Have Wife, Will Travel

Hi, I’m Rob.  I play the role of husband and dad in the saga upon which you are about to embark.  I’m joined by Shani, my wife and mother to our mischievous, imp of a daughter, “S”.  Together, we are the Bell family.  This is a portal, if you will, into the story of our travel adventures.  Part journal, part travel review and all Bell peculiarities, we hope the offerings here will inspire some of you to embrace our world through the medium of travel.

We are by no means globetrotters.  We are a middle class family that resides in Phoenix, Arizona.  What we are though, is a family who has come together to prioritize the tiny sliver of time we will have together on this earth, with shared experiences.  Shortly after becoming parents, Shani and I decided to put an emphasis on the intangible moments we share together.  Yes, we live a comfortable life with all of the material trappings that middle class Americans have come to enjoy, but all of the extra…well, all of the extra goes to the things that no human can ever take away from us…memories.  Whether it’s a membership to our local science center, attending concerts, or as evidenced by this blog…traveling, these shared experiences would be the focus of how we invested our time and money.

Travel is by far, the most enticing of the shared experiences we have found so far.  It also is the hardest of those shared experiences to decide upon, plan, finance and execute.  This would probably be a good time to explain the meaning behind the title Have Wife, Will Travel. While Shani and I agree on all of the important things that couples should agree on, we are still very different individuals.  My wife is a planner.  The unexpected and unplanned can often throw her for a loop.  I am convinced that most aspects of planning a trip bring Shani immense joy and excitement.  Why on earth would I want to rob her of those experiences?

I am, by contrast, not a planner.  While Shani is creating color coded spreadsheets, detailing all of the particulars of any particular journey, my head is busy imagining and mentally visualizing the enjoyment and adventure we will be sharing together.  The spreadsheet is real folks.  For those that regularly peek into our lives here, the trip isn’t officially real until the spreadsheet has been started.  While I respect and show deference to the all powerful spreadsheet, my first reaction to looking at one causes my blood pressure to spike as if I was walking into a Walmart, Chuck E Cheese or other similar highly chaotic environment.  In the end, we balance each other out.  She’ll plan, I’ll imagine and later, write as a cathartic exercise which helps maintain my sanity.  Hence the title, Have Wife, Will Travel.

We genuinely hope you enjoy what is to follow.  We hope what we share resonates and encourages you to live the best lives for yourselves.  While there will be plenty of opinion and subjective offerings, I have tasked myself with providing plenty of perspective and objectivity where I can.  No matter what value you may take away from these words, our sincere desire is that this can somehow contribute to your happiness. So, buckle up and open your mind.  Let’s go some places together and see what we learn!

Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. — Gustave Flaubert

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Harmony, California – The Best Place In California You’ve Never Heard Of.

Sometimes the best finds during your travels won’t come from your planning and meticulous attention to detail.  Every now and then, we stumble upon a treasure we had no intention of visiting.  Harmony, California serves as a perfect example on one of our recent journeys.

We were travelling California’s famed Pacific Coast Highway from Malibu to San Francisco.  After enjoying a lovely night in Pismo Beach, we headed out on California 1 with the intention of visiting an Elephant Seal rookery in San Simeon.  Roughly 30 miles north of San Luis Obispo, we were traveling through a stretch of California 1 that juts inland for a while.  I’ll admit that I was anxiously awaiting the road’s return to the coastal views.  That’s when we passed a side road and a sign for Harmony Cellars, a small vineyard set just off from the highway.  As we passed the road, we could see a small set of buildings off to our right; what appeared to be a charming little town.  At Shani’s urging, we pulled to the side of the road and turned back to check it out.

We passed the vineyard and continued to the small set of buildings, and a sign that read “Harmony, CA…Population 18.”  Off to the right were an old creamery building and small wedding chapel. On the left side of the road was a glass blowing shop.  We perused the glass shop first, and watched a couple of local artists in the middle of blowing glass.  The shop featured the artists work for purchase. It was a joy to peruse through.

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Local artisans create custom blown glass at Harmony Glassworks.  They even offer glass blowing classes!

