker Poker and Indie Blend, so my bag will smell wonderfully for the rest of the trip!!)

We then walked down Main Street for a bit, and enjoyed the quaint storefronts. We crossed the street to go onto the Princeton campus, which was amazing! There's a huge church made of this beautiful stone. Most of the buildings are of the same stone and the campus is really a showpiece. There's large metal sculptures sprinkled around, and lots of mature trees shading from the sun. It's really hot and muggy here now but yesterday was fairly nice, and the humidity was lower than it's been. In the shade it was quite pleasant. There was some kind of filming going on, and we watched for a few minutes then headed on to tour the rest of the campus. It's very easy to see the school is well funded! There's a building with plaques from many of the classes, and has 1971, 1952, 1993, etc. rimming the building. 

We toured for a little while more then crossed back over to Main Street in search of lunch. We were too full from dinner last night to even think of eating until then! We found PJ's Pancake House, a famous Princeton place and a landmark in the city. They offered breakfast and lunch during this time (breakfast is offered all day). I got my Philly cheesesteak with a swiss substitution, and it was great. I rarely eat red meat but when in Philly..

We next went to Grounds for Sculpture, which we found out was unfortunately closed. It's a beautiful area with lots of large and very interesting sculptures. There's a restaurant called 'Rats' there, named after some literary character, but I chuckle at the name for a restaurant. Seems kind of wrong to me. We walked around that area and saw some galleries as well, with several cute sculptures of couples from the 1800's wandering through the courtyard, and there was one in the window looking down on us too!

On the drive out we could see some of the brightly-colored sculputres in the fields of grass and trees. Maybe next time!

Since I have never been to the area where my friend lives, we did some exploring htere. We drove to Washington Crossing, which was the site of.. you guessed it! Washington's crossing! and

It marks the area where Washington crossed the delaware during the Revolutionary War. The grounds are beautiful. We walked by quite a few historic homes, and a gazebo to the bridge, and walked for the first time that day into NJ! Reenactments are done here, and the grounds really are beautiful overlooking the river. We walked the hilly landscape under gorgeous mature trees for a while, appreciating the shady canopy, then headed to the Washington Crossing Inn for a cool beverage.

The Inn is gorgeous and the grounds even more so. We sat outside on the back patio and chatted with some of the people there. The bartender is going to the University of Phoenix (where I work!) What a small world. We then drove through Newtown, which is beautiful and historic. We took note of the plaques on some of the homes, marking them as having been built in the early 1800's and some in the 1700's. Everything there is beautiful and well-kept.

We went back to their house for a bit to get ready for dinner, and headed to New Hope and Lambertville to walk around. New Hope is known for the 'alternate lifestyle' and is a very artsy and fun community. There was a really nice Irish store that we checked checked out, and a couple of pet stores, one of which we went into. We then for the second time walked over a bridge into New Jersey, into Lambertville this time. It's a small town and very quaint known for antiques.

We went to Lambertville Station for a drink, a quaint little tavern, and then over to the Boathouse, which was right next to the restaurant we planned to dine at. it was really cute! A very small place decorated with everything nautical from mastheads, pictures, tin cups. Decorations were adorning the walls and ceilings, filling every spot of wood on the walls! The bartended was a character as well and we enjoyed talking with him a bit. We purchased a bottle of wine there as the restaurant is a BYO, and walked over. The wine we got, a french Pouilly-Fuisse, was excellent.

We enjoyed a great dinner outside on the patio including oysters and mussels, crab cakes and an interesting dish with a sheet of pasta over a poached egg, ham and spinach. We had duck, skate and liver (surprising the two of us who didn't order the liver that we kind of liked it!) The desserts were pretty good, and I definitely scored with the key lime pie. They got a berry mousse and an almond cookie.

