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.
The West Highlights:
-Riding the cable car in San Francisco
-Walking through Chinatown in San Francisco
-Staying at Hotel Nia in Menlo Park
-Bending glass in to make a neon sign in Las Vegas
-Making a clapperboard in downtown LA
-Driving Rodeo Dr. in Los Angeles
-Staying at Hotel Ambrose in Los Angeles
-Walking the shoreline trail in San Diego
-Staying at Hermosa Inn in Phoenix
-Hiking Camelback Mountain in Phoenix
-Eating Tamales in Tucson
-Border crossing in El Paso
-The overlook views in El Paso
-Sunday night stroll on Route 66 in downtown Albuquerque
-Painting pottery with an Acoma lady in Albuquerque
-Staying at the Garden of the Gods Resort in Colorado Springs
-Running the Cherry Creek Trail in Denver
-Exploring Temple Square in Salt Lake City
-Hiking Camelback in Boise
-Ice Skating Riverfront Park in Spokane
-Staying at the Davenport in Spokane
-Walking the glass floor of the Space Needle in Seattle
-Strolling Pike/Pine Corridor in Seattle
-Driving the Columbia River Gorge near Portland
No matter how many times I've been to SF, I'd get lost as if I'm in West Virginia. Credit to the people that know where they're going. I'd say this is the most picturesque city because of the hilly streets, views of the bay and the iconic bridges. Plus, when it's not foggy, you have consistently good weather.
San Francisco is filled with neighborhoods, all unique and authentic. The mission district to Fisherman's Wharf, Nob Hill and Chinatown. You'll get overwhelmed with how much there is to see. I spent most of my time in Chinatown since I made fortune cookies inside a factory. Each worker makes 10k per day. It took me a minute to make 3. The factory was very busy with observers and shoppers. It was a real SF treat. Bay Area college professors comes up with the fortunes you see inside the cookie.
I stayed in Union Square, known for its high-end shopping and tourist central. Hotel Zeppelin was super fun and surprisingly quiet.
I was born in this city and lived most of my life within 15 miles of San Jose. You could probably say that I know it well, but it's not a destination. Growing up, going into downtown SJ was not a thing. We would just stay in the suburbs because that's what makes the Bay Area unique. Each suburb has a downtown and they're all very different.
San Jose has some good hiking trails, airport, and everyone seems to like Santana Row, which is a Los Angeles influenced shopping district.
This city claims to be the epicenter of innovation, so I decided to contact the Patents and Trademarks office to file my motto, Living the Map. It will take a few weeks to receive the paperwork as a memento of San Jose.
I stayed in Menlo Park's Hotel Nia. I don't know if there's a rating system high enough to capture it.
The ever changing Vegas, developing new concepts to attract people again and again. Everytime I visit, there's a new building or attraction. Businesses come and go here, and is as competitive as any place to make it. I stopped in the Neon Sign Museum to learn about the history of signs and the businesses that have come and gone. The museum obtains these signs because of foreclosures in rebrands.
I had a chance to learn how to make a sign at Hartlauer Signs. Bending glass tubes was one of the more fascinating crafts. It's pretty serious stuff. I mean it is a very delicate process. I would heat the rod for 30 seconds until it would feel like rubber, than you would blow the glass so the tube doesn't change shape as you're bending. Some shapes have so many twists you can't believe it's possible. These talented artists even create a 3D effect, so the sign pops.
I stayed at the Freemont Hotel and Casino, which is considered downtown. People really appreciate this area because it's the authentic Vegas with lots of history before the Strip existed.
Taking the time to explore this city like a tourist. Although growing up in California and attending college at USC, I never took the time to hike the Hollywood sign or strolling Rodeo Drive, but this time I made sure to catch all the spots, even in DTLA. I did appreciate seeing the city in a new light, but there's one place that always captures your attention, Santa Monica. I stayed at the Ambrose, about 20 blocks from the beach. They had bikes to borrow and it was an easy ride. This was the place!
I had just come from skid row in DTLA to make Hollywood Clapperboards with an incredibly knowledgeable industry buff, Robert. I didn't think this would be as fascinating as it was, but that's what I love about the element of surprise and learning. A clapperboard has evolved over the years, and Robert created the color boards. I had a chance to custom make one for my daughter.
Coming over the desert mountains into the green valley of oak trees and hills, you'll notice that there's not another spot to develop. People love San Diego. It's arguably the best weather in the country with stunning sunrises and beaches. For some, this is paradise. I was born and raised in California, so it's not until I leave and then come back, do I notice the appeal. I'm not much of an ocean person, but when you look at those waves crashing and the high cliffs with hanging palm trees, you want to soak it in.
I stopped by a surfboard shop in La Jolla to learn about shaping boards and how surfing grew even more than it has in the past. A blank slate of polyurethane foam can be shape by cutting and sanding. The avid surfers want the high performance short and light boards. Bessells Surfboards custom makes boards up from 5 to 12ft long.
Boards are constantly changes shape and design, just like automobiles. San Diego is the place because of water temp, accessibility to water and the consistent current. I'd love to try surfing again, so I'll have to come back. In the meantime, San Diego has much to explore, like the vibrant Little Italy and the charming Balboa Park. I stayed in downtown at the Sofia Hotel, which was spacious for such a historic building. I would recommend it, if you want to be near the ballpark and the Gaslamp District.
This city is enormous, especially if you include the 'burbs' like Gilbert, Chandler and Mesa. I stayed in Paradise Valley, a fitting name for what it offers. Hermosa Inn was like a place featured on The Bachelor, It might as well have been, since it has all the features of romance. The rooms to the pool and the restaurant were all embellished by lighting. The sun shines beautifully on the mountains and the popular hike is Camelback. I had a chance to hike a little of Echo Canyon, which is great to keep in the shade. I started the day with a hike then ended it with a run on the canal trail. People are going to stay outdoors during this time of year, but otherwise you'll find the gyms packed.
I came to learn about the Cosanti windbells, which are primarily made with bronze. It's become such a phenomenon, that even real estate agents use them as gifts. They're starting to hang throughout the city like chili peppers in ABQ. The process was similar to my experience in Memphis by pouring hot metal into a mold.
Everything is new in downtown. Reminded me of Houston. Great place for a sporting event or night on the town. It will grow on people soon enough. It takes time for culture and character to form.
Did you know that Tucson is a food destination? Neither did I. Tamales are the things to eat and had a chance to meet the manager of Charro. He introduced me to one of the best dishes I've tried. I had 6 versions of tamales, from hemp to chocolate.
There's a lot to see in this place, from the national park that holds 15 ft tall cactus to strolling Broadway and Congress St. Arizona in the winter is the greatest escape for most Americans that face harsh weather. I saw many cars from Midwestern cities, and not only the weather draws people but the exotic landscape.
One of the cities I was most excited to explore, since I made a swift passing over the city a decade ago. I didn't know much about El Paso, but being a major city along the U.S. border. I contacted Visit El Paso for some 'make it' suggestions and little did I know, it's the Boot Capitol. They reached out to Rocketbuster, handmade boots that have been custom-made for celebrities. They only make 400 pairs a year, so I wasn't expecting to get a pair, plus they go for at least $1500. I learned how to tool leather with a swiveling knife that creates the patterns on the sides of the boots. I made flower which is a common design, but what a delicate process. Not a forgiving art. First comes the design, then tooling, coloring and constructing the heel.
I headed over to the mission trail, which was over 10 miles from the city. Interesting to see the border wall shading the interstate. It was towards the end of the day, so I saw many cars filled with passengers being dropped off to return to Mexico. There's a pedestrian bridge, costing 50 cents to use. It's a part of everyday life to go back and forth for many. I was told that some even come to El Paso to shop because it's higher quality for cheaper.
If you want to get one of the most fantastic/fascinating views, go on Scenic Drive which overlooks the entire city and mountain region into Mexico. The drive gets your adrenaline going since it goes up and up around winding roads. Only a few miles though. I'd say the terrain/landscape controlled the build of this city. Didn't seem like much of the land was destroyed to build, yet navigated around.
I stayed at Hotel Paseo de Norte. It's in the heart of the active Plaza District with theatres, arts and restaurants. I was most taken by The Centro which is blocks of shopping, but not high-end. It reminded me of NYC with the metal doors lifting for business. Many of the people I ran into didn't speak English. I bought a blanket, since it seemed like the most popular item.
There's a lot going on in this place. It's hard to keep up. So many outdoors activities to choose from, like hiking the Sandia Mountain or taking the world's longest tramway, and practicing your fly fishing skills at Tingley Beach near the Rio Grande River, or going on a hot air balloon ride. Catch the best sunset in America! Is it possible to do it all in a day, sure. But there's more. How about learning how to hand-paint pottery from a local Native? I tried that and loved it. I painted a little clay air balloon with the New Mexico flag, which symbolized the circle of life. I met with an amazing Acoma lady that taught me her craft and felt blessed to teach someone new.