Harmony was originally founded in 1869, as a dairy settlement by Swiss immigrants.  As was common in the wild Western U.S. at the time, the area saw a bloody conflict between local ranchers and owners of the creamery in town.  Once a truce had been reached, the settlement was named Harmony, in an optimistic desire for continued tranquility in the area.

Harmony’s population has fluctuated throughout the years.  At its peak in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the town was home to a creamery, dairy management offices and even a small school.  By the mid 20th Century, the creamery would close, as the dairy industry became more consolidated.  Today, Harmony is home to a small group of artisans that create glassware and pottery.

Visiting what remains of the small town was an absolute unplanned pleasure.  Walking the grounds around the chapel and creamery was a step back in time to a simpler life in America’s old frontier.  We definitely encourage others to “accidentally” stumble upon Harmony as they travel along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Philosophy of Travel – Documenting Your Travels

There was a time when my ability to recall events was superb. Through college, I may have taken a total of 25 pages of notes. That includes graduate school. As a law enforcement officer, I would need only write down a few key words and anything I wished to quote in my reports, to be able to document the particulars of my work. To put it simply, if I observed something or heard something, I could recall it with relative ease. Even if it occurred years in the past. And while I still do not take many notes when I need to remember something, I do notice that the ease in which I recall events is much more difficult than it used to be. Such is the fortune of a middle aged man.

The decline in my ability to recall events in detail is perhaps one of the reasons I’ve chosen to write about our travels. To keep my mind sharp and ask myself the deeper questions about the places we go. Perhaps the decline is a reminder of my own mortality and my desire to leave another fingerprint on the world I occupy. And maybe, being able to revisit our adventures through my own words is a significant part of the journey for me. No matter the reason, documenting our travels is important to me, and I imagine this would be important to many of you. Let’s explore some of the most convenient ways we can revisit all of the sights, sounds, smells and conversations associated with our travels.

“Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.” John Steinbeck

Travel Journals

Perhaps the easiest way to document your travels is through the practice of keeping a travel journal. A notepad and pen are not cumbersome and are easily carried along wherever you may go. Keeping a journal allows you to write down the important details of each location or day of your visit. The style in which you document with your writings is ultimately a personal decision. I know some people who would only write down the factual details of what they saw, perhaps to spark their memories. Others I know would want to include their thoughts and feelings about what they experienced, a means of active reflection in addition to the mere recording of details. Either way, keeping a travel journal is a near foolproof way to capture the name of your server at dinner who went out of their way to make an event enjoyable for you, or the reaction you had when you first laid eyes on the impressive skyline or historic site.

Travel Photography

What trip isn’t complete without a picture or two? You don’t have to carry around a professional camera rig to capture some truly remarkable images of your journey. In fact, many smartphones that we carry around today have really good digital cameras built right into them. Many of those allow the photographer to have complete manual control over making a picture, similar to what digital SLR bodies allow one to do. In fact, while I still bring my Canon 5D Mk II with me on most big trips, there are days it stays safely back at our hotel and I trust the phone on my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge for my image capturing.

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When documenting your travel, look for images that explain your connection to the locale. Here, thousands of flags placed in Boston Common for Memorial Day serve as a much more personal emotional reaction to my visit there in 2010. Photo Credit: Robert Bell

Whether you are a photography novice or a dedicated student of the art and science behind photography, capturing the visual representations of your trip is a fantastic way to document your adventures.

Presenting Your Travels

So, you’ve kept a travel journal and you’ve managed to take some interesting photographs of your journey. What will you do with them? While this can be an incredibly personal decision, the effort you’ve put into documenting your trip would seem lost to me, if you didn’t at least consider how you would share those words and images.

Social Media

The options are as varied as the travels we take. Social media makes it incredibly easy to share in today’s world. Mediums such as Instagram seem to almost beg for you to share your travels. It’s a quick and often times near instantaneous choice to share your pictures and provide updates on the things you’re experiencing. Shani and I both often provide updates when traveling or share an incredible image that we are just too impatient to share with others. Of course, using this medium as the only outlet to present your travels has drawbacks. While quick and efficient, social media platforms often lack the ability to reflect upon or frame an overall trip. With social media, we’re only scratching the surface of what is available to create a tangible representation of our travels.

