Monday, January 15, 2018

Visiting Chicago with a teenager

Traveling with teenagers can be a challenge. At this age, the last place most of them want to be is with their parents or their family. They enjoy sleeping, a lot, so getting the day started may take a lot longer than you would like. It requires something very exciting to get their attention and  Chicago has an amazing number of things to do that will fit the bill. Play it up before you leave home, make it seem exciting. Let them have some say in what you will be doing but refuse to let them dictate the entire trip.

Depending on where your home is your teen may never have traveled by subway or taxi. This may be enough to get their attention. Chicago has a great subway system and you will be using it to get in from either Midway or O'Hare airport. Traveling by cab is a bit of a luxury but the ability to get from one place to another quickly will keep your teen from totally losing interest.

You will have to use your knowledge of your particular teen to determine which of these suggestions will fit their personality best. The Willis Tower (former Sears Tower) is an experience that can get the heart of even the most blase teen pumping. It is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time, and the elevator alone is guaranteed to get their attention. Once you reach the top, 110 floors above the ground, you will be treated to views over 1300 feet below that will take anyone's breath away.

Rent a bike and hit the bike trails. Yes, they will complain but be firm and you will have a great time riding along the Lake Shore and enjoying Chicago from a different perspective. There are even guided bike tours if you prefer a little help. If you don't have any children under the age of twelve with you, head to Millennium Park and rent a Segway. This is a fun way to see some of the sights; can you imagine your teen saying no to taking a Segway Tour?

Chicago has some really beautiful beaches and this may just be a great way to spend an afternoon if you are visiting in the summer. Then head over to the Navy Pier and enjoy some of the activities there. You can grab a bite to eat, take a Ferris wheel ride or just look at all the great things that they have pulled out of Lake Michigan.

What teen doesn't love to shop? Take a walk down Michigan Ave and let them pick a few stores to poke around in. All the major retailers have outlets here and you can even do a little dream window shopping at some of the really high-end designers.

Try to find some kind of a show to take the teens to. Depending on what is available this is usually some sort of Broadway entertainment. You will need to check before you arrive what is being offered.  Try to find something that might be of interest.

The Field Museum is one of the premier museums of Natural History and Science in this country. I was surprised at what will entertain a teen but certainly Bushman the stuffed gorilla will get their attention. When we visited, the Tut exhibit was being shown and of course, that is gone but there are always temporary exhibits that will keep the whole family happy.

One place we take our teens no matter which city we visit is the Hard Rock Cafe. Chicago, of course, has one and there is always plenty of food to appeal to the picky teen appetite and lots of noise to drown out any whining that is going on.

If your teen likes a challenge, take them to Chinatown and introduce them to dim sum. Learning to use chopsticks and eating ethnic food will broaden their horizons and appreciation of other cultures.

You will want to make sure that you try Chicago deep dish pizza at least once. There are great places to do this all over town.

Chicago has plenty of sports teams and if your teen is a sports fan you can make the attempt to get tickets before you leave home. These teams are very popular with their local fans so get your tickets as much in advance as possible.

When it comes to hotels one of the suite hotels is a good option, something like Embassy Suites or Residence Inn are good choices. Not only do they include breakfast but they allow your teen to have privacy and as a result, you get a little privacy yourself. Privacy, it's a good thing!

Visiting Chicago with teenagers can be a lot of fun, these are just a few suggestions of things to do, and there are literally hundreds more.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Planning a trip to Dulwich Picture Gallery

You might say that Poland's bad luck was England's good luck and in the case of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, this is exactly the case. Commissioned by the King of Poland to create a National Collection two dealers spent five years putting together a stellar collection. It was never to be, Poland was partitioned by its larger stronger neighbors and the King forced to abdicate. Without a sponsor and stuck with the collection, the dealers eventually decided to give it to Dulwich College and the rest is history.

