A Piece of Your City

As a meticulous observer and proponent of hands-on experiences, I plan to visit every U.S. major city for a day to showcase the best neighborhoods, views, foods, activities, events, parks, museums, historic sites, etc., that are absolute musts for any visitor to experience. This will include hands-on work experiences by crafting mementos that characterize the city's culture and industry.  I hope this series inspires curiosity, adventure and enthusiasm through meaningful experiences that visitors will always carry a piece of your city.

Cleveland

Not the same city I remember back in 2009, when I worked for a week at WKYC News.  One thing was the same though, the wild weather.  Congrats to Cleveland for revitalizing itself with young energy.  It's not just a city on the lake, but also the river.  Beautiful bike paths and parks in the area, called The Flats.  There were tons of tour boats and kayakers in the Cuyahoga River.  I think this area is the standout attraction of the city.  I haven't seen anything like it.  And people are catching on, as they're developing more condos along the waterfront.  

There are absolute musts when visiting.  Edgewater Park/Beach if you're into nature, Playhouse Square if you're into preforming arts, and of course the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame if you're human.  I was surprised how almost every artist you've heard of is featured on display.  My visit to Cleveland was influenced by the history of music.  Destination Cleveland connecting me with Gotta Grove, a vinyl record manufacturer.  I had the opportunity to learn about the process and craft my very own 12 inch.  The stamp of the record is more complex, which carries the soundwaves, but the process that I experienced was essentially pressing melted recycled material.  The machine does most of the work, but it takes an operator to make 500 copies/day.  I was told the vinyl record is not making a comeback because its already been here.  People still love holding a product just like a book and artists still want to see their craft.  
 
 
Buffalo

When you travel and experience new activities you have the opportunity to learn and engage with history.  Understanding our nation's story has become one of the primary focuses of this journey,  When I stayed at the iconic Roycroft Inn and experienced the original form of printing and bookmaking, I realized much of the things that exists today, are not random.  There's such an impressive story behind most of the terms we use and the things we see.  When pulling letters to print words on paper, they're located in a case of drawers.  The larger letters are in the upper case and the smaller ones are in the lower case, hence upper and lower case letters.  They had a variety of fonts that we still use today on our computers.  

The founder of the Roycroft Campus, Elbert Hubbard was a traveling soap salesman.  He had a midlife crisis, traveled to Europe and was inspired by a publishing press.  He brought that method of printing to the Buffalo area and started his own press.  His success exploded after writing, A Message to Gracia which was featured in a railroad publication.  His press logo was influenced by a European symbol of quality.  It's actually the same symbol used on the Oreo by Nabisco.  

After printing, I moved to the binding room, where I actually sewed the pages together and included a leather cover.  I can't believe they were producing hundreds of thousands of book like this.  

Then, I got more history lessons on the Erie Canal and the silos that held flour used for beer and dough.  For the longest time, I thought the canal was to power NYC with hydroelectric from the Niagara Falls.  Maybe there's some truth to that.  Instead, it was to ship product from the Midwest, and Buffalo was a transfer point since they had to use different size boats.  Grain was stored in silos, right on the Buffalo River and Lake Erie.  Buffalo has done a great job restoring the area, which is now called Canalside.  It was a happening area, especially since there was an airshow.  Back to the terms we use today.  I was told that the term 'dive bar' was founded here.  Workers along the terminus of the canal use to hangout, and was known as a rough place.  There was a bar beneath the main street, that was pretty deep below, hence customers diving down.  

The most happening area of Buffalo is Allentown.  Super quirky strip of shops and restaurants on Allen Street and Elmwood.  The neighborhood is pretty.  I'm a sucker for trees.  I remember one of my former co-workers from Buffalo told me that before settlement, a squirrel can go from the East Coast to the Mississippi River jumping from branch to branch.  That's how dense the trees are here.  