Photo Pictorials

I have one. A box of old photographs that almost nobody will ever see. Most are older family images that I’ve inherited as my parents have passed away, or prints from the days before digital photography technology became a respectable way to make a picture. Back in the day, photographers captured a lot of images on film in their hunt for the two or three that they deemed an accurate reflection of their artistic endeavors. A lot of film equaled a lot of prints. Hence, the ubiquitous box of old photos. More photos any one person could display in their home without entering the realm of obsessive hoarding. It still pains me to know I have boxes full of pictures of things that at the time, were important enough to stop and document, yet are relegated to a container to rarely be seen again.

Today’s world of digital photography has come a long way towards the resolution of this conundrum. Digital photo storage is extremely affordable, and only the two or three pictures out of the hundreds I took that I want to share will ever see print. The rest either go in the digital garbage can or safely stored in the cloud.

Once you’ve narrowed down the images you want to share or readily reference, the options for how to share a pictorial are growing by the day. The aforementioned social media options offer one such medium. Printing images to be placed in photo albums that can be shared with family and guests to your home offer another option. An alternative to photo albums full of individual prints are photo books, with professional bindings. Companies such as Shutterfly.com and Costco offer affordable and attractive bound books and albums that can be beautifully presented on your bookshelf, or given as gifts for family and travel companions. For the really great shots or the ones that seem to embody the emotions of your trip, try a larger print that can be framed and displayed in your home.

Write a Blog

A huge factor in why I started a travel blog was extremely selfish. It serves as an attractive and easily accessible medium to memorialize our travel. One day, “S” will be able to travel through time via my thoughts and observations. As someone that can no longer ask his parents important questions, “S” will have a way to, in a indirect way, have a conversation with her father when I’m gone. Keeping a journal and documenting trips with photography can easily be organized and presented in a way that in theory, can live on forever. For many, it’s a perfect next step in the marriage of all your travel documentation. Along the way, you may not just inspire yourself, but light a flame in others.

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Put your camera down and look. Often times we can’t see precious moments to document because we’re stuck observing the world through a view finder. Here, I caught “S” in a candid moment while visiting an apple orchard in Andover, MA. Photo Credit: Robert Bell

Admonition

As you can tell, I place importance on documenting our wanderings. As John Steinbeck wrote, “Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.” But I caution each of you. It’s not the most important aspect of traveling, by far. We’ve all either seen or been the person that only sees sights through the lens of a camera. We’ve seen people who spend thousands of dollars on sought after vacations, only to have their head buried in their smartphones, missing the world around them. Balance is required when documenting. Gilbert Chesterson wisely said, “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” Often, the things worthy of our attention are not what the masses clamor for. Stop, look, listen and soak it all in. Those are the moments you’ll find the true gems to document!

Photo @ top: Keeping a travel journal or writing a travel blog are outstanding and personal ways to document your journeys. Photo Credit: Robert Bell

My Arizona – Wupatki National Monument

For those that have followed my series Philosophy of Travel, you know that I’m a huge proponent of exploring our own backyards.  There are often gems within a day’s drive that are begging to be explored.  Being from Arizona, I am extremely fortunate to have a large number of national and state parks and other locales of historic significance at my fingertips.  From the Grand Canyon, Painted Desert and Petrified forest to towns and cities such as Tombstone, Bisbee and Prescott, there is no lack of affordable and convenient destinations to visit.

In the My Arizona series, we will explore these fascinating locations together.  I hope to accomplish two things:  To share with you the beauty of the land I live in and to encourage you to seek similar beauty in your own backyard!

Today, we will begin by visiting Wupatki National Monument, an ancient ruin home to the Sinaguan peoples native to America’s Southwest.  Only a 35 minute drive to the Northeast from Flagstaff, Wupatki is located just north of Sunset Crater National Monument (subject for a future post!). Wupatki National Monument is actually made up of multiple pueblos, with Wupatki being the largest among them.  Originally inhabited around 500 C.E., the Wupatki was a multiple story pueblo.  While Wupatki Pueblo was home to around 100 people, it is estimated that the area supported a population of around 2000 individuals during the late 11th Century.  By 1225 CE, Wupatki was completely abandoned.  Wupatki was the tallest structure in area while inhabited, and credits name to the Hopi word for “Tall House.” It also includes several kivas and even a ball court, more commonly found in the ancient sites of peoples indigenous to Sonora, Mexico and Southern Arizona.