Dulwich is an easy day trip from Central London. You take the train from Victoria Station or London Bridge Station to West Dulwich; it is an easy 10-minute ride. From the station, take a right and then cross the street and go down Gallery Road. It is about a 10-minute walk. You can also take the bus or drive and there is parking along Gallery Road.

The cost of entrance is £7 for adults and 6£ for seniors, while children under 18 are free. The rooms are relatively small, and the lighting is excellent.

Room Five, which is the first room you enter, has two Raphaels, one of St. Anthony and one of St. Francis. They are both part of a larger altarpiece. The second room in Gallery Five has a haunting St. Sebastian by Guido Reni; compare it with the St. Sebastian by Antonio Bellucci, quite a different interpretation. The Bellucci is light and yet tragic, and the Reni is so compelling; it is fascinating how he uses ashen gray for the skin tone, and yet the face is beautiful.

Room Four has six Poussins. The Triumph of David is now the favorite painting of copyist and students. Speaking of students, this is a favorite spot for school children to visit you can expect to see them and their teachers doing their art lesson in any and all of the rooms.  A wonderful painting by Philippe de Campagne of Moses and the Ten Commandments that draws your eyes to that wall is also in this room. A Claude Lorraine landscape of Jacob, Laban, and his daughters is one of his most attractive works (in my opinion). He painted it when he was over 70 years old.

Room Three has a magnificent Reynolds girl with a baby, thought to be Emma Hamilton in her early days. It has a definite Impressionist look, not by deliberate effort but because Reynolds was experimenting with colors.

Room Two has a gorgeous Rubens, Venus, Mars and Cupid, and a Van Dyke of Venetia Stanley on her deathbed.

Room 11 has two Rembrandts and a Dou. Intermixed with the art was some lovely furniture. Between two Canalettos in one gallery is a Gainsborough portrait of an unknown couple, and underneath them is a beautiful French Commode. But the piece de resistance in this room is the portrait of the 4-year-old Princess Victoria. Her grown-up clothes and hat make her look very much the queen, even as a small child.

You get the picture, no pun intended, it is basically room after room of the most fabulous art.

Dulwich Picture Gallery is a wonderful small museum; chock full of the most wonderful art imaginable. It is well worth the effort to come out of London to visit.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Candlewood Suites Mooresville/Lake Norman North Carolina

I love this area of North Carolina, this is the 4th time we have stayed in this vicinity. It is the first time, however, for this hotel. As I have told you before, the downside of Candlewood Suites is that they don't offer breakfast. We buy bagels at Panera to make in our room since we do have a kitchen. Coffee is provided with the in-room coffee maker. 

This hotel is quite a lot nicer than the one we stayed at in Harrisonburg. It may just be newer but the kitchen is much more attractive and we have a larger bed, a huge wall mounted desk that runs along one whole side of the bedroom, a really deep soaking tub and a lamp with a table area on the second side of the bed. 

It seems that this one has addressed every issue that we had with the other location. The pantry was a really good size and they have the same lending locker where you can borrow games or small appliances. Staff was exceptionally helpful in both trying to give us an upgrade and with getting us two additional nights here at the same rate we booked several months ago. 

I also like the fact that they have special parking right across from the front door for platinum, gold and silver elite members. Since I am a platinum elite member we got the best possible parking. They also have a guest laundry so that we will be able to do some laundry to make sure we have clean clothes to wear. 

The location is convenient to I-77, while there are not tons of dining choices at this exit there is a gas station and Jeffery's which we like very much and dined at yesterday. Back at exit 36, there are tons of restaurants and stores so we will go there to get some food. 

I really like this hotel, it is certainly one that I would not hesitate to stay at again and the price was very reasonable. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Candlewood Suites Harrisonburg, VA.

Harrisonburg, VA. is a favorite destination on our trip south to Florida. We have stayed in town on four different occasions, all at different hotels. This time I chose Candlewood Suites which is a member of IHG which also includes Holiday Inn. 