Some cities, it's easy to identify what buildings are.  That's a courthouse, that's city hall, that's a church, hospital or library.  In downtown Buffalo, the buildings have their own unique identity.  I had to come up close to find the name of the building.  They were built well with interesting architectural design.  And, there's more history to that!  When you @VisitBuffaloNiagara look out for the buffalo statues scattered throughout the metro area.  That would make for a fun scavenger hunt.  

Also, near the mills by the waterfront, actually smells like cereal.  Thanks to General Mills.  Great place to take a few deep breaths.



Pittsburgh

Sometimes cities remind you of another city, but Pittsburgh is so unique that it stands alone.  I'm fascinated by the landscape.  The city developers must have had some courage to think they could build a major city in these dramatic hills.  The area is covered with trees, so thick that it looks like broccolini. The long limbs swallow buildings.  From the air, you can see trees carved out to make baseball diamonds, golf courses or suburban neighborhoods.  The developers had to do everything to navigate the terrain, from making tunnels, bridges and steps.  I had a chance to explore several historic steps throughout the city.  It's truly a unique experience and a great way to see different neighborhoods and views of the city.  They are necessary for commuters, otherwise you're asking to add another mile + on a road with no sidewalks.  Then, there are some neighborhoods way too far up the hill, they have a tram-like ride up tracks, called The Incline.  From the top of Mt. Washington, you can appreciate the cityscape.  Three rivers merge into downtown and there are plenty of bridges throughout.  Many of them have the signature yellow gold, most notably seen on the sports teams; Penguins, Pirates and the Steelers.

I came here to make the iconic Terrible Towel of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  It's one of the most sold items in sports, and the Steelers have one of the largest followings in the world, alongside the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys.  It was originally a gimmick, created by the local sportscaster, but now it's a rally towel.  I had a chance to learn about the graphic designs, printing and pressing.  The recent design, was won through a contest, featuring the skyline and I was there when the Steelers team ordered 20,000 towels for their upcoming season.  Good luck to them.  

Afterwards, I headed to Primanti Bros. for their traditional sandwich.  Pretty much every local suggested going and it was listed as a must by Visit Pittsburgh.  I met with a few staff members, who have worked there for 20-50 years!  Talk about loyalty.  I think that's the Pittsburgh work ethic.  Just like those steelworkers, it's a life-long commitment.  The sandwich was made for the blue-collar worker.  Then, it was targeted to the late-night drinkers.  The primary ingredients are potatoes, coleslaw and pastrami with very light white bread.   For dinner, I went to the Wigle Whiskey, and even though I don't drink, it was still important to learn how Western PA became America's birthplace for whiskey.  

I want to thank @VisitPittsburgh for co-creating such an amazing itinerary that could only be experienced in this world-class destination.  


Northeast Highlights:

-Driving through Cape Elizabeth, reminiscent of country roads in Europe
-Eating fresh lobster, straight from the boat at Luke's Lobster in downtown Portland
-Staying at the Boston Harbor Hotel
-Throwing tea chests overboard from the Boston Tea Party Ships
-Glassblowing at Gather Glass with an exceptional instructor
-Exploring the hills of Staten Island with stunning views of Manhattan
-Walking the streets of Brooklyn and seeing every inch of building covered with graffiti
-Learning to dance from the birthplace of hip hop, Bronx
-Writing with a quill pen at the Hagley Museum
-Walking Kelly Drive in Philadelphia

 
Philadelphia

Day 2

I stayed at the Canopy Hotel, near the City Hall, which is the most impressive building I've seen this trip.  The roads circulate around it, like you're on the streets of Paris.  Ben Franklin BLVD is grand with massive buildings and fountains.  It's a paradise for museum and history lovers.  Interestingly, the rest of the city is confined with some streets only good for pedestrians.  So much character in the city, it blows my mind.  