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A Room With A View – A view to the northeast from a window at Wukoki Pueblo, across the vast plain of the Colorado Plateau. Photo Credit – Robert Bell

While Wupatki pueblo is certainly a magnificent place to explore, I am more drawn to a smaller pueblo in the park, Wukoki.  I’m not sure why I connect with this site more than Wupatki, but I do.  I suppose that introspectively searching for that answer is one of the things I enjoy so much about travel.  Maybe it’s location just offers a different angle on the Painted Desert to the east and Humphrey’s Peak (Arizona’s highest point at 12,633 feet above sea level) to the west.  Maybe it’s more complex.  Questions that I am sure will draw me back again to the ancient pueblo ruins.

Image @ top: Wukoki Pueblo, Wupatki National Monument, Arizona.  Photo Credit – Robert Bell

 

Philosopy of Travel – Rebirth

For our family, travel isn’t merely the act of going places.  For seeing without understanding and connection is empty and meaningless.  There are stories being told every day in our travels, if only we take a moment and make those connections and seek understanding.

For example, Shani and I visited Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii in 2016.  The image above is of a lava flow from 1969.  At first observation, it’s easy to see the stark and cold mark on the landscape from the lava flow.  Connections can come on many levels.  But to merely see this earthly scar at face value is missing a deeper story.

It was only with time and deliberate thought about what I was seeing, did I notice a different layer of understanding.  After scanning the panoramic expanse of destruction, I looked down to the ground directly in front of me.  It was there that I saw it.  A different story, vastly different from the one I saw at the surface.  It had been there the entire time I stood, watching the moonscape in front of me.  It wasn’t hiding, but all the same it was not visible to me at first.  It was there all along, a rebirth.

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From destruction, springs a rebirth.  

As you travel, what stories do you learn and understand?  Do you look deeper?  Do you think about the connections and the latent stories?  There is so much more to the world than what we initially see.  Your travels can be a tool to open your mind and better understand the world around you.

Concord, Massachusetts – New England Fall Treasure

Autumn is my favorite season, for many reasons. In Phoenix, it marks the understanding that relief from our sweltering summer will soon be realized. For me, it’s the sweet spot for American sports, namely college football and post-season baseball. It’s the harbinger of pumpkin pie, turkey and stuffing and eventually, yuletide cheer! In almost every other region in the United States, it also means the vibrant colors of majestic deciduous trees, prior to shedding their leaves in preparation for the harsh winter ahead. The sights and smells remind me of home.

I will admit that because of my residency in the Sonoran Desert, the biggest share of my exposure to the colorful fall foliage has been limited to television and movies. Throughout the years, I had built up a image of perfection of what Autumn is like in areas like New England. Central to these expectations would be an idyllic small town, with winding roads, front porches decorated with pumpkins and hay bales, a town square, and a rich history. Even I was able to realize that those expectations were unrealistic. And yet, that quintessential small town in New England exists with all of the criteria above! Alas, I introduce Concord, MA!

Although considered part of the greater Boston area, Concord is situated 50 plus miles to the Northwest from the bustle of downtown Boston; the confluence of the Sudbury and Assabet Rivers, forming the Concord River. Concord magically retains its small town charm, even being so close to a major metropolitan area. Laden with history and being one of the best locations in New England to soak in the changing leaves, Concord offers the complete package for a Fall travel destination! Here are some of the things that Concord has to offer!

A Revolution Begins

A view across the Old North Bridge

Minute Man National Historical Park

Yes, Concord is rich in history. Most notably, along with nearby Lexignton, Concord was the location of the first battle of the American Revolution. After the brief skirmish in Lexington, roughly 1800 British troops began their march to Concord, the rumored site of a weapons cache for the American rebels. As they approached the Old North Bridge, which leads to Concord, they were met by about 4,000 Massachusetts militiamen. A battle ensued that ended with an American victory, sending the British troops retreating back to Boston. The Concord Battlefield offers a rich experience in showcasing this early American historical event.

