August 3, 2009

My First Time in "the Burgh"

Our final stop on the "East-Coast Adventure" was in Harris/Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We were most excited for this stop for two reasons; none of us had ever been there and we were going to be staying/visiting with our dearfriends, the Jackels. We met the Jackels through one of our former vacations, a Carnival Mediterranean Cruise in the Summer of 2007. Our familes were paired together for dinner, where we shared a wonderful water-side table! The Jackels have two children, Amanda and Anthony, that are exactly mine and my brother's ages- which worked out wonderfully (a two week cruise is not near as fun without friends)! And both of our families were vacationing to celebrate high school graduation for myself and Amanda Jackel! To save you the entire story of our cruise, we ended up becoming great friends (you'd be surprised how close you can grow to others by sharing meals and free-time together). Just this past year the Jackels came down South to visit us on the gorgeous Gulf Coast and before leaving they extended the invitation for us to come up to Pittsburgh in return. One thing led to another and because we were going to be so close to Pittsburgh when visiting Washington D.C., we gave the Jackels a call and asked if we could come visit for the July 4th Holiday. We were all so excited to hear the news that we would be staying with the Jackels and spending the holiday with them that most of our vacation was spent looking forward to making it to their home :) We rented a car and made the drive from our former stop in Philadelphia all the way to a beautiful suburb in Pittsburgh, where the Jackels reside. We spent our first evening catching up over dinner at the famous 'Primanti Bros' (which I had seen featured on the Food network just weeks before) and a wonderfully led walking/driving tour of the city. The Jackels took us all over, giving us great views of the University of Pittsburgh, famous eateries and the beautiful city! They treated us to a ride on "The Incline" which offered great aerial views of the city and its famous bridges. To finish off the night we hit a newly developed area called "The Waterfront" which reminded me very much of our local "Destin Commons." on a much larger scale. The weather was great so we did some light walking, shopping and sat down just outside of Starbucks for a "night-cap," (which is always a Grande Soy Sugar-Free Mint Mocha, for me). We then headed back to the Jackel's home and headed to the backyard where Mr. Jackel started a great fire for us to cozy up to, in order to relax and talk some more before heading off to bed.

The next day was sunny, cool and breezy, for us Floridians, the cool breeze was VERY welcome. Our Pittsburgh friends were begging for warmer days though, haha (I begged mom to leave me there, I've had enough of these 110 degree summers)! We laid around on the patio all morning and enjoyed the pool as it warmed up in the afternoon. By the time lunch rolled around mom and Mrs. Jackel was already busy at work in the kitchen preparing our holiday dinner and we were ALL excited for that. Me-Maw Jackel joined us that afternoon, along with Amanda's super-sweet boyfriend Dan and his family. It was so nice to be with other families for a holiday, being the only members of our family that live outside the state of Illinois, it is very special to spend the holidays with friends and/or family. We had a great dinner including; beef, chicken and shrimp kabobs with risotto, stuffed mushrooms, fresh fruit and apple pie for dessert, YUM! We spent the entire evening watching various fire-works displays by the fire pit (it was so chilly at night), and we wouldn't have had it any other way. Our time together came and left so quickly with the Jackels, we felt so warm and welcomed during our time with them that is was very hard to leave. The next morning we had a delicious Sunday breakfast and said our goodbyes :( I'm already planning to visit the Jackels again next year- I just haven't told them yet :)
I've included some pictures from our time in Pittsburgh for all of you to enjoy!

All of the adults together before the fireworks show!

My younger (yet taller) brother Nick and I just before dinner.

Momma Jackel holding just ONE tray of her delicious kabobs!

"Grillmaster" Jackel

Showing off my patriotic outfit :)

July 7, 2009

The Road Trip to Philadelphia

Because we flew all the way up to Washington D.C. we saw it fitting to see a little bit more of the Northeast before heading back down to our humid, hot, and wet (at the time) home in Florida. That is why we rented a car and drove up to Philadelphia from D.C. (about three hours with city traffic). My brother and I were excited to travel here, as both of us share a love for national history and feel obliged to visit our country's landmarks! Mom and Dad had previously visited the area, but were excited to share it with us! We stayed at the Residence Inn in City Center and were very pleased with our accomodations. We had a gorgeous view of a beautiful government building and various unknown high-rises, and were pleased to wake up to the sound of church bells! We arrived at lunch time and had planned for one day of sight-seeing, which we were told would be very easy to accomplish. We walked to the nearby Reading Street Market for, none other than, the famous "Philly Cheesesteak," and it was delicious! I greatly enjoyed our time at the market, I've never visited a market quite like it in the States (I have visited many in European countries although). It is exciting to have so many choices in one area and to enjoy the feeling of being a "local" while strolling through. Directly after lunch we hit the sights; the Liberty Bell, Second Bank, Franklin Square, The Franklin Museum, Independence Hall, etc. On the way home, mom and I insisted on strolling "Jewelry Row," to window shop :) We all had the general opinion that Philly was fun, but certainly not a second vacation destination. We felt we had plenty of time in one day to see it all! It ended up being a nice sunny day until the late afternoon and after a full week trekking D.C. (while my poor mother was working a national conference), we decided to have a family night in, together at the hotel. With the apartment style rooms it was so nice to throw on pjs and eat at a dinner table with great views of the city! We were craving Italian and were struggling to find decent delivery in the area. We finally decided on a place called "Jake's." My mom and I easily split a spinach/mushroom calzone, my brother had spaghetti and homemade meatballs, and daddy had his favorite, green pepper and onion thin-crust pizza! It was the perfect ending to a great family day and we were so ready to hit the road for our next and final destination, Pittsburgh!