We walked back along the water to get to the car and saw fish dancing in the canal. It was a really lovely day and I have enjoyed everything we've done thoroughly! Of course, I may never eat again once I leave here, but we are all major foodies so it's been really nice to go to some amazing restaurantsand have such truly amazing food!!! I love that about my friends. Today we got up early and went for a walk for a couple of miles. We are heading into the city for lunch, then I'm going to visit with my cousin for a couple of days before returning home. I can't wait to see him!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Philadelphia Day 2

Hello again, and welcome! What a fun day we had today! We first touring the Reading Terminal and the recent renovations they've had. It's in indoor market complete with every yummy goodness imaginable: farmer's markets, salumerias, delis, restaurants, bakeries... and on and on. We picked up a ginger scone and a bavarian-style pretzel with carraway seeds and salt for a snack. We went on a mural arts tour, and took a trolley around the city to learn about,and enjoy, some of the 3,500 murals around the city.

Philadelphia is often now known as the 'city of murals'. What an amazing way to explore the city! We got to tour many neighborhoods and got to see 40-50 murals, ranging from small areas to the entire sides of buildings. We also saw several mosaics, which were beautiful. This organization started in 1984, evolving from the Philadelphia anti-graffiti Network started Mayor Wilson Goode to eradicate the city of graffiti. Jane golden was hired to run the organization, and developed a respectful relationship with the graffiti artists, recognizing the raw talent that they had. Their motto, 'Art Saves Lives' really tells their story, engaging convicts, teens and all ages from all walks of life to beautify the city in a grass-roots effort to build community and build a sense of belonging while promotoing art and beautification.

We took the center city mural arts trolley tour: Some of the artists included Meg Saligman and others. The murals were really impressive, ranging from sports characters, heroes and social issues portrayed by beautiful artistry. We then went back to the Reading Terminal to cool off and enjoy some mimosas. After two, we stumbled our way out and then headed to the Constitution Center, which had some recent renovations. We watched the presentation/movie which was really interesting, then walked through some of the exhibits reading through the history of the country and recent history, then walked through the 'framers', the life-sized statues of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. We enjoyed the view of Independence Mall, across the way is the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

We made our way over to Society Hill, including lots of colonials in an older part of the city. It's a very residential and historic area, and quite beautiful. We walked toward South Street and went into Bridget Foys for a drink and a snack. It's in the mid-90s and very humid, so we needed to cool off. We walked down South Street for a bit. It's a rather intersting area of town with an eclectic vibe, including eateries and, oh, unique boutiques. :o)

After walking a bit and feeling quite hot and sticky, we decided to head toward the restaurant. First we went to Cuba Libre for yet anothe drink to cool off. It's an adorable very cuban-style restaurant that I've been to once before. I am not a fan of mojitos usually but was told they are amazing here so I tried it. Yum! It was excellent!

Then we headed to the restaurant where we had reservations. Amada was, in a word, excellent. Our waitress was amazing, and the restaurant was gorgeous. The food was incredible. We got the tasting menu and it was plentiful. We got tapas and one wine tasting that we shared. Some of the plates included jamon iberico, octopus (which I tried and surprisingly liked) with paprika and potato slices, lavash with tuna and capers, spinach salad with dates, toasted nuts and wrapped in serrano ham, pesto scallops, toast with a black truffle spread and an egg, shrimp mixture that I'm not doing justice to in describing, but it was amazing.

We also had artichokes in a parmesan sauce, flatbread in manchego, lamb chops, tile fish from florida in a tomato broth with the chef's personal garden vegetables, lamb meatballs with a cream sauce, anchovies with green olives and roasted pine nuts, and oyster and trumpet mushrooms with pesto... oh, amazing! We had a white, rose, red and a sparkling for wine. Dessert was a strawberry rubarb with a cakey-typed cookie and a strawberry marshmellow creme, and a chocolate hazelnut layered cake with a banana saffron ice cream and toasted hazelnuts.