Then, I had to try local flavors, of course with chili. Red or Green is the common question around here. I loved the hidden treasures around the Rio Grande, like the beautiful ranches and wineries. I do appreciate the trees since it's a desert.
I stayed in downtown, at the elegant and bursting with SW charm, Hotel Andaluz. It's right across the street from the convention center and Galeria Mall. It's a few blocs away from Route 66, aka Central Ave, which was bustling with cars cruising the strip. It's a thing here. Today, I'll be at the Turquoise Museum to cut and polish another great ABQ piece.
Might be heaven! I'm staying at the Garden of the Gods Resort, known for one of America's most desired wedding grounds. It overlooks the magnificent Red Rock formation, unique to the Rocky Mountains, and just behind those is Pikes Peak, one of the highest elevations in the country. You can find trails just about anywhere and I suggest 7 falls, which is a fun climb up stairs along waterfalls.
Downtown looks like a modern version of an Old Western town. Blocks and blocks of places to eat and shop. I spent most of the day exploring what makes Colorado Springs the Olympic City. Olympians spend months training at the center, a great escape from any distractions. Of course the facilities are state of the art. For the public, you can visit a very interactive Olympic Museum. I loved racing an image of Jesse Owens for 40 meters. Also, there's displays of medals from every Olympics from 1896.
This city reminds me that Americans live to vacation. They want the WOW factor and something to remember. Colorado Springs is just that, even in the winter.
This is one of those cities that only by living in it, you'll find the best spots. You can't just leave it up to the touristy destinations. I have biked every road of Denver, every path and neighborhood over the years. It's definitely an easy city to get around on bike paths alone. I'd argue it's the best city to bike along with Minneapolis.
Denver has many neighborhoods with a strip of food establishments. And, then there is Colfax and Broadway with miles and miles of bars and restaurants. Downtown is saturated with the bar scene and high end restaurants. There's one in every hotel. I'm staying at this awesome themed hotel The Curtis, right next to the Performing Arts Center and 16th St. Mall. What I'm trying to get at, is this city seems like it has a food establishment per person. There all high quality too. I've never been disappointed with a meal in Denver.
There are plenty of parks to walk off your meal. Here's how I rank them, yet they serve a different purpose. Washington Park, Cheesman, City Park, Ruby Hill. The Capitol Building is great too. Their stairs leading up inspired me to make a Denver memento, the Mile High Marker. These markers show 1 Mile above sea-level and there are 5 spots in the city. I made my very own with Mile High Laser Engravers. I'm sure this piece was mass produced, it would be sold in gift shops around town or wedding tokens.
Salt Lake City
The city sits right up against dramatic mountainscapes, almost like a protective wall. SLC has quite the majestic skyline, especially with the capitol building sitting on it's own slope. The city is lit very well, a feeling of welcome. There is plenty to do with the downtown area, catching a Utah Jazz game, exploring Temple Square, City Creek shopping and ice skating. Yes, ice skating in the city that held the Winter Olympics. They're never going to let that legacy down.
I have been to this city a dozen times, but it was my first visit to the Natural History Museum of Utah. It might be better than the Smithsonian. Utah has a rich natural history, as you can tell by the National Parks. Yes, many dinosaurs and mammoths have been uncovered, and I was told only 10% of the state has been observed. I visited the paleontology lab to learn about the process of displaying fossils. Volunteers spent thousands of hours excavating Utah's land, removing fossils from rock and puzzling pieces together. I worked with a 16 million year old alligator by jackhammering stone way from a tibia. It takes patience and great vision to construct these creatures.
I wasn't going to pass up this stunning city in the Treasure Valley. Once you visit, you'll understand why people have been flocking here for over a decade. It's one of the most livable cities with so much to offer, from the great outdoors, education, healthcare, and a down to earth nightlife.
I'm fascinated by the gothic style architecture and one of a kind cone-shaped building, possibly inspired by Transylvania. I visited the Basque Block in downtown to learn about the great migration of those from the Basque Country, located in Spain and France. The sheepherding industry brought hundreds of Basques to Boise for an opportunity. The museum will tell the great story of a culture that still lives on strong. Just like it's food, I had a chance to cook chorizos at Ansots. One of the best dishes I've tasted and it was so simple.
Afterwards, hiked the Camelback Hills which is right near town. I enjoyed Hyde Park's historic district for a stroll through a quant neighborhood and eateries.
I stayed at Hotel 43, which was a wonderful stay in downtown, walking distance to the vibrant 8th street. I highly recommend this boutique hotel and the attached restaurant. Boise still has room to grow, so don't be surprised by the changes each visit.
City #50! I am in Spokane at the most beautiful time of year. Holiday lights, snowfall and a cheerful spirit. Wasn't easy getting here from Seattle, driving the pass, but I met a gentleman helping me put chains on my tires and wanted to pay him for his assistance. He said, 'you're just another guy trying to get somewhere." He was on a way to his daughter's rehearsal. I was on my way to my 50th city of this tour.
The first thing I noticed while descending into the Spokane Valley was the freight train high above the interstate. It was a beautiful setting, something humbling about it. Spokane is a down to earth city, once in a while getting spoiled by special features, like the Riverfront Park. I'm telling you this park can't get any more perfect, especially during the holidays. The ice skating rink was like a track, rather than a rink. The lights cover pedestrian bridges over the rushing river. Sometimes a city can be worth visiting for just one feature, but luckily that's not all to see. I stayed in one of America's finest hotels, the historic Davenport. I can't say enough good things about this classy stay. The craftsmanship everywhere you look is stunning. The fine detail of woodwork, light fixtures, carpeting can't be found in today's builds. The rooms, well let's just say, I want to revisit.
Spokane is also known for the great outdoors, being so close to the forests for hiking and skiing.
I came to learn a few things in the city. The first was watercoloring lilacs, since Spokane's nickname is 'lilac city'. I painted with Megan Perkins, a local artist that is passionate about her art. I haven't watercolored since grade school and I was eager to see if I remembered anything. Nope. I forgot which colors are primary and secondary. I didn't know how to stroke the brush. We painted the famous red wagon, surrounded by purple lilacs. I am pleased with the work.
Then, I headed to the basement of The Davenport to learn about their famous peanut brittle. Do you know there is a brittle war in Spokane, similar to pizza wars in New Haven, CT? It's a tasty treat, and if you like Butterfingers, this is a much higher quality candy. I suggest ordering some!
Seagulls in the morning, seagulls in the evening, seagulls at supper time. I don't know, that song came up, when I hear seagulls all the time near the water in Seattle. I ran to Public Market this morning and caught some fish throwing by the fishermen. I suggest an early morning visit, since the lights are beautiful as you watch the workers get ready for the day. I understand much of the local community uses the market to buy foods, but this is a tourist's dream. You can easily spend a few hours within the market, alleys, and halls.
Then, I headed to the Space Needle, which is a must, almost like the Eiffel Tower of Paris. The top level has every view of the city. The next level below has a glass floor, so you can get yourself sick looking down. There's even seating for a restaurant. As I was passing time for learning latte art, I went to Pike and Pine, which seemed like a very Seattle place to explore. Meaning, authentic and grungy. It's a very interesting place, whether on the sidewalks or in the shops. The Cap Hill area is a must for visitors because there is a lot to see and the views are great.
I headed down the hill to Expresso Vivace to learn how to make that foam design in coffee. I'll keep this short. Not easy. My natural instinct was to poor slow and delicate, but that's where I messed up. I messed up 3x and decided not to waste so much milk and coffee. My instructor, Dave, kept encouraging me, but it wasn't something I would master for another month or year. I did want to take a picture, but it was embarrassing. Made me appreciate the art and the work people put into their craft.
I had dinner at Kabul Afghan Cuisine. Best food you'll have. I'm staying near UW, way on the other side of town at The Graduate. What a beautiful art deco 1920's building! Seattle has so much to see, because each neighborhood is so different. A blend of modern from the tech field, hip from the grungy, and the authentic fishermen culture.
Just getting warmed up here. There's so much to see in this island of a city. You're surrounded by water, and mostly in it because it's always rainy. Thanks the the beauty of Puget Sound, Lake Washington and Lake Union, when you say you like being around water. you must really mean it. Most people associate that statement with Florida's beaches. If I hadn't been here before, I would be in awe, seeing the cars driving onto the ferries as people commute across the Sound to their sanctuary. Staying at the ACE Hotel, it's a great view seeing the lit ferries crossing the water.
I'll learn latte art today and take a trapeze class. Should be a fun Seattle experience.