The Old North Bridge

The Old North Bridge was the main focal point of the battle. While the original bridge was removed in 1793, a replica based on original drawings of the bridge now stands in its place. A visit offers a effectual representation of troop positions at the time of the battle and commemorates the sacrifices of both the American Militia and the British troops involved in the battle on April 19, 1775. It’s very easy to develop an appreciation of the frenzied battle as it unfolded on this narrow crossing of the Concord River. And it’s a joy to photograph.

The Old North Bridge spanning the Concord River

The gravesite of the first British casualties of the American Revolution

The Old Manse

Built in 1770 for William Emerson, the Georgian home sits next to the Concord Battleground. From here, Emerson witnessed the battle on the Old North Bridge on April 19, 1775. Years later, Emerson’s grandson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, would write his famous essay, Nature, while he made the Old Manse his home. Any other home would be satisfied with such a historic pedigree, but not the Old Manse. After Emerson’s residency in the 1830s, the house would be home to Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife starting in 1842. During the Hawthornes’ three year residency, he would pen about 20 sketches and tales, some of which would be included in his 1846 collection Mosses from an Old Manse. One could argue that no one piece of real estate would prove more influential in the formation of this new nation.

The Old Manse

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grandfather witnessed the Battle of Concord from the Old Manse

Dead American Authors

It doesn’t take spending a lot of time in Concord to begin to appreciate its beauty. I use the word idyllic in a lot of my descriptions of Concord. It is the embodiment of beauty and beauty brings rise to more beauty. I have no problem understanding how this town can inspire the creativity of artists and thinkers. Perhaps, this is what attracted so many great authors and early American philosophers to call Concord their home. In addition to the aforementioned Emerson and Hawthorne, Concord was also home to Amos Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott and Henry David Thoreau. Concord was America’s first literary center.

Today, the former homes of Emerson, Hawthorne and the Alcotts can be visited as museums for the authors at the heart of America’s Transcendentalist movement. One can also visit Walden pond, where Thoreau lived while he wrote his masterpiece Walden in 1854. If you are at all interested in American literature, Concord offers an intimate glimpse into the home of some of America’s most influential writers.

The former home of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

To the Northeast of Concord Town Center, is the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Bearing no connection to Washington Irving’s American classic The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, it is yet a most befitting name for the final resting place for Concord’s literary legends. Opened in 1855, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave the dedication speech upon its opening. The design of the cemetery incorporated many design elements directly related to Emerson’s writings and the Transcendentalist movement as a whole. Most notably, the cemetery is dominated in the natural vegetation native to the area, as opposed to the being replaced by a green lawn and ornamental shrubs popular elsewhere during the time period.

The Thoreau family grave marker

Henry David Thoreau’s modest grave marker

The cemetery is still accepting new permanent guests. The older part of the cemetery is laid out in a natural amphitheater carved into a hillside. At the top of the hill is Author’s Ridge. It is here you will find the final resting places for Emerson, Hawthorne, the Alcotts and Thoreau. Even in death, their memorials exude the compounding beauty of this small town of really big things.

Louisa May Alcott’s grave on Author’s Ridge

Other Notables

Concord’s Colonial Inn

Built in 1716, the structure now known as the Colonial Inn served several different purposes in Concord life. Ever wonder where that weapons cache was located, the one the British Army came for in 1775? Well, many were housed in the Colonial Inn. The building would later serve as a storefront and residence. Thoreau lived here while he attended Harvard in the 1830s. By the middle of the 19th Century, it was used as a boarding house and was branded the Thoreau House. In 1889, the building would transform into its current use as an Inn, where visitors could rent rooms while visiting the idyllic New England small town. The Inn has hosted many early, influential Americans, include George Washington. Today, the Inn provides an intimate and charming experience for those wishing to absorb all that is Concord. It’s also rumored to be haunted!

Need a cozy place to stay while soaking in the Fall foliage? Try the Colonial Inn.

