Category Archives: Travel

12 Hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

12 hours in Williamsburg BrooklynGetting to know a city is rather a bit like dating. That rush when you find the first thing that grabs your interest. The thrill of newness. Then settling in a bit to really connect on a deeper level.  Every relationship has it’s highs and lows. And then there were those 12 hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

When it comes to New York City, Brooklyn in particular, I’ve a bit of a matchmaker. My husband is a Brooklyn native, born and raised. It wasn’t until after we moved from California to Maryland that I ever set foot in the Empire State. Over a decade later, I’m still enamored of something in each of the five boroughs.

Like anyone when they first start seeing someone, I typically refuse to hear anything bad about my new beau. When dear friends {also life-long New Yorker’s} lament the loss of ‘authenticity’ in their city, I simply turn a deaf ear.  Sure the traffic is lousy and stuff is expensive, but even high-maintenance relationships can be fulfilling

Did Big and Carrie teach us nothing?

Banksy Street Art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn New YorkOne of the best ‘dates’ I’ve had with New York was 12 hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My eldest daughter came along to meet my muse. We walked for miles, enjoyed outstanding food, fed our artistic spirits, shopped, talked and mingled with the locals. Here are a few things that can’t be missed if you’ve only got a few hours to fall in love. 

Brunch at Marlow & Sons

Fresh. Local. Artisanal. Check! This place is a bit of farm-to-table meets french bistro, though the food is decidedly Americana with a modern twist. The menu changes daily, which makes it  a culinary adventure whenever you go. The baked eggs with ham and chickpeas was a favorite. A perfectly baked egg is an art form.

The Pink Olive

Stationery is my kryptonite. I can’t pass up pretty paper. The Pink Olive is a gift store that has the prettiest of paper, and more. I could have spent the kid’s college fund on tea towels, candles and Salt Road handmade taffy.

Brooklyn Bowl

Classic bowling alley with a trendy twist, like Chesterfield leather sofas and award-winning eats. We stopped in for a quick match {doesn’t take long for me to bowl a few frames of gutter-balls} in the early evening, just after it opened at 6pm. It was quirky, but fun. I can see how it becomes a hot-spot for the grownup types after dark. They feature live bands as well.

Mast Brothers Chocolate Williamsburg, Brooklyn New YorkMast Brother’s Chocolate

I’ve long been a fan of Mast Brother’s handcrafted, high-quality, responsibly sourced chocolate bars. When we stumbled upon the shop as we explored, the heady aroma of cacao drew us in like a siren song.

More than a retail location, this is also the factory and bakery. Bags of raw cacao beans line the worn wooden floors. Beautifully wrapped, uniform-sized bars are laid out on a weathered table under harsh lights. They look more like stacked books than decant chocolate. An expert in all things cocoa nib hovers nearby ready to answer questions and hand out small samples… oh yes, there are samples. 

Mast Brother's Chocolate Shop Brooklyn, New YorkA stop here is much like a visit to a museum with friendly docents ready to teach you all about their passions.

Radegast Hall & Biergarten

You like live music? Dig elevated pub grub and a good beer? Go HERE! The vibe here is so nostalgic that you can almost feel the wraiths of early German immigrants to America float among the hops hung to dry from the rafters over your head.

Gritty without being grungy, and featuring excellent German fare as well as a few distinctly American offerings, this is a great place to grab a meal. If you can’t get seated in the open-air biergarten {or if it is a tad too chilly} ask for a window seat. The people watching is as good as the food.

12 Hours in Williamsburg, Brookly - BiergartenUrban Market of Williamsburg

At the end of the block – a short walk from Marlow & Sons in the shadow of the Williamsburg bridge– is a foodie nirvana called Urban Market. If you want to taste all the flavors of Brooklyn from Little Italy to China Town this is the place.  Plus there is a parking garage here that doesn’t cost you a mortgage payment.

Park, explore, come back and shop before you leave. We grabbed bread, local cheeses, some french pastries, and the best cocktail bitters outside of my own homemade. {I’m modest like that}

What cities have you fallen in love with, and why?

12 hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

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Lighthouses & Sunken Submarines: St. Mary’s County, Maryland

What is it about lighthouses that sparks such fascination? A romanticized notion of the lonely keeper of the flame. Perhaps it has something to do with a mix of quite heroism and tales of the sea. Then again it could just be all about the view.  I’ve set out on a quest to visit the lighthouses of Maryland to try and answer that question. 