There's definitely lots of unique traits to Portland, like the Victorian homes used for business, co-op grocery stores, moss on roads and sidewalks, and restaurants that use the sidewalks with covered picnic tables. What makes it most unique is that you're in the rain forest. Usually you look for the parks in the city, but here, you look for the city in the park. It's a great place to bike, even if the pavement is always wet. I learned about the biking culture and how to custom build a bike from Ahearne Cycles. It's a fascinating and intricate process that I wouldn't bore you with, but it takes months to build a quality bike worth over 8k. I had a chance to ride a bike selling for 20k around the blocks of Portland.
When Lewis and Clark nearly completed their expedition and stumbled into the Columbia River Gorge, they must have found the treasure. About an hour east of Portland, the Columbia River Gorge is like seeing all of the world's beauty at once. I was headed for Multnomah Falls, which is one of the greatest nearby features of any city. You can even hike a mile to the top for the view of the Columbia River.
Now I'm staying along the Willamette River east of downtown at Jupiter Hotel. It's the best location, near the Lloyd Center, Conference Center, and many great neighborhood districts. Yes, it's raining, but I'll be exploring.
Since this is bike city, I'll be building a custom bike in the morning. Maybe afterwards I'll get a chance to get into some bike lanes. So far, Portland in a weird way, reminds me of Brooklyn. Maybe it's all the graffiti, murals, hipster feel. Lots of oddities, so you can stand out just to stand out.
The Mid-Atlantic and the South Highlights:
-Walking the Inner Harbor and Fells Point of Baltimore
-Staying at the historic 1840 Carrollton Inn in Baltimore
-Learning about the literary history of Washington D.C.
-Strolling the Mall, standing between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building
-Watching the sunset at Neptune Beach in Virginia Beach
-Being on a naval ship in Norfolk
-Making a piggy bank at ClayWorks in Charlotte
-NASCAR Hall of Fame and Museum in Charlotte
-Forging a train spike into a knife in Birmingham, the Iron City
-National Center for Civil and Human Rights Museum in Atlanta
-Exploring the Freedom Trail in Atlanta
-Eating and staying at the Emeline Hotel in Charleston
-Making a sweetgrass basket at the City Market in Charleston
-Paddleboarding in Jacksonville
-Dinner Theatre at Alhambra in Jacksonville
-The Arts Fair around Lake Eola in Orlando
-Walking through Little Havana in Miami
-Making cigars in Ybor, Tampa Bay
-Taking the streetcar down St. Charles in New Orleans
-Eating on a balcony overlooking Jackson Square, listening to local jazz in New Orleans
-Astronaut training at NASA in Houston
-Market Square in San Antonio
-Hiking Mt. Bonnell in Austin
-Recording a song in Austin
-Staying at the Driskill Hotel in Austin
-Making the Stetson Hat in Dallas
-Cattle Drive in the Stockyards of Ft. Worth
It would've been a huge mistake to skip this city. Don't do it. Whenever you visit Dallas, dive 40-60 minutes to see Ft. Worth. It has a totally different feel than Dallas. Main St. is a really nice street, covered with brick and mature trees. There's a really interesting public water feature, called Water Gardens.
The main attraction is The Stockyards, where you'll get a real dose of the Western Cowboy Culture. If you're not wearing a hat, you'll be the only one. I loved watching the longhorns parade down the street, watching the cowboy crack is whip, and the wooden structures. I felt like I was at the State Fair, there's so many exhibits and attractions to keep you busy for several hours. I'm not going to compare it with the Stockyards of OKC, but it's definitely more touristy. I stayed at the Springhill Suites which has the best view of downtown and the surrounding area.
Nearby, I visited with ML. Leddy's Boots to learn about their iconic leather boots and saddles. I had a chance to see a leather artist design a saddle, all by hand. It was impressive to say the least. One little mistake can cost thousands of dollars.
When I think about Dallas, I think high-end everything, including shops, hotels, fashion, homes, careers, etc. Visit Dallas connected me with Stetson Hats, which is a cultural iconic piece of American fashion. I had a chance to visit their factory in the suburbs of Garland to learn about the history and manufacturing. Also, get a hands-on experience to make one of my own. They have two operating floors, one for straw hats and one for felt. I had no idea that felt was made from rabbits. That's the primary fur they use to make most of their felt hats. It's quite a process, at least 12 steps to get it to the stores.
As I mentioned, Dallas is extravagant. The downtown has incredible plazas, hotel, restaurants. Just on the other side of the freeway is the historic Deep Ellum district which seems like a world apart. It's more hip and eclectic with serval blocks of eateries and bars. Many murals that are fun to browse, even underneath the freeway. Dallas is spread out, so you'll mostly need a car to explore the sites and neighborhoods. You'll find some cool neighborhoods near the Galleria Mall. That's probably the area you'll find the Real Housewives of Dallas.
I always find it the best way to explore a city by running. I ran down the entire commercial district of 6th and headed for Lady Bird Lake. It truly does keep going. I imagine the college students love attending school in Austin. Regardless, it's a very young city. It's also very active. I thought I'd be the only person running at 6am, but this is one of the most active cities I've seen. Both sides of the river/lake have pretty trails. 2 hours later, I still found myself running. I had a great stay at the Driskill Hotel. Has to be one of the iconic hotels of America. It was spectacular. The grand entrance, the bakery and restaurant were all 5 star. My primary focus of Austin was to write a song. I connected with a songwriter, Walker Lukens to make a song about this journey. I sat in a booth, called Song Confessions and told the story of this journey. He'll translate that story into lyrics and outsource it to a band. We'll see how it turns out. Could be the best memento yet!
I haven't been to Austin since running the half marathon in 2012. That's the first activity that I gravitated towards, running the trails along the Colorado River. It's not the same river that originates from Colorado, but it's an impressive bluespace. I'm still uncertain if it's a lake or a river. I think it's a lake. Very confusing! Still, waterfront enhance cities, especially if you can play in them. Lots of kayaks and paddleboarders in the (lake) in the heart of the city. There are running trails on both sides. I headed up to Mt. Bonnell which has the view of the skyline and the hilly terrain of the city. The landscape has a similar feel to the Bay Area of California. No wonder people from the flock to Austin.
I hopped on a bat cruise to watch the millions of bats fly out from under the Congress bridge. It's quite a spectacle in the city, where people watch it like a firework show. The nightlife of downtown is pretty expansive, about a mile or two down 6th and then 2nd has about 3/4 of a mile. If you didn't know, Austin is the Live Music Capital. I'll have a chance to work with a local musician to write a song about this journey.
Market Square will take you to what seems like a foreign country. San Antonio is as close to Mexico, culturally, than pretty much any other major city in America. I loved the vendors, music and the colorful displays. I contacted Amol's Fiesta and Party store supplies to make popel picado, which is displayed above most of Market Square. Popel picado means cut paper, so I went to learn how to use tissue paper to design a Piece of San Antonio.
I made a paper flower, which became popular in Mexico because they lasted longer than real flowers and it was cheaper to make. Now, artist from Mexico and San Antonio are in high demand, year around and during the festive holidays. Viva Fiesta is one of the largest events in America. Maybe I'll come back and sell my paper flowers.
This city's park system had me smiling and singing while running. That takes quite a bit of energy. From my hotel, C. Baldwin, conveniently located near the public library and theatre district, I hopped on the Buffalo Bayou Trail and navigated under bridges, over bridges, through public art pieces, along a nice creek. It goes for miles until you reach the popular, Memorial Park. While I'm still on the topic of parks, near the expansive museum district in Midtown, there's another park worth seeing, Hermann Park. This one has similar trails along a river, massive fountains and greenspace. Looks like it had a zoo as well.
I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the NASA Space Center for astronaut training. I had to overcome an obstacle course with glasses that disoriented me. I just can't imagine the training that takes years to be prepared to go in space. It's another must to see, especially if you want to touch a rock from the moon.
Houston is known for its food. I put myself into a food coma, trying the incredible Blood Bros. BBQ, Xochi and Breakfast Klub. They were all the best spots to hit in the city, but there's so much more. You can spend much of your stay, just eating in this city. Any types of food you want, it's in Houston.
Thank you to Visit Houston for coordinating my trip, which also included a stop at Smither Park, which has structures built by mosaics. I sat down with several ladies to make a piece of Houston.
On my way out, I was curious where Joel Osteen lives, so I just wanted to check out the River Oaks neighborhood. At 5am, I saw so many neighbors jogging or fast-walking. Goes to show, success starts early in the day, getting on a balanced lifestyle routine. Royal Oaks, near the Galleria Mall, is one of the nicest neighborhoods in America. Within 4 miles of downtown, you'll see massive mature oak trees covering some of the largest homes built in the country,
A very easy city to write about. First, let's start with the city streets. There are so many recognizable or notable streets, like a Monopoly board in the city. St. Charles Ave, Canal St., Magazine, Bourbon, Royal and Oak St to name a few. What's nice, is that you can either walk all of them or take the iconic streetcar. I'd say on a hot/humid day, take the streetcar down St. Charles to Audubon Park to see the Louisiana wildlife. Plus, the Spanish Moss and oak trees will blow your mind if you're not from the South.
