Monday, February 13, 2017

My favorite Philadelphia museums

Philadelphia has some of the finest museums in the country. It is a very easy city to visit with plenty of parking, good public transportation and streets that are easy to find and to navigate. Unlike most big cities getting around in Philadelphia is not difficult at all. Here are a few of my favorite museums to visit alone or with the family.

Constitution Museum
This is more than just a museum it is a sound and light show within a museum. You are taken on a journey through the history of the American Revolution and beyond to the writing of the Constitution in the show called “Freedom Rising”. After the show, you visit the museum where you get to walk among life-size statues of the men who drafted the Constitution. The surprise is who is there and who isn’t.

Children will love being able to walk into a voting booth and actually place a vote. The three branches of government are explained in detail in an interesting and interactive fashion. The museum is filled with fascinating exhibits, allow two hours to see the show and view the hands-on exhibits. This museum will be interesting for adults and children. Entrance fee charged.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

The front of this building is one of the most recognizable buildings in Philadelphia thanks to the movie Rocky. The actual entrance is on the other side of the building. The Phlash bus will drop you off right at the museum or they do have limited parking available. Sundays are free, well not exactly free they want a donation, you get to pick the amount. Headphone tours are offered ($) including the director's tour which highlights the director's favorite pieces. 

This is a world-class art museum with fantastic old world master, impressionist, sculpture including a very famous bust of Benjamin Franklin. I love the rooms that have been preserved from houses both in this country and Europe. The grandchildren loved the oriental art and the Temple of the Attainment of Happiness. There are special programs offered for children, a visit to their website will tell you exactly what is being offered and when. Two very good restaurants and a great gift shop complete a visit here. Allow several hours minimum.

Atwater Kent
The History Museum of Philadelphia

This is a small museum near Independence Park that tells the history of Philadelphia through her people and not just the famous ones. This is a museum of immigration and industrialization. You get a good look at what has made Philadelphia into the city it is today. This goes way beyond the twenty or so years of the American Revolution. It includes exhibits on the Native Americans and a very interesting Rogues Gallery of photos. One of its treasures is a complete collection of the Saturday Evening Post illustration by Norman Rockwell. Allow about an hour, there is an entrance fee.

Franklin Museum of Science

If you are visiting Philadelphia with children this is a must-see museum. Not to imply that adults won’t find it interesting but children will be in their glory. There is a planetarium, an IMAX theater and exhibits that run the gamut from a heart that can be walked through to the latest in NASA technology. Want to know what you will look like when you are 90? This is the place to see your transformed image. Some exhibits constantly change so this never gets old. Allow 3-4 hour or more for a visit. The Phlash bus has a stop right across the street.

Academy of Natural Science

This is another Museum that will fascinate children. They can see the first mounted dinosaur skeleton, dig for fossils or if they want to have a good laugh, get eaten by a dinosaur. There is a theater with a live animal presentation, the last time we were there , it was some very large snakes. There are also displays of stuffed animals as well as a section with live animals. Allow an hour or two for this museum, even the tweens loved it. Entrance fee

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

This is one of my favorite museums. It has wonderful Moorish architecture and some very fine works of art. Docent lead tours are offered and they are very interesting. We were the only ones on our tour so it was very personal. You can also choose to take a headphone tour. Expect to be delighted with the great collection of American paintings by the likes of Gilbert Stuart, the Peales, Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins and much, much more. There is a monumental painting by Benjamin West that will greet you as you walk up the stairs. Allow an hour, more if you enjoy American artists. Or if a special exhibit is going on. Entrance fee.

Mutter Museum 
College of Physicians and Surgeons

If you are traveling with teens or tweens this is a must. It has the greatest collection of weirdly fascinating medical information that I have ever seen. Want to see Eng and Chang’s shared liver? It’s here. Grover Cleveland’s tumor, yes it’s here too. There are cases of all sorts of body parts, limbs, internal organs, skulls and skin. It’s gross, the kids will love it. Plan to spend at least an hour maybe more. Entrance fee.