Up first is a unique lighthouse with some hidden treasure you won’t find anywhere else. 

Piney Point LighthousePiney Point Lighthouse

Do you imagine a lighthouse as a towering presence standing watch at the water’s edge? Me too. In fact I’d always sort of thought there was a height requirement. Which when I stop to think about it makes no sense. As long as the view is unbroken, the job gets done.

The Piney Point lighthouse isn’t even the largest structure within the historic park in which it resides. It sands only thirty-three feet high.

“…and though she be but little she is fierce.” ~Hermina

Opened in 1836 the lighthouse stands watch over the Potomac River. In the course of its service (it was decommissioned in 1964 by the US Coastguard) the lighthouse and its adjacent quarters were occupied by twenty-one Keepers and their families. Four of those keepers were women.

Some of these women were spouses, trained in their husband’s profession out of necessity. Lighthouses tend to be placed in remote areas where assistance was often hours away. Wives served as backup keepers. Following a ship wreck, Mrs. Goeshy (wife of one of William Goeshy – Keeper in 1939) swam repeatedly out into the water to rescue victims. She may have actually been one of the Coast Guard’s first, famed rescue swimmers.

Who knew lighthouse keeping was a beacon for feminism? I sure didn’t.

I’d also no clue that there was a German U Boat sunk in the waters just off the coast from where the lighthouse sits century. That’s one of the amazing facts that had our entire family’s rapt attention when we toured the Piney Point Lighthouse, Museum and Historic Park with historian and former Park Ranger, April Havens.

One could say that U-1105, or the Black Panther, was one of the first-ever stealth submarines. Commissioned 1944 she was outfitted with a synthetic rubber skin over her hull. One of less than ten in her class U-1105 was turned over to the Allies after the war. The intention was to bring the Black Panther to the United States in order to study the unique radar/sonar blinding technology.  Ah, but the sea had plans of its own.

On day four of U-1105’s journey from England to the States, she was caught in a hurricane while surfaced. A section of the submarine was ripped away by the force of the storm causing it to near keel over. A portion of the synthetic skin lost to the sea. After what research that could be done was completed the sub was scuttled in the Potomac River in St. Mary’s County Maryland in 1949.

The Black Panther sunk 91 feet in 20 seconds on that day. The boat was quite literally lost, for decades. In June of 1985 divers rediscovered the wreckage. Today U-1150 stands as Maryland’s first historic shipwreck preserve.

These enthralling tales are just two of the many we learned from during our visit to the Piney Point Lighthouse.

Piney Point Lighthouse

Tips for visiting the Piney Point Lighthouse Museum & Historical Park

Start at the Museum – There is surprisingly a lot of ground to cover here in the way of things to see and learn about. The main museum is self-guided with lots of vignettes to read through in a small space. They score bonus family travel points for having a small Kiddie Corner with activities for the littlest kiddos.  

Ask Questions – When you head out to the marine portion of the museum you’ll have a guide. These guides are experts with a passion for the history of Piney Point. Asking them questions makes the visit all the more an EDventure. Be sure to ask about the torpedoes! 

Bring a Picnic – The museum sits on a coveted water-front. All that gorgeous beach you pass on the way in with cute decor and colorful beach chairs is private property. Can’t stop for a snack there, but there are a dock, picnic tables and a small stretch of sandy beach at the museum.

Great for Kayaks – There is a public peer to launch your kayak from for free. The parking is free as well. The launch closes at sunset but if you let the staff know what your plans are they can make arraignments.

Hit the Gift Shop – Not only are there cute, crafty and even beautiful treasures to be found in the shop but spending your money here helps support the preservation efforts.

Ode to the Icelandic Hot Dog

Sometimes you eat something and magic happens. Yes, magic. No really, like full-on expecto patronum and junk. This sort of alchemical reaction can lead to uncontrollable drooling and really bad poetry, as is evidenced below in my ode to the Icelandic hot dog. 

Icelandic Hot Dogs

Sappy, savory, hand-held treat,

Iceland’s cheapest thing to eat. 

After fish that smelled so foul, 

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur makes the stomach growl.