The main event of the city is Jackson Square. There's no other way to put it, but referring to magical. Most people don't think that this gem is right on the Mississippi River. It's so easy to get lost in the French Quarter with all the excitement, music, shops, but there's a serious natural feature just a block away. If you want to experience quintessential New Orleans, eat on the balcony of Tableau, overlooking Jackson Square, listening to local performers and taste fine cuisine.
Since New Orleans is known for Mardi Gras, I was to the costume museum of Mardi Gras to make a mask. I decorated it with the tradition purple, green and gold as my piece of NOLA. The costumes are extraordinary and it's worth a visit to learn about the meaning and tradition of the pieces.
Thanks to NewOrleans.com I was able to have an incredible stay at The Troubadour, which is centralized for walking to any attraction.
It's hard to believe that an already established city is still growing. Where are these people coming from? High-rise condos are going up all across downtown, keeping the city clean and modern. Just about everything looks new, The riverwalk trail is just incredible to explore the views, and if you don't want to walk, there's a boat taxi, which looks fun.
Now, there's an old city within this city, called Ybor. It's only about 3 miles from downtown and it's nearly the original neighborhood of Tampa, where people migrated to the city for the cigar industry. Yes, Cuban Cigars are more prominent here than in Cuba. I had a chance to roll the tobacco product at J.C. Newmans, the last factory to exist in the city. What a process! The entire cigar is made of leaves, used with three different layers of tobacco. Rolling it by hand is the premium product and the traditional method. It's not easy work, so no wonder cigars are a delicacy.
Ybor neighborhood is fascinating, established in the late 1800s, it sort of reminded me of a blend of the French Quarter in New Orleans and the Stockyards of OKC. It's heavily touristy for its cigar shops and restaurants. Let's not forget about the roosters roaming the streets. When I first heard them, I thought I was going crazy, but there are many roosters throughout the neighborhood.
I stayed at the Haya Hotel, which was like sleeping on a cloud. Then, I ate at the Columbia Restaurant, which is over 100 years old, filled with family tradition. It was an impressive 1 block restaurant and bar, filled with different themed rooms. Can't beat it. Thank you to @VisitTampaBay for the amazing suggestions and connections.
How should I put this delicately? Miami is over the top. There's nothing modest about this city, mostly referring to the hot spots, like Miami Beach and downtown. It's an elegant city wonder, where sunglasses are a must. The city pops with bright colors, from the spiral white buildings to the aqua blue water. South Beach is the most iconic in the world, where you can relax, bike, and dine. I appreciate a city that cannot be replicated. This place is the standard for vacation.
Although I'm more of a mountainous forest type, the beauty is hard to deny in Miami. I spent some time at the beach, making a sand art project, then I headed for another unique location, Little Havana. Miami has the largest Cuban population and plays a significant role in shaping this city's culture. Little Havana is worth seeing because it's authentic and far from the rest of the attractions. I enjoyed spotting the rooster statues on every corner, a symbol of power and strength to the Cuban culture.
Then, I went to the Miami Dolphins game, an invitation extended by a friend from Alabama.
Yes, there is life outside the amusement parks in Orlando. Actually. it's quite remarkable. I spent time walking around Lake Eola and found an arts fair that circled the entire lake. The area was packed, assuming mostly of locals. The neighborhoods are filled with nature and immaculate city streets. It flowed into downtown, which had blocks worth exploring, like Church St. and Orange Ave. The Dr. Phillips Preforming Arts Center has a unique modern structure and was getting lots of attention.
Also, I went through a very nice neighborhood, Baldwin Park, on my way to Crealde School of Arts to learn how to draw caricatures. As you know, most amusement parks have cartoonist, so I met with Rafael Diez to teach me the basics. "There are 5 shapes to consider; head shape, space between eyes, nose, mouth and ears. Typically, they're all half the distance from one another." I practiced a few head shapes of celebrities and drew lines of the spacing between features. Rafael can draw a pretty accurate portrait within 5 minutes. Now, I have a fun piece of Orlando.
As a visitor, it is very easy to miss downtown Orlando and anything north. The airport is near all the main amusement parks in the south. I'm staying at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resorts, which is a great property and has all the answers to a perfect vacation. I headed to this region's first amusement park, Gatorland, which started out as a roadside attraction. Now, it's a few hundred acres managed swamp for visitors to interact with alligators, crocodiles and many other animals, I fed the alligators, maybe 30 of them up close and personal. It was intimidating at first, but they patiently waited for food like dolphins.
My first time visiting downtown was awesome! I caught the very popular Art Walk at James Weldon Johnson Park. There was music on every corner. Artists were showcasing their work throughout 3-5 blocks. Police officers riding horses, strolling right in the middle of the road. People were in a great mood and it was a great introduction to the city. I'm curious where the mini train that cuts through downtown goes. Maybe I'll ride it!
Only 15 miles away from downtown is the beach. I find it rare that you can live on a resort close to the water, then commute to downtown for business during the day.
When people think of the great outdoors, Montana and Colorado come to mind, but Jacksonville has just as much. For the coastal environment, this is one of the most beautiful and expansive outdoors scene. I had a chance to paddleboard through the channels and there are many waterway trails. I'd say this was an absolute must, since you can get into the nature that attracts people to live here. I was told you can catch dolphins swimming during the summer months. I met with a paddleboard instruct from Jax Surf & Paddle at the Dutton Island nature preserve, which was also a great place to hike.
Speaking of water, the oceanfront has a few coastal towns, Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach, Jacksonville Beach and others, where you can catch an amazing sunrise/sunset. I was lucky enough to see the massive waves caused by Nor'easter. Most of the sandy shore was covered though, which made it harder to find oyster shells. I met with The Gilded Shell to make oyster shell art. The owner, Jill, found a few shells beforehand and drilled a hole at the top so I can make a cool piece. I painted the shell with gold trim, included some beads to the tie and now have a great piece of Jacksonville.
If you have a chance to explore the City of Jacksonville, it's huge. It does take awhile to get places because of all the traffic lights and cars, but the neighborhoods across bridges of the St. John's River are worth checking out. I loved San Marco because the business district was active and had a unique layout. The riverwalk to catch the view of downtown was stunning. Jacksonville's skyline has a few signature features, like the bridges and the chimney-shaped building.
I spent the evening at the oldest and longest running dinner theatre, Alhambra. What a great concept to watch a play while eating a 3 course meal. It was packed inside, so obviously an experience to have in Jacksonville. I stayed at The Palms Hotel, which used to be a motor court. I haven't seen anything like it. Also, it was close to all the action on the beach.
I want to thank @Visit_Jax for coordinating such a great visit. The city had way more than I expected, especially if you love the outdoors. There are parks everywhere, even throughout the city streets. I'm a sucker for greenspace, and now bluespace.
If I hadn't been to Charleston before, I would've lost my mind it's so unique. The French architecture, infinite amount of church spires, kerosene lanterns flickering and the horse carriage rides throughout downtown to name a few iconic features of the city.
I checked into Emeline, a signature boutique hotel that had it all. A beautiful historic entrance, luxurious lobby, coffee shop, and a fine dining restaurant with an elegant Southern Charm. My first impression driving into the city was the fashion. People are over the top, like Beverley Hills. There are many unique clothing shops on King St., which is one of the more popular streets to stroll.
If you decide to go for a run or bike ride, there are many routes to explore. I ran down Meeting St and the looped around to King St., down to the waterfront at Battery Park. You'll see the incredible Southern mansions, cobblestone streets, palm and live oak trees. Occasionally, you see a cool narrow alley or a park with a fountain.
The most popular stop for tourists is the City Market, keeping a long history of local merchants selling items. I stopped by Ophelia's Sweetgrass Baskets to make the iconic Charleston memento. The sweetgrass baskets are typically made by those of the Gullah culture, which is unique to the area. It was a great learning experience and your hand gets cramped pretty easily trying to piece it together.
If you didn't know, Charleston is also known for beaches, like Folly Beach and Sullivan's Island. Those are worth checking out. Great city! Kind people! Easy-going! Probably the most romantic city in the country.
An impressive energetic city that took it up a notch with a World Series title on the line. You can just feel the excitement and confidence in the city through the smiles and laughter of the people. Some are even dancing. Atlanta is the major hub of the South and has so much action for those that live and visit here. I spent time at Centennial Park, where you'll find the World of Coca-Cola, Georgia Aquarium and the new Civil Right Museum. All are extremely impressive and a great way to spend a few hours.