The next time you visit Philadelphia allow some time to visit her many museums. This article is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what is waiting. After many visits, I am still discovering new museums to visit on every trip.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Holiday Inn Valley View Roanoke

This modern hotel is located about 5 miles from the heart of downtown Roanoke. It is located quite close to the airport and with easy access to 581/220 you can be just about anywhere you want in just a few minutes.

This 5 story hotel has a beautiful lobby with a fireplace and couches for relaxing. The restaurant is also located in the lobby and serves breakfast and dinner. You can grab a complimentary cup of coffee while you check in.

All of the rooms in the hotel are on the right side. The left side has the meeting and conference rooms. Our room was a king room and was exceptionally large. You enter into a foyer which has two large windows that overlook the lobby, restaurant and pool area. You then walk down a hall with the bathroom on the right. The closet is open and includes a luggage holder an iron and an ironing board as well as additional bedding.

The room has a coffee pot on a cupboard that holds the mini fridge. The cupboard above has the microwave. A desk with a very comfortable chair offer the perfect place to work and free WiFi is available. The TV sits on a dresser that faces the bed. I did say the room was large didn’t I? It also includes a sofa and a coffee table, two nights stands and a king size bed. The room has plenty of plugs including at the desk and on the nightstand lamps.

Three lamps and a pole lamp provide plenty of light and the hall and the foyer have overhead lighting. The bathroom has a large granite vanity and a shower/tub combination. An abundance of hot water and good pressure make taking a shower enjoyable. The towels while not plush are generous and absorbent.

The bed has a firm mattress that gave us a very good night’s sleep. I would prefer to have real down or feather pillows but the ones provided are both firm and soft. They have bands around them when you first come into your room to tell you which is which.

The area where the hotel is located has several other hotels and some stores. Within just a short drive of a mile or two there is the Valley Mall which not only has a great selection of stores but also plenty of restaurant options.

A gym, an indoor/outdoor pool and a hot tub are also available. The hotel partners with Gold’s Gym if you need more than what the gym here offers. Plenty of free parking is also provided.

This is a very nice hotel in a convenient location within just a few miles of I-81. It is extremely easy to get on and off the connector road and also into downtown. It was clean and in good repair and has everything that business and family travelers could want. I would not hesitate to recommend the hotel or to stay here again myself.

Monday, February 6, 2017

O. Winston Link Museum Roanoke

If like me, you have never heard of O. Winston Link, you are in for a real treat when you visit the Link Museum. It has an amazing location in a passenger train station, it couldn’t be more appropriate. It also shares the space with the Roanoke CVB which means you will have access to lots of great information about the Roanoke area.

O. Winston Link was a photographer and also a civil engineer. His official training was in engineering but his passion was photography and his love was steam trains. Between 1955 and 1960 he documented the final days of the Norfolk and Western steam powered trains.
Even if you don’t know his name you probably have come across his fascinating and evocative photographs. He realized that photographing the trains at night allowed him to control the atmosphere and lighting and with the cooperation of the railroad, he was able to captures the very essence of the steam train.

The Link Museum documents not only his life and works but the history of the Norfolk and Western Railroad. You don’t have to be a railroad fan to fall in love with his photographs, they cross all class barriers and give you a picture of life here in the Roanoke area in a time that has passed us by. He was amazing at capturing the soul of an era and the people whose life he touched.

Your first stop should be the gift store where you purchase your entrance ticket. Please check out their website for current fees.

I am going to suggest that you begin your visit by watching the 30-minute film ‘What A Picture I Got” in the General Electric Transportation Theatre on the lower level of the building. You will understand better what went into the making of these photographs after you have watched the movie.

After you watch the movie you can continue to tour on the lower level or you can return to the upper level to begin the tour, it is your choice. You will be given a booklet which takes you on a numbered tour of the exhibits in the museum.