Snuggly nestled underneath, 

saucy, salty, savory, sweet… toppings. 

At each baseball game and boardwalk jaunt,

my taste buds will you ever haunt. 

Pathetic prose aside, Iceland might actually make the world’s best hotdog. I say this as a connoisseur, a life-long devotee of ground meats stuffed into a casing. I might even suggest one venture to this amazing island simply to ensure the life-changing experience of these dogs. 

 

 

Coney Island Nostalgia

coney island Home to the first enclosed amusement park in America, the famed Nathan’s 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest,  and the site of countless American tales Coney Island, New York was once billed as “Heaven at the end of a subway ride.” After decades of neglect, this once vibrant seaside attraction has been given a major facelift, but has that caused it to lose its historical charm?

My first trip to Coney Island was almost two decades ago when my husband – a Brooklyn native who grew up blocks from the famous boardwalk— and I spent a quasi-honeymoon weekend eating Nathan’s, watching a guy hammer a nail into his nasal cavity and holding on for dear life in Deno’s Spook-A-Rama. For a kid from the California coast, this place was a dirty, gritty, run-down piece of nostalgia. You could almost see actual fleas in the Flea Market. It was every stereotype I’d imagined Brooklyn to be… and I loved it!

In the years since that first visit, many of the things that gave Coney Island its uniqueness have vanished. The Nickle Empire, a nickname it earned back in its heyday when visitors could enjoy a knish and rides for five-cents each, is quickly becoming a Jackson Hole. {try to get out of there without spending at least $20} Gone are the rickety stalls selling oddities and baubles, carnival games with chipped paint facades and character. In their place sparkle the glowing beacons of chain stores and restaurants.

Come to Coney Island, eat at Applebees?

My youngest daughter sitting in the same spot her dad loved growing up, but seeing a far different Coney Island
My youngest daughter sitting in the same spot her dad loved growing up, but seeing a far different Coney Island

As Goliath thrill rides designed by the same folks responsible for Six Flags crowd into the new Luna Park, I wonder how long the Cyclone has left {not that I’d actually ever get on the thing}. It’s not that the “new” Coney Island won’t be a wonderful place in its own right, but rather that with the gentrification of the area comes the end of an era.

Certainly, there must be enough chain restaurants to sustain the appetite of those who love an afternoon outing at Applebee’s, endless breadsticks and bottomless appetizers. As dubious as eating fresh oysters from a stand on the Brooklyn boardwalk may sound, I’d still rather give those a go when in Coney Island.

The thought of heading to Whalburgers for fries in the shadow of the Cyclone is simply bonkers. Then again most people in Brooklyn are Mets fans and might not have a problem with South Boston’s own serving them up meat on a bun. You Yankees fans should be ashamed.

It seems that progress is steaming along down Surf Avenue. Sigh

Coney Island Mermaid ParadeI suggest you go visit Coney Island now. Soon the only mermaids marching in the parade may be Disney princesses and not Drag Queens.

 

Loews Loves Pets (and it’s a mutual thing)

Do you travel with your fur family members? If you’ve undertaken the task of even looking into doing so, I’m sure you ran into the same issues we have; outrageous fees, no facilities  or simply no pet-friendly room at the inn. There is hope fellow pawrents. Loews Loves Pets… and it’s a mutual thing. 

Loews Loves PetsIn the fall of 2015 we lost a beloved family member. Don Sonny Corelone Di Paola ascended the rainbow bridge after nearly fifteen years of joining us at the table for meals, napping on baskets of freshly folded laundry and a life-long refusal to own the fact that he was born a feline rather than human or canine. This cat growled at the doorbell and insisted there be an extra chair at the table for him though he never ate morsel.   

As our hearts began to heal, we  found there was room behind the scar tissue. In the spring we welcomed Gordon von Ottawa du Barkhimedes (a eleven-week old French Bulldog) to our family. Gordy is our first dog as a family. 

Being cat pawrents really never put a kink in our travel style. Aside from the occasional jumping into an open suitcase and refusing to budge, they pretty much could care less if we were head out-of-town without them. I’ve my suspicions that there may have been some wild feline soirees going on in our absence.  