The location is near I-81 and also within a 1/4 mile of stores and restaurants. I was greeted as a platinum member and offered either member points or two snacks or drinks from the pantry, we took the two drinks. 

Overall this is a nice hotel however, the rooms are small and they don't offer king beds. I did request an upgrade but no one-bedroom suites were available and the two full bedded room was on the first floor, I prefer the upper floor. Somehow we always end up with a tap-dancer or a pogo stick user above us lol. 

The room bathroom had dirty hand prints on the door, which I washed off and the headboard had a layer of dust on top. I prefer not to have to clean my room when I stay at a hotel. The rest of the room was fine the tub was clean and had plenty of fluffy towels. What I didn't like was that there is only one night stand so only one person can read in bed. 

All the rooms include a kitchen so that they are excellent for an extended stay and they are also pet-friendly. They do not offer breakfast but they do have a pantry where you can buy things to cook. 

The room does have a recliner and a desk with two chairs so that you can eat at the desk.

The mattress and the pillows were also comfortable. I used the Internet in the room and it was fast and easy to access. The computer in the business center was screaming slow and had Windows 7 so you know it was on the old side. They have a health center which is open 24 hours a day. 

The price of this hotel was at least $20 cheaper than any other in the area and I would stay here again if the price was right. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Minimize your risk of germs on a flight

When you get on board a plane, whether for one hour or for ten hours, you are going to be exposed to all sorts of germs. Germs are everywhere; they are floating around in the air and are attached to everything that you touch in your everyday lives. The air that you breathe on the plane, the "cabin air" is recycled between fifteen and twenty times an hour. Think about it, what else are they going to do? A percentage of the air is supposed to be freshly drawn in every hour but how can you tell if this is actually happening? You can't. Knowing this, there are things that you can do to minimize your risk of germs on a flight.

The most important thing that you can do is to be in the best health that you can be in. If your immune system is compromised or you are very susceptible to germs, there are masks that have been designed to filter the air for you. This is an extreme measure and one that everyone doesn't need to use. Many aircraft use a HEPA filtration system designed to remove most of the particles from the air before it is sent back into the plane. Get plenty of rest before your flight so that your normal immune reactions are up to par. You may want to take a round of immune boosting vitamins for a week or so before your flight.

The air in airplane cabins is very dry. Most of the moisture is removed from it to help to keep the cabin cool. You can fight this in two ways. Use a saline nose spray to keep your nasal passages moist and make sure that you drink water before and during your flight. That, of course, is a double-edged sword, if you drink a lot you need to use the restroom a lot and they are filled with germs from the water to the handles, they are just everywhere. 

Carry jell disinfectant and towelettes (make sure it is small enough to pass through the TSA checkpoint) to clean not only your hands but any surface that you need to touch. Use eye drops to keep your eyes moist as well.

Stay away from any drinks with caffeine which is dehydrating and also avoid sugar. You may want to suck on a sugar-free candy to help keep your throat moist. There are some products that tout themselves as helping to protect you from airborne germs but there is no definitive proof that they offer any help keeping healthy during and after a flight.

The pillow and blanket that the airline provides do not get cleaned frequently enough. If you are healthy, this isn't an issue and being cold during the flight is a bigger risk but, if you are able, carry your own pillow and blanket. The tray and the armrests also will hold germs and your best defense is just to wipe them down yourself and then wash your hands as often as is reasonable. 

Keep your hands away from your face, this will keep the germs away from openings where they can get into your system. Bring your own reading material, the ones that are on the plane have been handled by everyone who has been on that plane before you.

At the end of the day, government studies have shown that it is no more dangerous to fly in an airplane than it is to work in an office when it comes to airborne germs. Your chances of catching something from another passenger or your fellow worker are both about 1 in a thousand. Go ahead and enjoy your flight, practicing your normal everyday precautions will help you to avoid anything unusual you come into contact with.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Famous bridges in the United States

A bridge by definition is a structure built over something so the people can cross. In reality, they are so much more. Some have become symbols of man's triumph over nature, others have become national landmarks. Still, others are so familiar we feel as if we own them. These are just a few of my favorite bridges in the United States.