The Concord Grape

Who doesn’t love a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich? For me, there’s only one appropriate jelly for use in the culinary treasure: grape jelly. And for grape jelly, the Concord grape is the original, real deal. Developed in Concord in 1849 by Ephraim Wales Bull, it was introduced to the marketplace in 1854. In 1869, local Concord Reverend Thomas Bramwell Welch produced the first Concord grape juice, to be served to his church during communion. Today, Welch’s Foods Inc. still is headquartered in Concord.

Final Thoughts

Today, if someone were to ask me where I would want to live, if not in Phoenix, I respond by saying, “I want to live with the dead authors.” Shani likes to remind me that I would not enjoy living in Concord once I experienced the following:

  1. Making my first mortgage payment
  2. Commuting to work in Boston
  3. Shoveling snow
  4. Maintaining 200 year old home in an unforgiving New England climate

I respond with:

  1. You saw the Fall color, right?
  2. We’ll befriend an incredibly wealthy elderly patron who will leave their fortune to us instead of their ungrateful children, and we can retire there!
  3. We can pay someone to shovel snow.
  4. I would undoubtedly find unlimited inspiration for writing and become a renowned author myself.

Her rebuttal:

  1. You can retire there.

All of the silliness aside, if I ever found myself independently wealthy, I would find a way to have at minimum, a seasonal home among the nation’s literary giants. I’m pretty sure I could convince Shani to live there in October. Until then, I’ll have to find myself contented with the periodic visit to my favorite American small town. Preferably in October.

Featured Image @ top: The boathouse at the Old Manse

America’s Atlantic Coast by Train – Philadelphia, PA – Part 2

Once we ate lunch, it was time to make our way to Independence Park. The Liberty Bell was our first stop. Originally referred to as the State House Bell, it was housed in the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall). Originally purchased from a London foundry in 1751, the bell cracked upon its first test ring. Two local metal workers would melt down the original bell and recast it as the version that we know today. While many attribute the referencing of the State House Bell as the Liberty Bell to Philadelphia’s connection with the birth of our nation, it actually earned its name during the 19th century abolitionist movement. Since then, it has been a symbol for a number of human rights movements. The Liberty Bell will never ring again. After an initial crack was repaired in 1846, a second and unrepairable crack soon emerged, forever silencing an American symbol of freedom.

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The Liberty Bell. The large crack above is actually the repair job for the original damage.

After visiting the Liberty Bell, we took a leisurely stroll around the grounds of the park, around Independence Hall to the statue of Commodore John Barry, father of the U.S. Navy. We made our way across 5th St, to the statue of Robert Morris. Alexander Hamilton is the belle of popular culture right now, with the world renowned Broadway musical Hamilton still being the toughest theater ticket to get in New York City. Hamilton is often credited with being father of the American financial system, serving as the first Treasury Secretary for the United States. But as A. Ham began his crusade to establish a strong federal fiduciary, he looked to Robert Morris for guidance, tutelage and support. Together, the two perhaps shaped the current United States more than any other founding fathers. Washington was the hero and leader, but Morris and Hamilton were the architects of the quick establishment of a brand new country with financial solvency.

After a leisurely walk through the 18th Century Garden we found ourselves at the Carpenter’s Historic Hall. The Second Continental Congress famously met in Independence Hall and many assume that the First Continental Congress met there as well the previous Autumn. In fact, the First Continental Congress met a couple of hundred yards down Chestnut St at the Carpenter’s Hall. The Hall was also home to the America’s first public library; technically, since available to the representatives of the First Continental Congress, the first Library of Congress.

Once we concluded our visit at Carpenter’s Hall, we found ourselves right across Chestnut St. from our hotel. We decided to head back to our room and freshen up prior to heading out for our dinner that night at the City Tavern. Technically part of Independence National Historical Park, City Tavern originally opened its doors 1773. From that point, the Tavern would find itself at the center of the American Revolution. It served as the meeting place before and after sessions of the First Continental Congress, was used by both Continental and British troops as a prisoner of war facility, and for three days in 1777 it served as the official headquarters of Washington’s Continental Army. Destroyed by a fire in 1834, the building was re-created in 1975 to historical accuracy, using photographs and insurance surveys. Today, Congress has appointed Chef Walter Staib as the sole operator of City Tavern, where he serves up a historically accurate 18th Century fine dining experience. Chef Staib can still be seen on the PBS series A Taste of History which has won 10 Emmy Awards.