While his photos form a large part of the exhibits, there is much more to this museum. It is about the history of the Norfolk and Western Railroad. Link had a love affair with the steam engines that were created in the adjacent motor shop especially the class A-1218. It was his dearest wish that this engine be preserved and it was.

Mr. Link was a self -trained photographer with a natural eye for what was appealing. In some of his most evocative photos, the trains are in the background and he captures a moment in time. Walking through the galleries is fascinating even if trains are not one of your passions and if you are a steam train lover, this museum is a must.

If you plan to watch the movie, allow at least an hour and a half to do justice to this unique and wonderful museum.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Visiting the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum Lisbon

In order to understand this museum, it helps to know a little bit about the man who created it. Calouste Gulbenkian was an Armenia who made his fortune in petroleum. He amassed a fabulous collection of art and decorative arts during his lifetime. He was able to take advantage of many people's bad luck to add to his collection. His amazing Rembrandt of the old man was originally part of the collection of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, He came to Portugal in 1942 escaping from Paris and looking for a place far away from the ravages of the World conflict, he found it in Lisbon.

This museum is located a little out of the center. There are two museums here, one of modern and contemporary art which appeared to be very popular and the more classical museum. The collection spans ancient times to the Impressionists. 

You begin your journey through the museum chronologically. Entrance 10€. You can also pay an additional amount for an audio guide. 

The collection begins in ancient Egypt with items in the first room and moves into the art of Islam and the Far East. The Chinese porcelain collection is outstanding with some of the largest ginger jars I have ever seen and they are gorgeous in a rose medallion pattern.

The furniture collection here is outstanding. The highlights are a chest by the French master cabinet maker Boulle as well as some outstanding tapestries. Cases filled with Sevres china and some pieces that belonged to the French royal family are on display. An entire room of silver is bound to impress. One of the silver lids was commissioned by the Duc Orleans. Aubusson tapestries and much more will keep you enthralled as you walk around.

But what we came to see was the art. It begins with early Flemish works including St Catherine by Rogier Van der Weyden. Enjoy viewing the many Guardi paintings of Venice and the three Rembrandts. A fine collection of English portraits by Romney, Gainsborough and Lawrence is also offered.

The Impressionists are well represented here with several very fine still lives from Fantine Latour and portraits by Manet, Degas, and Mary Cassatt. There is a wonderful painting by John Singer Sergeant. The last room you visit is the Rene Lalique room. It includes some outstanding pieces of Art Deco jewelry pieces with gems and semi-precious gems.

A gift store is located on the lower level with a small select group of offerings. There is also a shop near the rest rooms and cafeteria. This is a great place to have lunch; they offer hot meals, soup, sandwiches, quiche and fresh fruit and dessert. You can eat outdoors on the patio and enjoy the general feel of the location, we certainly did.

A small garden flanks the front and the side of the museum. Taxis are easy to find and inexpensive. The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum will take about an hour to see and if you add the contemporary museum another hour. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Sargent House Museum Gloucester, Ma.

Located on Middle Street, but accessible from Main Street, you need strong legs to climb the three set of stairs that scale the terraced yard to the Sargent House Museum. When the house was built, Main Street was called Front Street and was on the waterfront. It would have offered Judith stellar views of the family ships coming in and out of Gloucester Harbor.

 The terraced lawn was designed to impress and it still does today over 200 years later. Built in the classical Georgian style of the period, the original house had four main rooms with an L addition that contained the kitchen and servants quarters. The house today includes an 1805 addition but not the kitchen and servants quarters.