"The work which is most likely to become our most durable monument and to convey some knowledge of us to the most remote posterity is a work of bare utility; not a shrine, not a fortress, not a palace, but a bridge." - Harper's Weekly (1883) that says it all doesn't it, the Brooklyn Bridge has indeed endured the test of time.

With a total length of over 6,000 feet, this is a formidable bridge. It took over 13 years to build after having been discussed more than 50 years. While it was agreed that a bridge connecting Brooklyn and lower Manhattan was a good idea how to do it without causing disruption to the shipping lanes was an issue that had to be overcome.

John Roebling came up with a suspension bridge design and made a determined pitch to City Hall. He was met with initial resistance but persistence paid off. Brooklyn took the major portion of the risk and they got to set and collect the tolls.

One note of interest, dynamite was used for the first time on the construction of a bridge for the Brooklyn Bridge. Construction came at a great cost not only of money but in lives. Twenty men lost their lives working on the construction .Washington Roebling, son of John Roebling, who had taken over father his father's death, was paralyzed in an accident. His wife Emily learned higher mathematics and bridge building to become her husband's eyes on the site, pretty amazing for a woman in this time period.

Today the bridge soars over the East River at 135 feet at its highest point and this height has become a standard for bridges. It is as amazing a sight today as it was 135 years ago when it was completed.


When it comes to being the most recognizable bridge in the United States, there is no bridge that can compare with the Golden Gate. Named for the straits that it crosses and completed in 1937, this bridge took only four years to construct. Safety measures were used to protect the workers and it looked as if it was going to be the model for bridge building safety. An unfortunate accident took the lives of ten workers all at one time bringing the total to 11. There were another 19 who were saved by the safety net that was used. 

The Golden Gate has been used as a backdrop for several major flicks over the years including Superman with Christopher Reeves and Star Trek VI. When I visited we crossed over and parked on the Marin County side to take pictures, it was spectacular.

"At last the mighty task is done; Resplendent in the western sun. The Bridge looms mountain high; its titan piers grip ocean floor, its great steel arms link shore with shore, its towers pierce the sky."

Part of a poem written by chief engineer Joseph P. Strauss upon the completion of the bridge.


Though it may not be the most recognized of the U.S. bridges, The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is unforgettable. Shortly after its opening in 1964, it was named one of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World and justifiably so.

Covering 17.6 miles it is considered the world's longest bridge-tunnel. Connecting southeastern Virginia with the Delmarva Peninsula, it cuts 95 miles off the trip from Virginia Beach to Wilmington, Del. I know this from my own experience. When our son was stationed at Virginia Beach we would drive to visit him from Conn. and took advantage of the bridge-tunnel to cut down on the driving time.


Covered Bridges are quintessentially American and Lemuel Chenoweth is a giant in the field of covered bridges. Though most of his bridges were constructed in West Virginia his fame has spread beyond that region.

Built in 1852 this bridge played a historically significant part in the Battle of Philippi Bridge during the Civil War. The bridge had to be almost completely rebuilt in the 1980s due to a devastating fire. Located in the town of Philippi West Virginia this bridge is part of the Beverly to Fairmont Turnpike and is the only covered bridge that is part of the National Highway system.


While not originally an American bridge it has found a home in Lake Havasu Arizona. Of course, it wasn't the bridge the buyers were expecting. For some reason, they thought that Tower Bridge was London Bridge. Surprise, someone didn't do their homework.

If you can't get to London you can still see the London Bridge. You won't be too impressed, this isn't a terribly old bridge, it was built in 1831 but it is from London and one of a kind at least in the United States.