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Shani and “S” at City Tavern

Our dinner was excellent. The Tavern now consists of 10 distinct dining rooms across three floors. Each room offers its own unique personality and charm. The food was delicious and the atmosphere is unrivaled if you are looking at a period authentic dining experience. I would rank this a top of the list dining experience if you find yourself in Philadelphia.

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City Tavern offers an 18th Century period fine dining experience

The next morning, we would visit Independence Hall, prior to boarding a train for our next location, New York City. Independence Hall, known at the time of the revolution as the Pennsylvania State House, is beautifully preserved and presented as it appeared during the Second Continental Congress and signing of the Declaration of Independence; later, the Constitutional Convention. The Georgian architecture is characteristic of the great colonial era public buildings in America. The tower was the original home of the Liberty Bell and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Entry into Independence Hall is by ticketed tour only. We definitely recommend obtaining tickets before arriving in Philadelphia. We did not and were not able to obtain an entry ticket until the morning of our departure. Tickets can be obtained onsite in the park’s Visitor Center. Once inside, you’ll be able to see the Assembly Room, where the great debates over the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and the US Constitution occurred. If the walls could only talk! We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and it was an appropriate way to cap off our stay in Philadelphia.

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Independence Hall’s Assembly Room. The merits of both the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution occurred in this room.

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The Rising Sun chair. Washington sat here as he presided over the Constitutional Convention

Our next stop would be New York and we hailed a cab to bring us back to the 30th St Station for the short trip by rail.

America’s Atlantic Coast by Train – Philadelphia, PA – Part 1

Philadelphia! The City of Brotherly Love. This would be our second stop on our Atlantic coast trip by train. We arrived from Washington D.C. at the 30th Street Station and quickly were able to catch a cab to our hotel for the visit, the Renaissance Philadelphia Downtown Hotel, right next to Independence National Historical Park. The Renaissance is part of the Marriott Hotel family and you cannot find a more convenient hotel to soak up all of the city’s rich history. The staff were friendly and helpful and we would definitely recommend this hotel if you find yourself visiting Philadelphia.

The first evening in town would bring the first of two baseball games that we would be going to on our two week adventure. Philadelphia is home to Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies. Tonight they would play the Cincinnati Reds, my favorite baseball team growing up. I love baseball and I love baseball parks. I didn’t grow up in a religious home and in many ways, baseball filled some of those ritualistic orthodoxies I otherwise would not have experienced as a child. To me, the great cathedrals were big league ballparks. When we travel in the U.S., we try to make a pilgrimage to the local big league ballpark if able to.

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Citizens Bank Park.

Philadelphia’s stadium, Citizen Bank Park, is located in South Philadelphia where the Schuylkill River joins the Delaware River. The park is part of a master planned professional sports complex which hosts the city’s professional football team as well as their professional basketball and hockey franchises. The ballpark is representative of the recent trend in major league baseball to move away from large, multi-use stadiums in favor of more intimate and uniquely designed throwback style ballparks.

Once we arrived by taxi, our first order of business was to hunt down the quintessential Philadelphian food item: Cheese Steak. After touring the park’s concourses, we settled on a sandwich from Campo’s Steaks, located on the Centerfield concourse. “S” was unsure about the concept of cheese steak and went with a more 8 year old safe choice of chicken strips, but Shani and I went all in. The sandwiches were delicious and we attempted to convince “S” to try a bite. She insisted she was not going to like it. Later we would grab some ice cream from the Turkey Hill Ice Cream stand as we enjoyed the game.

The atmosphere at the park was good and aesthetically pleasing. I wore my Cincinnati Reds jersey to the game and didn’t know what to expect from the local Philly fans. While I’m sure there were some sideways glances, nobody threw anything at us, so I give the fans a passing grade! The game was close, but the home team pulled out a victory in extra innings. By the end of the game, we were all tired so it was a cab ride back to the hotel and right to sleep for our next day of exploring.