Atlanta inspired me to make a piece reflecting the legacy of Martin Luther King. Since he was born in Atlanta and spent much of his life here, I made a steel piece of his 'I have a dream' speech. The work was originally created by Xavier Medina and I found local artist Carl Moore to help me put it together. After four hours of cutting, welding and bending, it was a fun learning project to have a great piece of Atlanta. If any one person had an impact on a city, MLK had the greatest one on Atlanta.
There's so much to this city, I might as well call it the city of nooks and crannies, because there's something interesting around every corner. It's a curvy and hilly city with lots of great neighborhoods, parks and trendy shops and restaurants. I stayed in Midtown, right next to the famous Fox Theatre. Element Hotel at Midtown is such a fantastic stay. It's brand new, guest services went above and beyond and the breakfast was made to order. I wish I could live in this place!
This city has great night life, fitness life, shopping life, and business life. No wonder people flock here.
I felt that Birmingham is made up of villages. There's the downtown, Mountain Brook, Homewood, Vestavia Hills, and others. You never need to leave your village because each town has their own business district, some have several. I went for a run through downtown and couldn't stop snapping photos. Every building has a meaningful past, inspirational quotes on the sidewalks from Civil Right leaders, and iconic statues. There's not much redevelopment here. I think the history is too precious. I stayed at The Tutwiler, which used to be an apartment complex and now it's one of the upscale places to stay in the city. Uptown is the more modern district, where fancy hotels and a good nightlife can be found. The Convention Complex would be a great night watching a show or play.
I spent most of the day, converting an iron train spike into a knife. Birmingham is known for its Iron history and having the largest iron statue, Vulcan, in the world. It was a no brainer to make something of iron for my piece of Birmingham. The Sloss Furnace, where much of the production took place is a must visit to learn about Iron. My Iron piece took nearly 5 hours, having to shape it, sand it and treat it. My instructor, Kenneth Spivey was outstanding and has a notable history with making movie props.
The downtown lights up well. I meant to say Uptown. North Carolina cities like to change things up on us. Tryon Ave is the main street of Uptown, a center for the banking industry. This is one of the most modern cities in the country, that the city only has historical markers left to show visitors what used to be. If I were to design a city, I would model it after Charlotte. The neighborhoods, like 4th Ward are a little more historic and you can tell because of the mature trees and the confined layout. The South End is very new and upscale. Great place for the young crowd. My favorite area is Plaza Midwood because of the cool coffee shops and restaurants.
I came to make a piggy bank at ClayWorks to reflect the banking industry, history of pottery in North Carolina and the love for BBQ pork. I worked with Greg, who has been making pottery for over 30 years. He's great at sculpting and he taught me step by step, so my pig wouldn't look like a dragon. It was nearly a 3 hour process, before having the piece dry and put into a kiln.
Afterwards, I checked out the Whitewater Rafting Training Center, which is a great place for family fun, since it includes climbing walls, ropes course and plenty of trails. Lastly, if you're into Nascar, the Hall of Fame would be an incredible experience for you. The race car simulator is worth the visit.
I stayed at The Dunhill Hotel, which is probably one of the most historic sites left in the city. It was a place I didn't want to leave, but I'd highly recommend. The restaurant has some great local dishes, the rooms are comfortable and immaculate.
Norfolk is not on the beach, yet it lies between two massive rivers that could be mistaken for the Chesapeake Bay. It is beautiful inside and out. Inside the downtown is lined with dense trees and sidewalk restaurants. Near the massive Battleship Wisconsin, which is a must see, there's a incredible historic neighborhood marking Southern Charm. Then, I realized that's not an isolated find, but much of the city has a historic charming feel. I didn't know much about Norfolk before coming, but it was a pleasant surprise.
You'll find interesting mermaid statues scattered in random points of the city, over one-hundred of them. I stopped in the Mermaid Factory to make a miniature mermaid of my own. This was a perfect takeaway of the city and it was a fun crafting experience.
What an exhilarating sense of completion to finally visit Virginia Beach, making this the last major city in America to see. I drove straight to the beach, trying to beat the sunset and found amazing Zeus statue right on the Atlantic Ocean walking path at Neptune Beach.
I had no expectations of the city. The internet doesn't do that best job showcasing this region, called Hampton Roads. I started my day driving to Williamsburg and Jamestown, then to Newport News and Hampton, VA. There's a lot of people living in the part. I loved taking the bridge, then tunnel, back to bridge over to VB. The city is stretched out, so it takes forever to get across. I stayed the Hyatt Place in Town Center, which is still 15 miles from the beach.
Considering this area has a strong Navy and shipbuilding influence, I looked to learn how to tie sailors knots. I was able to find a small business, BYOB that teaches different crafts, including rope coasters. I learned 7 ties today and was kind of frustrating that I needed so much assistance. My instructor could tie knots with his eyes closed. I'll get there, but he carries 6 ft of rope in his pocket for a living.
The first time I've included our nation's capital on any of my journeys, yet I know it well. I've walked every inch of this place for years. It's a must to visit and should be required to be a citizen, not only for learning about America, but to instill pride of America. The landmarks, embassy row, headquarters of federal agencies, non-profits, media, all connect back to being an American.
I came here to write poetry, since D.C. has a rich history in activism and reflection. Voices are impactful here and poetry readings or slams can be heard every night somewhere in the many neighborhoods, from Dupont Circle to Adams Morgan. I wrote a 16 line poem, not something I'll share until the book comes out. I did get some assistance from famous local poet, Dwayne Lawson-Brown, who makes a living performing. We met at Busboys and Poets.
There are so many musts things to do and see here, but a Smithsonian Museum should always be on your list. If you have a hobby, it's likely you'll find a museum for it. Whether you like stamps, dinosaurs, painting, planes, or plants, there is plenty to explore. I'm staying at Hotel Monaco, which is conveniently located next to The Mall, where most of the museums are and government sites. It's rated Top 10 places to stay in the city and I agree.
Today, I'll be doing a literary tour, focusing on the Harlem Renaissance era.
Now I see why people that live in Baltimore love it. There's so much going on, from the harbor to the hills. Looking at pictures from the internet does not justify how cool this place is. I walked the harbor, which has some much activity on the water with large ships to sailing and paddleboats. Then the harbor walk has all the restaurants you can imagine. Although touristy, the locals appreciate the area just as much.
I walked to Fells Point, which has a little bit of a Philly and Boston feel. Narrow brick streets leading to an active square where all the Ravens fans were gathered. I headed up to Brewers Hill and Highlandtown, where you'll find a large city park, Patterson Park. Guaranteed a nice place! The homes or apartments are uniquely designed, that the windows are the same length as the doors.
I stayed at The Carrolton Inn, which is from the 1840s, right in the center of it all. Elegance and charm should be defined by this hotel.
I came to make a crab mallet with Mark Supik, who owns a nifty woodshop. He taught me, well tried to teach me how to turn wood. Let's say it takes practice, maybe 40 years of it. If you compare my handle to his, you'll see the difference.
I explored a few more neighborhoods and found a historic food market, Lexington Market Since 1782, where you'll find crab, so go ahead and make your own mallet.
The Great North and The Midlands Highlights:
-Thank you to Mini Cooper at Motorwerks in Golden Valley, MN for sponsoring my trip
-Building Legos with my family at the Mall of America
-Learning Polka dancing from Miss Polka Wisconsin in Milwaukee
-Walking the pier out onto Lake Michigan at McKinley Park in Milwaukee
-Making a 3D architectural model of the Ferris Wheel of Navy Pier
-Going to the top of the St. Louis Arch
-Exploring the magnificent Forest Park of St. Louis
-Filing a Tennessee quarter into a guitar pick at the Tomato Arts Festival in Nashville
-Learning about Soul music at the Stax Studios in Memphis
-Walking the pedestrian bridge to Mud Island over the Mississippi River. Best view of Memphis!
-Biking the Arkansas River Trail and over North America's longest pedestrian bridge in Little Rock
-Discovering Cathedral Square in Tulsa
-Meeting the daughter of a victim of the OKC bombing to hear her perspective
-Making a serving tray from restored wood of a train boxcar
-Catching the fire show at the Keeper of the Plains in Wichita
-Searching for the fountains of Kansas City
-Picking the freshest veggies from a family farm for the Omaha's Farmers Market
-Filing through old campaign materials and voting ballets from the 1800's at the Iowa History Museum
-The Minnesota State Fair to make seed art
Don't give all the glory to Minneapolis and Bloomington, Saint Paul is like the older sibling. I am very impressed with how much is in Saint Paul, and not just because it's the capitol city. The Mississippi River Blvd bike trail is a must. The private college scene is huge. The state's hockey team, Minnesota Wild plays in downtown. Grand Ave has all the cute shops and restaurants, while Summit Ave has the historic mansions along the parkway. Como Park is just so beautiful that includes a botanical garden and zoo. With all of that, I focused on the Minnesota State Fair. It's been consistently rated the best state fair in the country and I met a gentleman that has visited and exhibited for 72 years. He showed me all about crop or or seed art, which is absolutely fascinating.