While this is not anywhere near all the interesting bridges in the United States, hopefully, it is enough to peek your interest to dig deeper and find out more about the rest.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Andrew Jackson's The Hermitage, Nashville, Tn

Of all the presidential sites, The Hermitage is one of the finest. Located just outside of Nashville, Tenn., it was the home of Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel Donelson. This is the second largest presidential site in the country, but it was very much a family home. It is unique in that it has almost all its original furnishings, right down to the wallpaper, which dates to the early 1800s.

The Jacksons had many guests visit them during their lifetimes and that tradition is still carried on today. There are costumed guides who take you through the house on tours. They will give you details of the lives of Andrew and Rachel and their adopted sons Andrew and Lyncoya, their granddaughter Rachel and Alfred, one of their slaves. A 15-minute video in the visitor center will familiarize you with the history of the Hermitage. After you watch the video, you can take a headphone tour of the grounds.

The Hermitage is never the same twice. History is no longer being made here, but it is being discovered every day. There is ongoing site development. During summer, the Hermitage becomes an active archaeological site. Currently, they are trying to piece together the lives of the slaves, who have been for the most part neglected in the historical records. Visitors are allowed to sift through the dirt looking for artifacts and to question the archaeologists. A wagon tour highlighting slave life at the Hermitage has been added.

There is a construction project as well. The original Hermitage, which was a log cabin, has been restored to the way it was during the slave era, 1820 to 1865, when it was used as housing for workers. HGTV did a feature about it and Alfred's original cabin is also available to visit.

The main house is not large but every effort has been made to maintain it in pristine condition. All the rooms are behind glass and you have to view them from the halls. You need to be able to walk up stairs as the house is not handicapped accessible. When you finish the tour, you walk out to view the kitchen and smoke house and then head out into the grounds.

As you began your tour of the grounds, walk out to the Field Quarter Springs and the remains of field slave's quarters which have been discovered. It is a half mile walk and this is where the slaves, who worked in the fields, spent their time off of work. The remains of four brick cabins have been found and there are traces of two earlier log cabins in the same area. Some of the items from these excavations have made their way into the museum exhibits at the visitor center. They have shed amazing new light on the life of the slaves and what their family lives were like.

What has surprised everyone is that no matter where the slaves worked, in the fields or in the house, there appears to have been very little difference in their accommodations and what they possessed. They all had coins found in the ruins of their homes as well as pieces of dishes, marbles, porcelain doll heads and many other items. Life was hard but there was some time for the children to enjoy toys.

Lastly, you will want to walk in the garden and visit the graves of Andrew and Rachel. There is a small family cemetery on one side. You will also notice Alfred's grave alongside the Jackson's tomb. When Alfred died, he left all his possessions and everything he had been given by the Jacksons during his lifetime back to the house. In exchange for this, he was allowed the privilege of being buried here. It is a wonderful testimony to his love for the General.

In the visitor center, there is a really wonderful museum with additional information and possessions of the Jacksons. Once inside the museum, you will be introduced again to Andrew, his wife Rachel, their adopted son as well as her nephew Andrew Jackson Donelson. In the museum you will find artifacts uncovered during archaeological digs on the property, additional items that belonged to the family and a history that takes you beyond the occupation of the house by members of the Jackson family. Allow a half hour and 45 minutes to visit this museum; there is a lot of information there.

After you leave the Hermitage turn left out of the parking lot and follow the road to the Hermitage Church and Tulip Grove. These are just two additional pieces to the amazing story of Andrew and Rachel Jackson. You should allow the better part of a day to fully enjoy the Hermitage.

If you want to find out more about the Jacksons, Irving Stone has an excellent novel called "The President's Lady" which is an honest and sometimes brutal look at the love story that was Andrew and Rachel Jackson's marriage. He so loved her that he once said "Heaven with be no heaven to me if I don't meet my wife there".

The Hermitage is a must visit for anyone who will be in the Nashville area and has an interest in American history.