Uncommon Goods

I would just like to interject and give a huge shout-out to one of my new favorite addictions; Uncommon Goods. I have always been one that prefers homemade, individualized gifts. Every year I put a great amount of effort into making/finding special gifts for my special friends and family members. Another of my passions is to promote eco-lifestyles. I understand that not everyone has the ability to recycle, walk/ride a bike all the time, afford green products etc. Here is something I know that almost everyone who has ever given a gift can do; give a gift that makes a difference. If you aren't the crafty type, who can make personalized eco-friendly gifts this is the site for you. And if you are going to spend the money anyways, give recycled/organic/eco-friendly gifts a chance too :) I found a great website that features all of the above and these items are one-of-a-kind. Even the packaging is made of recycled material! I am sure you can find something for all of the special people in your life- and you get extra friend points for taking the world into consideration too! These are a few of my favorite recent items:

I own one of these little recycled newspaper/plastic clutches! It is the perfect size for essentials, is waterproof and very sturdy!

I'm in love with this red/orange recycled yardstick barstool (currently on sale)!

This is an adorable reclaimed t-shirt scarf; how many of you have given scarfs as gifts?!

How cute is this recycled sea-glass rose ring?!

July 6, 2009

The Adventure Continues: Washington, D.C.

It is slightly saddening to write this post, as I truly enjoyed this trip to our Nation's capital; my first and certainly not my last. I have always considered myself a city girl and growing up in a small town has only increased my anxiety for visits to big cities. We spent four days in the area and I still don't feel like I was ready to leave. We packed our days full of the usual stops and tried to get a taste of the city our own way. Most of the major sight seeing spots were less than fifteen minutes (walking) from our hotel, the Grand Hyatt on New York Ave (a hotel we loved, great views of the city). We spent our first evening close to the hotel, exploring a bit and enjoying lunch at Clyde's and late dinner at Tony Cheung's in Chinatown (made-to-order Mongolian style). We woke up bright and early to sight-see the next day, and started off with the hard-to-miss Washington Monument. The weather was great in the mornings, high 70s in the shade, which made walking a breeze. We were surprised to find the city fairly quiet, especially days away from the 4th holiday, but we weren't complaining. After the monument, we headed to the Holocaust Museum (the absolute highlight of the trip for me, a Nazi Germany and WWII history buff). I found the museum to be state-of-the-art, moving, angering, saddening, and eye-opening to say the least. The exhibits were each so special and the museum only took about two hours to experience. I encourage anyone and everyone to experience the museum first hand, there is no way you could possibly regret it. There is even a wonderful exhibit especially for children (titled 'Remember the Children'), who might find it troubling to learn from the permanent exhibit. I even enjoyed this interactive story-telling exhibit and was pleased that the creators thought it important to include something for children too.
By this time we were fairly hungry and had been told that 'Potbelly's' was the best place for a sandwich in the city. It was a great recommendation, we ended up eating there twice :) After lunch we decided to purchase tickets for the double-decker bus tour through the city. I am normally opposed to such 'touristy' ideas, and prefer to explore on my own, but now I am glad to have done so. The tickets were for 48 hours after purchase, so they ended up lasting us the entire time we were visitng-and they covered all of the sights. The highlight of the double decker bus was the ability to take much better photographs, from the higher and very close-up angles. My parents were also thankful to save on parking fees and unnecessary city driving. The bus took us to all of the remaining sights. We were most excited for the Smithsonian museums and the Lincoln and Vietnam Memorials. For my father, a U.S. veteran, the wall was a humbling and bothering experience.
We spent the next day exploring beautiful Georgetown. We ended up spending an entire day here, in and out of shops and driving through the gorgeous neighborhoods that make the area famous. My father and I greatly enjoyed walking through a great market on the strip, Dean and DeLuca. We also spent some time walking the canal and visiting the Old Stone House (the oldest in DC, apparently). That night we ate at a French restaurant, Cafe du Parc at the Willard Hotel. We weren't very impressed with the menu choices or the food (compared to the prices we were paying for it). But it was definitely romantic and in a picturesque part of town.
We reserved the entire last day for the Smithsonian museums. We started at the Smithsonian Castle (the center for information on the museums) and then headed to the National Museum of Art. I've taken a few classes on Art Technique and History and have always taken a great interest in the modern styles- we enjoyed both wings. It was the most quiet and least busy museum we visited. We were able to see Picasso, Rembrandt, Seurat, Monet, Manet, DaVinci, Pollack, and Warhol to name a few. After lunch we moved on to the National Museum of Natural History, which was packed! We enjoyed each of the exhibits here, mom and I especially enjoyed the gems :) We had planned on seeing more but a string of bad weather and weary feet led us back to the hotel for rest, time to pack, and dinner. We ate across the street at a place we overlooked, named 'Capitol City Grill.' My parents enjoyed their homemade, award-winning ales and I enjoyed their homemade root beer! They also had good 'ol American food and great service. Our favorite dinner although was at D'Acqua, an Italian eatery with its own fish market! We all enjoyed our meals, but the Pumpkin and Marscopone ravioli was certainly the best dish at our table. And apparently, every Thursday at the Navy Memorial (right next door), there is a free concert and plenty of uniformed Honor Guard men to choose from; we had a great view :)
There is so much I left un-explored there and I cannot wait to visit again. We were blessed with great weather, a great location, and an all-around pleasurable family vacation.