I went to the first-ever and largest US Mint to learn how to make currency.  I sat down with Mrs. Gordon to learn her craft with clay to design what will appear on our currency.  How cool for her work to leave a legacy!  Then I took home a bronze Philadelphia mint coin before headed to Grant Blvd, a black-owned business that uses recycled clothing to make fashionable wear.  I sat at the sewing machine to craft ruffles for a women's shirt, that was once used as a dress up men's shirt.
 
My first thoughts of the city, driving through Fairmont Park is that this place should be illegal.  The energy was high, the vibe was happy and active.  Watching locals play baseball, running along the river, and soaking in the sun, made you want to engage.  I stopped by to watch a tight-rope walker over a volleyball court, while listening to a live DJ.  The park is a must for visitors.  The line for the Japanese Gardens was outrageous, maybe because it's brand new or because of social distancing.  I came into the city through Roosevelt Blvd, which gives you a glimpse of life outside the vibrant downtown.  Rows homes from different eras, as you descend to the city.  

I'm scheduled to meet Betsy Ross, the 25 year old upholster that designed the first American flag.  

 
Wilmington, DE

A big exhale driving out of NYC and into a peaceful, more my pace, sanctuary.  Wilmington's waterfront district has great potential to be the hotspot and local getaway.  It's underdeveloped, relatively speaking for the East Coast, but I envision lots of condos and more businesses along the water.  There's an incredible, yet short path for walking and biking, which is not connected to the downtown yet, but I imagine that will be a game-changer for the community and tourism.  Brandywine Park is a must for nature lovers, but I was there to craft macaroons at the famous Hotel DuPont.  Learning a bit of history on the DuPont Family from the must-see Hagley Museum, they developed their business on black powder.  The family is prominent in Delaware and I was honored to work with a pastry chef on how to make their simple, yet delicious dessert.  

That was my take-home, a case of macaroons with a ribbon and a sticker, saying Hotel DuPont Wilmington, DE.  

New York City

Since NYC is so large and diverse, I wouldn't do the city justice with one experience and one Piece of the City, so I tackled each of the five boroughs.  Considering Staten Island has the highest concentration of Italians, I was connected to be on an Italian cooking show at Casa Belvedere, which is an Italian Heritage Center.  I didn't know the Island can be so hilly, like you're climbing the hills of San Francisco.  And, the views are stunning.  

Then I learned graffiti art in Brooklyn, which was very fitting for the scene.  There's not an inch of free space on the walls of buildings or cars for that matter, without seeing graffiti.  I was told that some are permitted, while others are illegal tagging.  I headed to The Bronx, the founding borough of Hip-Hop to learn how to dance at The Bronx House.  I took a lesson with a bunch of kids and then had a private lesson because I needed it.  The dance is a language of the people and a conversation of how you feel.  More to share with videos.

I took a tennis lesson in Queens at The Billie Jean Tennis Center, where they have the US Open.  I did okay.  Then, I met with a cartoonist that works with The New Yorker and learned about his process and how to put ideas on paper.



Providence, RI

Later in the day

I did an IG takeover of The Providence Monthly, following day of exploring and experiencing art.  I'm sure many locals know that their is the hub of art, and how fitting to see a large mural plastered on the side of a brick building, saying The Creative Capital.  I took the photo from the HQ of Hasbro, you know the company that released Mr. Potato Head.  

I started the day at The Steel Yard, which is a creation station for artists and classes.  Then learned about the Chihuly's influence in Rhode Island, as an art teacher.  I had a chance to blow glass, which is a delicate art.  That was my piece that I get to take home.  I had to try a few times because it's easy to make mistakes.  

The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is like the Harvard or Berklee School of Music for arts students, with a rigorous studio-based learning approach.  I'm staying on the Avenue of the Arts, so it seemed fitting to craft.  I will spend a few hours glassblowing, Steel Yard and the WaterFire Arts Center.  I never really appreciated the arts, but now getting a hands-experience, I'm sure I will.  

I'll post some pics of my work later.

 
Boston, MA
 
Later in the day.