As newly minted puppy familiga it became rapidly clear that Gordo was going to have to earn his travel wings. We started him out with his first trip to NYC as soon as the vet cleared him to be social. The guy road tripped like a pro from day one. I think he may have learned bye-bye faster than sit!

Travel with DogsWe learned, “I’m sorry we don’t allow pets,” even faster. When we did find hotels that would welcome Gordon our bill would shoot up an average of $100. Ouch! Adding insult to financial injury, that green bought you exactly nada beyond allowing the dog in the building. Then we found Loews Hotels! 

As hotel chains go, Loews has long been one of our favorite. Why? Service. Loews takes attentiveness to the next level.

Staying at the Loews Regency New York a few years back I mentioned at check-in that my husband and I would be enjoying our first kid-free getaway in over two years. When we got back to our room after an afternoon in the park there was a bottle of wine and some sublime chocolates waiting alongside a note telling us to enjoy ourselves. When we stayed at Loews Grand Pacific – where I made it abundantly clear that I was the family Harry Potter nerd – the concierge spent a good twenty minutes giving me all the insider tips on navigating the nooks and crannies of Diagon and  Knockturn Alley.  Alohomora big time, fellow Potter heads! 

The most abundantly clear example of the unique, genuine and warm welcome at Loews (that seems to be a corporate philosophy)  came when we brought Gordon along to celebrate Lil Nugget Number 4’s big tenth birthday.  Let’s back things up just a bit…

Em is our youngest. She started planning her tenth birthday, along with her gallery opening and Oscar acceptance speech when she was about three years old. Where some girls her age love Barbie she loves her travel journal, glitter isn’t her thing but a good hotel bathrobe is (she has a collection.) It really wasn’t a huge surprise when in lieu of a birthday party she asked for a bubble bath, room service and taking Gordon to a hotel.  

The bummer of having a late-summer birthday is that travel isn’t quite as doable. The upside for us is that we’re surrounded by great staycation destinations like DC, Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland. Another huge plus is that Annapolis is rated one of the most dog-friendly cities in the country.  The trifecta of birthday awesome for Em is that there is a Loews in Annapolis. Which brings us back to where I started telling you about what makes Loews hotels so unique for families that travel with fur family in tow.

Now back to where we were…

Checking in at Loews Annapolis is more like being welcomed home. Yes the floors are polished marble, walls are hung with nautical themed works of art and fragrant arrangements of flowers abound, but there is zero pretension. How can one be aloof when they melt at the sight of a puppy? That’s exactly what the front desk staff did when Gordo walked in the joint.

Loews Loves PetsThe blue carpet rolled out for both Em and her fury lil bro. She got birthday hi-fives, well-wishes and covert questioning about what her favorite treats are. He got a welcome goody bag packed with handmade treats, his own Loews water bowl, accident bags and even a sparkly bit of bling for his collar.

Yes, we were hosted guests of this particular Loews but this sort of welcome is the norm not the exception. When you pay to bring your four-legged family along Loews makes sure you get value beyond a room at the inn. 

That hospitality and attention to detail, in my experience, applies to all guests at every Loews. Every time we’ve been guests the staff has always asked if we were celebrating anything. If we were, they’d make sure to celebrate along with us by sending notes, treats or just remembering every time you passed by in the lobby.

Loews Loves PetsWhile chatting with the staff at Loews Annapolis I made mention that Em’s last birthday was New Orleans themed. Not sure why the kiddo is so enamored with The Crescent City (she’s never been) but she is. Her room is decorated with masks, fluer de lis and street signs from the French Quarter. He asked if we’d stayed at the Loews New Orleans. I didn’t even know there was one (travel blogger, fail.)

That night when she and her pup were snuggled up after an epic round of Monopoly, I booked her first trip to NOLA. Knowing there would be a Loews to welcome us, I couldn’t resist. We’ll be spending Thanksgiving in the Big Easy and bringing Gordon along!

Loews Loves Pets - Hotel room birthday sorieeWhen you find a place that feels like home, you know you need to be there. Thank you Loews for hosting this one stay, but even more for giving us more reasons to travel with the WHOLE family!

If you travel with fur family in tow, stay tuned for our article in the holiday issue of Skimbaco Lifestyle Magazine. We’ll be dishing on more tips for travel with pets including how essential oils can make it easier for everyone. Check out the autumn issue that’s live now. 

Loews Loves Pets 

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