Visit St. Paul and the State Fair connected me with an opportunity to try crop art. The other option would've been sculpting butter, but I didn't want to risk an enormous block of butter going to waste from one of my mistakes. I had a crop art kit to work with that included all sorts of seeds, from corn and barley to sunflower and flax. I chose making a corndog, since the fair is known for any food on a stick. The fair is a blast and literally has it all.
I stayed at the brand new Springhill Suites in downtown. Impressive!!!
For some odd I reason, I think about the episode of The Bachelor when it featured Des Moines. I don't think anyone would be offended, if I say that Des Moines has the most stunning capitol building in America because everyone would agree. The golden dome looks like one of those expensive chocolates covered with tinfoil. The views from the steps are the best of the city, looking straight down Locust St. which happens to be my favorite.
In the East Village neighborhood, the Visitors Bureau Catch Des Moines hooked me up with a printing and designing company, called Raygun. They say their The Great Store in the Universe. They have some creative work and quirky saying that are printing on shirts and other everyday items. I made a invitation card, Des Moines, French for The Moines. I don't think anyone really knows what Moines means.
I stayed at the downtown Marriot which was made everything walkable. You'll want to check out Court St. since it has many restaurant, the famous farmers market and charming side streets. Lastly, I visited the Lauridsen skate park since its the largest in the country. Even on a hot and humid day people were out along the river.
This city is getting a complete makeover. Out of all the places so far, Omaha is reconstructing and building more than any other place. The Missouri Riverfront is closed for the moment because of construction, the Gene Leahy Mall is under construction, the baseball stadium neighborhood for the College World Series is brand new and so is the Blackstone neighborhood in Midtown Crossing. Also, where they have the Omaha Farmers Market is brand new, called Aksarben. I didn't recognize much since my last visit in 2008. The Old Town district is where all the tourists go and its worth it. Really good shops and restaurants along a brick street.
I visited with a local farmer to prep for the weekend Omaha Farmers Market. Apparently, I can't get away from farming when I'm in Nebraska. They grow pretty much every veggie you can think of from beets and peppers to eggplant. I helped dig up a few beets and a peppers. They spend 6 days a week to sell for 4 hours on a Sunday. It's labor intensive and very involved, but at least their security in selling fresh food.
I enjoyed the walk near my Hilton Hotel to the Missouri River, where you can find the pedestrian bridge to Iowa, called Bob Kerrey.
There are 200 registered fountains in KC and I think it would make a great scavenger hunt to explore the city. It reminded me of the stairs in Pittsburgh and monuments in Indianapolis scattered throughout the city. I had a chance to see a few of them and was impressed with the one in front of Union Station, The Plaza and off of Ward Parkway. Ward Parkway is worth a drive because you can view beautiful neighborhoods and greenspace.
Kansas City is known for its BBQ and I visited Spicin Foods to make my own sauce. In their retail store, there's a few sauces in a locked case worth over $100 that are considered the hottest sauces in the world. My supervisor asked if I wanted to dip a toothpick in to try it. I knew better not to ruin my day. I first visited the spice room, then the batch room followed by the pouring and bottling. They make over a thousand different sauces for companies around the world. I met a food scientist and culinary artist who are responsible for it all.
There's so many great neighborhoods in Kansas City, like Westport and the Plaza. It's much more hilly than you think. I stayed at The Crossroads Hotel, which used to be a beer depot. It's an incredible place to stay with amazing views from their rooftop.
So far, this city in the Heart of the Country, maybe the most underrated. Maybe the locals have wanted to keep it a secret. There's so much space and has an easy going pace. I visited the Kansas Aviation Museum to learn about the huge aircraft industry here. I had a chance to work on an airplane rib and try the riveting technique.
I hurried over to the fire show at the Keeper of the Plains on the Arkansas River. It's one of the biggest attractions to the city and it came with a great lightning show. It's a beautiful walk along the river and it continues through downtown. I visit the Cowtown Museum to learn about the settlement history, then went to Old Town. The city is spread out and there's unique indoor activity venues and restaurants to explore. I imagine since the weather is harsh, indoor amenities is a must.
I want to thank Visit Wichita for making great suggestions for places to eat and play, since there's no way as a visitor I could've found these places on my own.
If you want an old western experience with plenty of authentic character, visit The Stockyards. Earlier in the week, you can even catch a cattle auction open to the public. Plenty of saloons and Cowboy shops in the district dating back to the early 1900's. Then, on the other side of town, is Bricktown. I'd say this is a tourist's or conference goers paradise. Plenty of restaurants and games along the canal river. You can take a gondola as a taxi. The canal leads into the Oklahoma River, which has a rapid area where Olympic kayakers train.
In the downtown area, my favorite in the Myriad Botanical Gardens. There's plenty of walking paths, views of the downtown, and a cool amphitheater. Within walking distance is the site of the OKC bombing from 1995. As soon as I stepped on the memorial and museum grounds, I felt chills. I had a chance to meet a daughter of a victim to hear her story and get perspective. The museum is a place of healing and learning and highly recommend it. It's not possible to avoid getting emotional and it's very fitting for today.
Back at the Stockyards, I visited Boxcar Woody to work with restored train boxcar wood to make a beautiful serving tray. I thought it was a fitting piece to reflect the history of trains and the stockyards. I met some incredibly kind people and felt very comfortable at The Ambassador Hotel in Midtown. Thank you to Visit OKC for creating a stellar itinerary. I'd add a visit to Nichols Hills to stroll down Grand Blvd.
"What's the absolute first thing I need to see? I just got here." Gathering Place. Built in 2018, Gathering Place has been voted by the most notable publications, as the best city park in America. Since, I'm a sucker for city parks, I had to see this place and judge for myself. It was the most well-maintained park I've seen, almost like an amusement park with the layout of a zoo. There's indoor facilities used as conference rooms and study lounges, hence gathering place. The playground is a children's paradise, for toddlers and up. Lastly, the most impressive was the boathouse, where you can take a canoe or paddleboat for free. Their motto is that everyone should have an equal opportunity to experience what they desire.
I went for short stroll through downtown to observe the art deco architectural buildings, which gives Tulsa its unique identity, but a few blocks further, I found Cathedral Square. In my opinion, this was the most unique feature I've seen that seemed underappreciated. There are 6 or 7 massive cathedrals within blocks, each a different denomination. It would've been quite the experience to show up here on a Sunday. I think there should be an organized tour of this district and emphasize the culture of the Bible Belt.
Another scene of Tulsa is the art scene. It's everywhere. The creative seemed to be above my head, but they say that there are no boundaries and that's something you can experience at the AHHA Museum in the Arts District. Tulsa is a prideful city and its growing like crazy. The young people are coming to downtown. I stayed at Hotel Indigo and didn't want to leave. Thank you to Hotel Indigo and Visit Tulsa for showing me the best Oklahoman experience. The kindness will not be forgotten.
I'm thoroughly enjoying the ease, pace and friendliness of Little Rock. Although there are some amazing features, that might be the main attraction. You can take a stroll along the river, walk to the SoMa neighborhood for lunch or chat with a stranger in River Market. The downtown is well kept and easy to get around.
An absolute must to experience Natural Arkansas, even in the state's largest city is to rent a bike and complete the 15 mile loop from downtown to the Dam Bridge, which is the longest pedestrian bride in North America. The bridge took me 4:30 minutes to bike and about 90 minutes for the loop. I noticed a photographer take a picture of me while I was biking and a few hours later, I saw him at Bella Vita Jewelry, where I was making a pendant necklace. He was a photographer for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette doing a story on my visit. He didn't know I was the same guy on the bike. Shows how small this big city is.
I chose jewelry as a craft because Southerners have style and their fashion is classy. There are many artisan boutiques and locally owned businesses in town, it seemed like a good fit. Actually, I haven't seen one national chain yet. That's delightful. The process of making jewelry is quite interesting. I chose a button as the design and shape, pressed it into a clay mold until it was dry. Then mixed a more dense clay, that would turn into silver and pressed that into the mold. Now, it will sit in a kiln overnight.
From one Music City to the next, it's no wonder I-40 is called Music Highway. Memphis is like a museum itself, preserving much of its history in original form. I started at the Stax Soul Museum, which was the site of an iconic record production company. You wouldn't believe how many hits came from this place! It was right there with Motown in Detroit.