Incredible day of exploration and experiences in Boston.  Spent a few minutes exploring the Boston Harbor Hotel, where the marketing team showed me the Presidential Suite, that would go for 15k/night.  It had a private elevator, chandelier and make-up room.  I'd stay there, but I'd rather pay a year of mortgage.  

I drove to Fenway Park for a tour, since it's a huge part of Boston's identity.  It's the first baseball stadium, built in 1912 and has the shortest homerun at 302.  I was shocked by the gradual climb of the grandstand.  Now stadiums build higher and try to pack people into nose bleeds.  

In Boston, wherever there is water, there's a walking path.  I love how most of the city is connected and walker friendly.  I love the foot bridges that cross over busy roads.  Although the Boston Marathon doesn't use much of these paths, it's a runner's paradise.  My favorite path is Commonwealth, which goes from Boston Commons to Fenway.  

After flying my drone some in the neighborhoods, I went to the Boston Tea Party Ships for my hands-on experience, crafting a memento.  Did you know that one of the ships had to quarantine for 8 days because of a small box scare? History repeats itself.  I had a chance to replicate the destroying of tea by tossing the chests overboard.  Then, ironically, I sat in a tea room at tried 5 types of tea that were used during the event.  Boston is a place for history buffs.  It's like Philadelphia or Charleston.   As the day ended, I did a college campus tour, since the city is the Mecca of education.  Some say that Boston is the most educated city in America.  
 
Hard not to take your eyes off the road, driving into Boston.  The beautiful waterfronts and modern buildings weaving through historic ones.  But, you must keep your eyes on the roads here because lanes can change so quickly and the speed limit is just a suggestion.  

I arrived at The Boston Harbor Hotel.  Exceptional service, comfort and location.  I'm ready to get going with my day, starting with an official tour of the hotel and then Fenway Park.  My hands-on experience will be at The Boston Tea Party Ships to make loose tea, just like the tea that was thrown overboard in protest of taxation.  I'll learn a lot more about the history, especially being on site. 

Boston can feel overwhelming because there is such a variety of things to see and do.  
 
 
Portland, ME

Entering New England, cannot be mistaken for any other region in America.  It closely resembles Northern Europe with town names that end with ham, field, borough, chester and ford.  Distance is measured in kilometers.  And, lots of rolling grass fields.  The moose x-ing signs will throw you off though.

I arrived to my first city, Portland.  It's one of the smaller cities that I'll visit, but it always leaves an impression on me.  After a breathtaking walk along the rocky shores with the eye of the lighthouse peering down on me, I drove through Cape Elizabeth, again resembling the old country of Europe.  Food markets with gravel parking lots.  Homes along the windy roadside.  School houses with small playgrounds and single building town halls.  

When I crossed over the Casco Bay Bridge, into downtown Portland, it felt like stepping back in time, in a foreign country.  It's a city that's preserved.  Portland knows its character.  Even brick buildings with lit white pillars adds so much charm, something that Southern cities have mastered, like Savannah.  I love the layout of the city, the brick roads and the old churches towering the skyline.   

I can't wait to take A Piece of Portland tomorrow, when I get a hands-on experience to craft beer at Geary Brewery.  This evening, I am welcomed by The Regency Hotel and Armory Restaurant.  I'm grateful for them to welcome me to their city.  I will share more tomorrow.  

DAY 2 of Portland

I walked into Geary Brewery and the smell just hits you!  Like walking into an oatmeal factory.  I put on my rainboots and was ready to craft some iconic New England beer.  I'm getting used to juggling all the cameras, but I think I've captured some good images shoveling the grain, talking to the local dairy farmer and bottling.  

I left for a lunch break at Luke's Lobster on the waterfront.  There's nothing like it, if you desire to see the boats come directly into the restaurant and put the seafood on your plate.  I've heard of farm to table, but not water to table.  I order a lobster roll with clam chowder.  

I drove down Congress Street, which is over a mile-long business district, like a major city would have.  I suggest going there, if you're looking for local stores, theatres, and people watching.