We awoke the next morning and prepared for a full day of exploring Independence National Historic Park and surrounding area. Our first stop was the Independence Visitor Center (located at 6th Street and Market Street). The Independence Visitor Center is full of information regarding visiting the park and we even ran into an in character actor portraying General Henry Knox. “S” got a kick out of interacting with him, and I of course questioned why he received the full credit for capturing the British canons at Fort Ticonderoga, when General Nathanial Greene did all of the hard work. General Knox was not amused.

While at the Visitor Center, “S” learned the steps on becoming a Junior Park Ranger. She was given a pamphlet that needed to be completed with required facts about the park and once returned, she would be officially sworn in.

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“S” being sworn in as a Junior Park Ranger. She also had to promise to keep her bedroom clean.

Before visiting the locations in the park itself, we decided to stop by a few auxiliary spots located just outside of the park. First, we visited the Christ Church Burial Ground. The final resting place for several signers of the Declaration of Independence, most famous among them being Benjamin Franklin, the cemetery occupies two acres on the Northeast corner of 5th St and Arch St. I had fun walking the grounds and pointing out the gravesites of some of early America’s most influential citizens from Pennsylvania. We culminated our visit with a stop at the grave of America’s favorite crazy uncle of all time, Ben Franklin. I am fascinated by old cemeteries, perhaps by the inherently tangible human connection between today and our past. Christ Church Burial Ground meets all expectations one would have a Colonial era cemetery in America.

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“S” caught me snapping a candid shot at Christ Church Burial Grounds

After visiting the cemetery, we made our way east, down Arch St. to the Betsy Ross House. This house was home and business location to Betsy Ross from 1776 through 1779, at the time she would have been approached by General George Washington to produce a flag for the new Continental Army. While the provenance of this meeting was dubious for many years, it was a deeply held belief by the Ross family. There is no direct evidence pointing to Betsy sewing the first red, white and blue flag, but there is some circumstantial evidence recently that lends some credibility to the story.

What is known was that Betsy was an accomplished upholsterer and there are bills of sale indicating she was making flags by 1777. General Washington was a customer of Ross’ upholstery services as early as 1774. And while we may never know for sure whether General Washington sought her out to sew the Army’s first flag, the Betsy Ross House provides visitors with a unique look into the life of an early American businesswoman. Ross was only 24 when legend has the event taking place, but she was already a widow and running a successful business completely on her own. During our visit, an in character actor portraying a 24 year old Betsy was roaming the courtyard outside of the house. Once again, “S” was enamored and fascinated with a rich dialogue about what it was like for the widowed businesswoman.

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“S” meeting Betsy Ross. Betsy was only 24 when she would have been asked by George Washington to sew America’s first flag.

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A representation of Ross’ upholstery shop

A short walk to the east from the Betsy Ross House brought us to Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest remaining residential street in the United States. The short street is lined with Federal and Georgian, 3 story town homes and from the outside, appears unchanged from the 18th Century. There are few places in the United States where one can go and feel that they’ve time traveled. Elfreth’s Alley is one of those few places. While off the beaten path just a bit from the standard Philadelphia attractions, it is well worth the few minutes necessary to walk over and witness first hand!

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Elfreth’s Alley, America’s oldest residential street

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Elfreth’s Alley features both Federal and Georgian style townhomes

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“S” taking a break on the steps to one of the historic homes

On our way back to the Independence National Historical Park, we stopped at Old City Pizza on the corner of 3rd St and Arch St. Originally thinking of grabbing a lunch time slice of pizza, we soon noticed that they also served up cheese steak. “S” would get another opportunity to try a bite. This time, she was brave enough to try a bite and she loved it! She then tried to convince us to share our sandwiches with her instead of eating the slice of pizza she ordered. Sorry kid, not happening! The sandwiches were a step above the ones we had at the ball park the night before. If you find yourself in the area, we definitely recommend Old City Pizza as a dining option!

Up next…The Liberty Bell and much more!