My brother, Nick, and I at Cafe D'Acqua.

The beautiful canal hidden throughout Georgetown.

The main shopping district in Georgetown, a very scenic stroll through the city!

One of the neighborhoods in Georgetown; a one bedroom basement here starts at $750,00.00, wow!

The city from Arlington Memorial Bridge.

My brother and I at the French restaurant Cafe du Parc.

Paying homage to President Lincoln!

The capitol building from afar, taken atop the above mentioned "double-decker bus."

Papa enjoying lunch at beloved Potbelly's.

Standing outside of my favorite destination, the Holocaust Museum.

Our first stop, the Washington Monument!

Myrtle Beach and All It's Splendors

Due to a busy travel schedule, its been awhile- but have no worries- I am back to fill you in on my wonderful Summer! I had a wonderful time in South Carolina! As soon as we arrived we threw on our suits and hit the beach! We soon found that our Emerald Coast beaches at home were far superior to South Carolina's Atlantic Coast :) But we had fun none the less! The highlight of our trip was definitely the relaxing afternoons by the pool, our wonderful dinners, and time spent shopping at the lovely Tanger Outlets (great summer deals!). Kaitlyn and I had plenty of fun at the pool, we ended up teaching a couple 4-yr. old boys how to do cannon balls- "candyballs" as they called them :) Another great thing about beach vacations is the opportunity to throw on a Summer dress and head out for a sunset dinner! We did a great deal of research on eateries, as we had been told that Myrtle Beach had become very "touristy," and being beach natives we know that usually means less than average service and/or food. We read that Murrell's Inlet, a thirty minute drive from North Myrtle Beach hosted some wonderful restaurants. There were each nicely located on a strip of the wharf, easily walkable for an evening stroll! The first place we chose was called 'Bovine's' and it was delicious! They specialize in wood-fired meals and great seafood (and they have a great spot right on the water too). I ordered a Shrimp/Sausage and Cheese Grits meal and ate every last bite of it. They also have a great house peppercorn dressing. In fact, they were featured in Southern Living magazine and we definitely recommend it to any of you traveling there. It is worth the drive and the moderate price! Because we were so pleased with their service and food, we decided to visit a sister restaurant of theirs named 'Umi,' an Asian inspired restaurant. It was dead inside, but the food and the service was wonderful! It is a beautiful and very romantic restaurant, we were very surprised to find it empty, but we received plenty of personal attention :) We also treated ourselves to Maggie Moo's Ice Cream one evening (always worth the calories), I love the Red Velvet flavor! needless to say, South Carolina treated us well and I am glad to have had the opportunity to go for a short vacation with my mother and a good friend. I've included a few pictures of our trip for your enjoyment.

Kaitlyn and I on the beach after dinner!

Kaitlyn showing off her great Ann Taylor finds from the Tanger Outlets.

North Myrtle Beach at sunset.

Kaitlyn and I soaking up the South Carolina sun!

June 20, 2009

An East Coast Adventure

Summertime is the best time to travel; a bikini, a few summer dresses, a pair of sunglasses, and sandals are all you really need to travel! I can't really complain about being in my hometown for the break, I practically live in paradise- but new landscapes are always a welcome venture. I talked my mother into letting me tag along with her on a few of her business trips this Summer; the first of which is up to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I have never been to South Carolina before and have only once dipped a toe in the Atlantic Ocean (South Beach, Miami), needless to say, I am very excited. I am also thankful for the opportunity to bring a close friend to share the beautiful beach and a set of crab legs with! Be on the lookout for photos, as I'm sure I will be taking plenty :) Myrtle Beach here I come!