We thought we might need to roll out of there but slowly made our way. Unfortunately, it was a bit too swampy to walk it off so we stumbled to the car to make our way back to their house. Yet another amazing dining experience. Yum! Yes, we are eating our way through Philly, which is something I've done before and yet, this time is very different and quite good. Yum. Double Yum. Very fun day with the murals tour and the good eats. Looking forward to more tomorrow!!! Have a great night all! s

The City of Brotherly Love

Welcome all.. the city of Brotherly Love: Philadelphia! The city that I hailed from, though I moved at age five to the Boston area. I love this city and am really excited to be here visiting some friends and my cousin. My favorite cousin, as he would tell you! I arrived around 5 pm, just in time for dinner. :o)

We headed directly into Philly,into the Society Hill part of the city. Lots of really great restaurants are here. We went to Zahav, a wonderful Israeli/middle-eastern restaurant offering a tapas-style dinner with small plates meant for sharing. Their tasting menu,as they call it, was wonderful. The place was really gorgeous.

When you walk in there's some very middle-eastern looking decorations on the wall, opening to a large room with several stained-glass squares made by the owner's father. There's a large picture of the top of a crowd from Israel. The lights are very middle-eastern in appearance, and then there are several areas with draped tapestry over the seating area. They look almost like a chuppah, which is the tapestry/cloth that is draped over an area used for a wedding ceremony. The cloth was beautiful and made the area appear very intimate.

It starts with an incredible bread, almost pita-like but larger and clearly just made from a brick-style oven, with 'salad items' including a large bowl of hummus. It's not like the traditional hummus and was quite creamy with some kind of black beans in it and lots of tasty olive oil. 8 tiny bowls came with it, with things like tabbouli, eggplant (almost like baba ganoush but prepared a little differently), a tomato and cucumber mixture, beets in a seasoning (and I HATE beets, but rather liked this), carrots, and a couple of others.

Next we selected 6 small plates and the food seemed to just keep coming! We got this amazing watermelon 'salad' with small pieces of olive, feta cheese and pistachios. Then came fried cauliflower, roasted zucchini with cheese and hazelnuts, kibbe naya, which is a raw lamb seasoned mixture over small lettuce leaves with some nuts (almost like the lettuce wraps you can get at some asian restaurants.) My friend's hubby recommended a 'chef's choice' for our remaining two items, and we got a chicken liver appetizer which was surprisingly good, and I forget what else! It was all incredible.

For our 'entree' we got three dishes: duck kebabs with with ground pistachio and saffron, veal with black-eyed peas, kale and saffron and moroccan chicken with almond bulgar, matbucha and a fried egg. The moroccan chicken was the nicest presentation, with the chicken,a tomato salad and a lovely small fried egg. Dessert was incredible with a pavlova surrounded by basted strawberries, a katafi with lebanese ice cream, valharona chocolate and mangoes (it's a shredded phyllo dough dessert, not dissimilar to the consistency of baklavah), and crispy phyllo cigars with lemon sherbert. We had asked about the rugelah and the waitress brought them over too, with the chef's pleasure. Yum... everything was simply amazing. The portions were great as well.. we were all full, but not bursting given the volume of dishes we had the opportunity to try. They were perfectly portioned to have a taste of everything without being overwhelmed. I couldn't recommend this place more highly!

If I haven't mentioned it, my friends are total foodies so they have some amazing restaurants planned. We'll have a great time eating our way through the best Philly has to offer! As we were walking to the car, we noticed some of the July 4th festivities going on and decided to check it out. There was a live band playing an Earth, Wind and Fire song that was quite good, and we stood for a bit enjoying it. WaWa Welcome America at Penn's Landing is going on for the next week or so. We watched the crowd for a bit including some kids playing in a little fountain area with a sign prominently displayed 'no wading'. It was an interesting cross-section of the local population for sure!!!

 We made our way back to their house and I got the 'grand tour.' Really lovely place and made me miss the northeast a bit! Their backyard looks out to a lush green area filled with large, mature trees. Ahhh.. This morning we woke up early and went to Einstein's to meet up with some of their friends. Have an enjoyable breakfast and coffee to start our day. today we are going on a mural arts tour which I'm really excited about! I'll write later today/tomorrow to fill you in on our adventures!!!