Then, I headed to the Sun Studio, where Elvis first recorded. You can see the front desk, where Elvis first came in for an audition. I'd visit these spots first, then when you hear the live music on Beale St, it's more appreciated.
I walked the pedestrian bridge to Mud Island, which covers just part of the Mississippi River. This spot was breathtaking, especially at sunset. The bridges light up and put on a show. That's when I realized, this should be called the city of lights. Just about everything is lit by neon signs around town. I'd say this is one of those features that gives Memphis a theme. I was thinking of making a music note with neon lights, but I didn't think that would be possible in a day, so I contacted the Metal Museum. On a beautiful property overlooking the river, I got my hands dirty. I hadn't been into a metal shop since 7th grade and the smell took me back. My instructor made the mold the previous night and said he's planning to use it for a XMAS ornament.
I want to thank Memphis Travel for putting together an amazing itinerary that gave me a sense of the history and culture of the city. I stayed at the spacious and modern Hotel Napoleon and ate at Central BBQ and the Arcade. I spent time exploring Shelby Farms, Germantown, and Midtown as well. There's lots of great pockets of the city to explore, so don't just stick with the downtown.
I stayed at The Gallatin Hotel and co-created an itinerary with Visit Music City. There's more to Nashville than Broadway. Germantown is a former warehouse district turned incredibly elegant and romantic. Midtown and Vanderbilt University has plenty of green space and modern restaurants and towering condos, the 12 South strip is a charming place to live with walkable shops and eateries, and if you want to see the absolute beautiful country, visit the Belle Meade area. Lastly, the Grand Ole Opry Hotel is similar to the Vatican Hotel in Vegas.
When Nashville claims its Music City, that's genuinely true. It's easy to find or it will find you.
There's definitely no shortage of hot spots in Nashville. I started the morning at the Tomato Arts Festival in East Nashville. You can sense how prideful the locals are of their festivals. For a relatively small festival, I'd say it was amazing and brought some great artists. I met with Dustin of Nashville Guitar Picks. I went behind his booth to craft a guitar pick from a Tennessee quarter. "Aren't we going to get in trouble by the Federal Reserve?" "The US Mint is my biggest client." he replied. He also mentioned out of the 20 years he's been showcasing his work, I was the only one ever to make something with him on site. I really wanted that guitar pick, even though I don't play. It took about an hour to file the sides of the coin and then polish the edges.
Three spots took my breath away in St. Louis. 1. The Arch, ride to the top in a small chamber that took 4 minutes up and 3 minutes down. 2. Forest Park is one of the most remarkable city parks I've seen in America. There was a rugby field, cricket field, two sets of tennis centers, a boat house, zoo, golf course, outdoor movie theatre and so much more. 3. The Cathedral Basilica has the largest collection of glass mosaics in the world, which inspired me so much that I scheduled myself a glass mosaic workshop.
I drove to St. Charles, which is about 30 minutes from St. Louis and met with the owner of The Glass Workbench. She was a fabulous instructor for first-timers. We sketched a design of The Arch on a square wooden block. I learned a few techniques of cutting colored glass with different instruments. You can clip glass just like hair. About an hour later, I had a glass mosaic, although not to the standard to anyone besides myself. On a side note, if you're in St. Louis, check out St. Charles too. It's one of the largest historic districts in the country and right next to the beautiful Missouri River.
I didn't realize that St. Louis had such a huge Italian community in the area called The Hill. I suggest exploring the areas if you want to eat. Also, near Forest Park is The Loop on Delmar Blvd, which I thoroughly enjoyed because of the vibrant atmosphere, even during lightning and thunder. Another vibrant area is Grand Center because it's close to St. Louis University. Thank you to Explore St. Louis and Drury Inn for planning my visit.
If I ever need a hip or knee replacement, I'll blame Chicago. I've walked so many blocks of this city, I might have seen it all. First, I must say that I'm a little bias, since 1/4 of life was spent here. After having been gone for a few years, I had a chance to come back with a refreshed perspective. Pretty simple observation: Imagine living in a lush green park with rivers and a lake, add restaurants and shops, single family homes, condos and apartments. That's Chicago. One huge park with a playground that has it all.
The city is built exceptionally well and easy to navigate. Chicago is known for many industries, arts and foods, but it was a no brainer to learn about its iconic architecture. I think about one of the best skylines in the country, the park system along the waterfront, and the elevated trains. I connected with the Chicago Architecture Center about my journey and they suggested learning how to build a 3D model of the Navy Pier, specifically the Ferris Wheel. Why the wheel? It was the first in the world, built for the 1893 World's Fair. Do we even have those anymore? It's been a Chicago staple since.
I stayed at The Godfrey Hotel, perfectly centered in the city, just blocks from Michigan Ave, Merchandise Mart, and Lake Michigan. The view from their restaurant overlooks one of the most vibrant parts of the city. I recall all the dance clubs.
When you visit Chicago, I can suggest over 100 things to do, but if you only have a day or two, visit the top of the Hancock building, check out the neighborhoods in Lincoln Park, and take the Chicago's First Lady Architectural cruise. Thank you to Choose Chicago for all the great connections to learn and explore.
Sure, Milwaukee is known for beer, brats and cheese. And, polka, the fish fry, and now the Bucks. But, it's the people that are the main attraction. You'd feel comfortable instantly getting into a conversation with a stranger. Sometimes you'll have to initiate the conversation, and that's fine, but you'll feel right at home in Milwaukee.
Now, back to the experience. Thanks to @Visit Milwaukee, I was connected to Foamation, which is a company built around making a seat cushion into an iconic Green Bay Packers Cheesehead. Yes, they manufacture the product in Milwaukee and it's fitting for the entire state, considering this is dairyland. What a great example of a home-made project turns into a sports phenomenon. The cheesehead is made with the exact foam as a couch cushion, but the secret is the yellow coloring. I poured myself a batch into the mold, waited 7 minutes for it to heat and press, voila.
After wearing my hat out the door, I headed to Lakeside Brewery, where I met with local Polka celebrities, Jeff Winard and Mrs. Polka Wisconsin. I learned the 3-step Polka, while dancing to the sounds of the accordion. What impressed me most about this genre of music, is the natural energy booster. You can't stop smiling since the sounds are so bubbly and cheerful and the dance steps of bouncing are hilarious. If you're in Milwaukee, Polka is a must.
Lastly, I met with Dan Atkinson, a stonework artist. He works with cream brick, which is native to Milwaukee and the original material that built the city. We carved Cream City into a brick as another Piece of Milwaukee.
If you like the water, McKinley Park has a pier that goes long into Lake Michigan and grand views of downtown.
Some say the Twin Cities should consider being named the Tri-Cities, since Bloomington should get the recognition it deserves. It's the home of the Mall of America and the MSP Airport. It's the largest suburb, but since it gets so much business and visitor traffic, it has it's own identity. Bloomington doesn't have a downtown skyline, but that's what Minneapolis and St. Paul are for. This is a perfect place to live or stay, since you'll be in the middle of it all.
I was graciously hosted by BloomingtonMN.org and the Renaissance Bloomington Hotel. They made sure that I was going to have a great time, beginning with a dinner at LARS restaurant in the hotel and was welcomed with the blowing of a Vikings horn. It's one of those restaurants that locals come to eat because it has an authentic Scandinavian theme. Also, the lobby of Renaissance has an outdoors theme, decorated with old camping equipment and snowshoes. Before the massive development, Bloomington used to be the outdoor escape for the Twin Cities. It still has an incredible park system, including the Normandale trail, which has a small ski hill and massive ski jump.
My primary focus was crafting something at the Mall of America. We connected with the Lego store, which I didn't realize is a Danish toy. Again, another Scandinavian influence in Minnesota. I was introduced to a brick builder who shared his 39 years of passion with Legos and he's only 40. He showed me a few 3D builds, but that would've take months, so we settled on doing the star logo of the Mall of America. After an hour, I stepped back very far from my piece and noticed it was coming together. I'll post a picture.
The concept of Piece of Your City was born in this city of nature. I used to live across the street from the Minneapolis Convention Center and overheard visitors wondering what to do during their free time. I could've provided them with a list of items that makes this place special. The first thing that comes to mind is the Chain of Lakes drive or bike path. Throughout the city, there are 5 major lakes that offer something a little different. Lake of the Isles has a windy 2.3 mile loop lined with beautiful mansions. Lake Calhoun is more active with cars and beaches that's 3 miles around. Lake Harriet is covered with thick trees if you're looking for shade and also connects with another path that leads to the Mississippi River. Lake Nokomis is large and host many events, such as the triathlon. And then there's the forgotten Cedar Lake, which is a bit more isolated since there's not a path that goes entirely around. In short, you can get around the city easily on foot or bike. I'd say Minneapolis is one of the best cites to bike in America.
My hands-on experience was scheduled well in advance, since taking a wood carving workshop at the American Swedish Institute is a Minnesota Bucket List item. I learned five unique grips of holding a knife while attempting to make a butter knife. Using moist basswood that was freshly cut that morning, slicing the wood came off like cheese. After 90 minutes of scraping and slicing, my piece of wood split. My instructor got a new block of wood, used his axe and got to were I left off in 3 minutes. Good to know how much of a beginner I am. The course was 2.5 hours and worth every minute. Wittling is a craft to learn. You'll never be bored. Learning a Scandinavian craft in Minnesota connects with the local heritage, since many natives have roots in Sweden or Norway.
Industrial Midwest/East Highlights:
-Attempting to run up the steepest street in America, located on Canton Ave. in Pittsburgh
-Making the Terrible Towel when the Pittsburgh Steelers placed an order of 20k
-Watching an air-show at Buffalo's canalside over Lake Erie
-Fine dining at The Roycroft Inn
-The smell of Cheerios in Buffalo
-The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland
-Strolling through Edgewater Park and Beach in Cleveland
-Passenger in a pace car on the M1 concourse performance track
-Ford Factory Tour in Dearborn, MI
-An evening Detroit Tigers baseball game
-Catching a show at the Columbus Zoo, one of the best rated in the country
-Appreciating the floating sculptures in Schiller Park of German Village in Columbus
-Morning bike ride along the Ohio River in Cincinnati
-Working behind the meat counter making goetta, a staple of Cincinnati
-Eating lunch overlooking the Little Miami River in downtown Milford, OH
-Making Louisville Sluggers for the Kansas City Royals
-Cherokee Park in Louisville
-Staying at an old train station depot in Indianapolis at Crown Plaza
-Running the canal and White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis
-Making a special street sign in Indianapolis, Seddiqui Dr.
How come nobody's talking about the White River State Park that runs through downtown Indy? I'll be sure to talk about it. I was pleasantly surprised to see such a beautiful intersection of the canal trail and the White River on the edge of downtown. It's a perfect path to stroll for lunchtime walkers or morning joggers. The NCAA headquarters is right there, a dream place to work.
I didn't realize either, how much Indianapolis is obsessed with sports. Sure there's the largest sporting event in the world, the Indy 500, but there are so many other venues and stadiums along the White River's greenspace.
I visited the City of Indianapolis Public Works to learn about and make a street sign. I thought it was fitting, since Indy is the Crossroads of America and the city commemorates professional athletes with road signs. As I was making a school sign, similar to how the Terrible Towel was printed, the team surprised me with an already made Seddiqui Drive sign with their Public Works logo. I was so humbled by their generosity. That's a piece of Indianapolis I'll never forget.
I stayed at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, formerly known as Union Station. It was one of the coolest places because you can actually stay on a train cart. Indianapolis is a modern city with lots of hotels and chain restaurants, perfect for conferences. What I loved most was the monuments and memorials for our fallen soldiers. The fountains throughout the city are absolutely stunning.
Be sure to check out Massachusetts Ave, if you're looking to experience an area that's less touristy for eating and browsing.
When a major city sits on a large body of water, the waterfront is where I tend to explore first. Although Cincinnati and Louisville are both settled on the Ohio River, their waterfront layouts are completely different. Louisville has massive greenspace, good for concerts, playgrounds and sporting fields, whereas Cincy is much more confined and manicured. I enjoyed glancing over at Indiana from downtown Louisville, but there's also a pedestrian bridge if you want to make the short trek. It was a pretty humid day to explore, but I went to the very shady park near downtown, Cherokee Park. It was packed filled of trails, dirt and paved. Large grass hills in what seemed to be in an affluent historic neighborhood.
There are many neighborhoods to explore in Louisville, if you don't want to restrict yourself to downtown. If you're lookin for authentic local restaurants and shops, I suggest venturing out into the neighborhoods.
Downtown is home to the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum, where I had the opportunity to test what I remember from my 7th grade woodshop class. They produce 2 million bats per year from a forest of trees they own based in Pennsylvania. A CNC machine is computed to trim the bat to size, then it's sanded and polish. There are over 3,000 types of bats they produce, since many of the pro baseball players have custom made bats. I worked on an order for the Kansas City Royals by putting on the newly designed LS label. The museum and factory tour is one of the most visited in the country. I would have to say they've had brilliant marketing from the early 1900s and now they have a large bat leaned against the building. It's obvious other area businesses are trying the same approach.
The textbook definition of revitalization. It's a head turning city with extraordinary gardens & grounds on the Ohio Riverfront, treelined city streets and historic building mixed in with the new. If you head towards Findlay Market, you'll see homes and churches at the base of the hill and think that's the end of the city. Instead, right up the hill to Mt. Auburn, where there used to be an incline, is the extension of the city. The topography seems to separate the neighborhoods. The top of Mt. Adams has the stunning view of the river and Kentucky. It's a city that inspires discovering since each neighborhood has its own character. Over-the-Rhine has completely changed, where there's many new restaurants, shops, and apartments. That's how you'll know this would be a great city to invest. I see things are changing, but it's nice to know they're still keeping the historic framework.
I spent time at Findlay Market to briefly work behind the counter of Ekerlin's Meats, home of the famous goetta. I was cutting beef and pork to mix in with oats and a secret seasoning. They sell 500 pounds per week, so you can imagine how busy it is.
Then, I headed through some of the most affluent suburbs, like Indian Hill, where you might find executives of P&G and Kroger. Sometimes it's nice to explore outside the city to learn about the everyday citizens of the city. I stumbled into quant historic business districts, rushing rivers and shady bike trails. I was destined for the American Cornhole Organization, which has created cornhole as a professional sport and learned some techniques on how to toss the bags.
I stayed at The Lytle Hotel, which is a place I didn't want to leave. It has one of the nicest lobbies, rooftops and restaurants in the country.
I'm a sucker for a good park system and I wouldn't have known that Columbus has an extensive one, going from the castle filled suburbs along Olentangy River to the Scioto River, where they merge in downtown. If you're a sucker for shopping and dining, High Street has to be the longest stretch of boutique stores, trendy restaurants and bars in the country. It's no wonder Columbus is a popular conference destination and a desired place for college. The north end of downtown's High Street is very young and energetic, but kept some of its roots from the south end of downtown's historic German Village. I'd call this place, the 'city of bricks', since they are laid everywhere.
I participated in a candle pouring off of High Street as my piece of Columbus at The Candle Lab. They're going through a name change, Penn & Beech. It was a good experience, learning about wax and mixing scents. They keep the door open to attract customers as you can imagine.
One of my favorite parts of Columbus is Schiller Park because of it's mature trees, manicured gardens, hanging sculptures and calm neighborhood. Also, I had a chance to explore some suburbs on my way to the zoo. Dublin is the main attraction; character and charm bursting at the seams.
I was relieved how easy Columbus was to get around and understand.
I've never been more fascinated to watch people work, than at the Ford Factory Tour. Each person had their station, as the trucks came around on a conveyor. I think this is where the saying, 'everybody needs to do their part' comes from. Literally, you have to do your part, then the next truck stops at your station. The automated machinery was even more fascinating. One tool scans all the dimensions of the vehicle with lasers. The observational opportunity made you want to buy a truck. This is an absolute must to visit, even if you're not a car enthusiast.
I started the day off a the M1 concourse, which includes a 1.5 mile performance track and the world's largest community of private garages. I was scheduled to do some hot laps, but I only lasted a few warmups. We got up to 85 mph, but the driver was aiming for 125 mph. I chickened out and told him, I'm having just as much for going at 45 mph. If you have a need for an adrenaline rush, this is the experience for you.
I strolled down Woodward Ave., America's first paved road and home of the Dream Cruise. I stopped in the famous collectable and hobby shop, Pasteiner's to make a plastic model car. Mine was for kids because it wouldn't take me a year to make like many of the others they offer. People take this serious, like building a real car. I made a Ford GT as my piece of Detroit. It was fun to be with Detroit car enthusiasts and to learn their craft. Their eyes would light up as they discuss cars and the experiences that have come through their shop and down Woodward Ave.
Detroit is resilient and you can see downtown shaping into the center of attention again. All four sports teams are within blocks of each other, old office buildings are now high-end condos, and many local brand storefronts. You can credit the CEO of Quicken Loans for buying property in downtown and moving the main offices there. I stayed at the Element hotel, which is in the heart of it all. Don't forget to try Detroit Style pizza. It's square and the cheese goes before the sauce!
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.
If you want an incredible view of the city, I suggest the Hilton. That's where I stayed!
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.
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.
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.
-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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.