Before visiting this house, it is important to know the woman who owned it. Judith Sargent Stevens Murray was quite an amazing woman. Born in 1751 she wanted more than anything to learn all the things that her two brothers were learning but because she was a girl, according to an article by Bonnie Hurd Smith for the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society she had to be satisfied with “An ill-taught old Woman” who taught Judith rudimentary reading and writing skills; her mother provided her with “a pretty extensive acquaintance with needle work, in all its varieties, with a general idea of family business and arrangement” to prepare Judith for “the department it was presumed [she] should be called to fill,” meaning, marriage. Contrary to Sargent family legend, Judith did not study alongside her brother Winthrop while he was tutored to enter Harvard. “In vain did I solicit to share, in those instructions, which were so liberally allowed to him,” Judith explained years later to Mary Pilgrim.”

Luckily for Judith, her family had an extensive library of which she availed herself and she became one of the best educated women of her time. So well educated in fact, that when her nephews from Mississippi needed to be tutored for entrance to Harvard, her brother Winthrop sent them up north for her to tutor.

An article about Judith could go to thousands of words, but this is about her home in Gloucester. Tours are $12 and are done whenever there are people who want to tour. The house is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday noon to 4:00 p.m Memorial Day to Labor Day. The tour begins out front with information about the exterior of the home and then goes through the six rooms that are now open to visit. Of particular interest is Judith’s writing nook which is in her bedroom.

The docent for the visit was very knowledgeable and the tour will last as long as your interest. If you have questions, it will last longer; no questions, quicker. The house is furnished with family pieces but most of the items did not belong to Judith since her furniture was sold to pay the debts contracted by her first husband. Included in the house are a few rare drawings done by her grandnephew John Singer Sargent, the grandson of her brother Winthrop.

If you are a history lover, a feminist or an art lover, you must include a visit to this house museum any trip to Gloucester. Judith was a fascinating woman and counted among her friends John and Abigail Adams, George and Martha Washington’s and many other prominent families of the day. Her second husband John Murray; was known as the founder of Universalism in America and you will hear some interesting stories about the conflict between the Congregational Church and the new Universalist Church during the tour.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Spring break destinations in the northeast

Spring is a time when students get a break from their work and with their families will be heading to some of the most popular destinations in the country. Many people will be going south to the warmer climate but there are others who prefer to stay in the northeast and enjoy what the area 
has to offer.

Killington, Vermont
For families and college students who are looking for a great ski experience, Killington Vermont offers the opportunity to enjoy spring skiing to its fullest.

When it comes to staying in the Killington Vermont area there are a lot of vacation rentals, chalets, condos and apartment and homes. There are also local motels, hotels, and some very special inns. This website will help you to research and choose the place that fits you best.

In the evening there are many places that offer good food, entertainment, and opportunities to enjoy the company of other spring breakers. For music and dancing head to Tabu Nightclub or The Pickle Barrel.

Lake George Great Escape
If you and your family are dreaming of spending spring break enjoying the water but you just can’t afford to fly the family down to a warm destination, then head to Lake George and the Great Escape Lodge and Indoor Water Park. The whole family will find the park a great way to spend the day. There is the family raft ride as well as tube slides and Surfing lessons just to name a few of the activities that you will find at White Water Bay.

Once you have gotten wrinkled and decide to dry off you can head to Johnny Rockets for lunch or dinner or send the kids and your husband off to the arcade while you spend an hour or two at the spa. If you want to enjoy the early spring skiing in the area, there are several mountains within easy driving distance.

North Conway, New Hampshire
North Conway is a popular destination year-round for its tax-free shopping. Great outlet malls offer hours of retail therapy once you have finished enjoying the downhill and cross country skiing that the area has to offer to spring breakers of all ages.

If you want to take the family to the city for spring break, New York, Boston, Hartford and Providence all offer the opportunity to be culturally enriched while enjoying early spring sports and if you are really lucky an opportunity to enjoy some last of the year outdoor ice skating.

The northeast may be a little chillier than the southeast but it is a hot place to visit for spring break.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Walking on Benefit Street in Providence

Benefit Street in Providence Rhode Island is an amazing street to just walk down. The architecture on the street takes you from a historic 17th century home to RISD, where current artists study and create beautiful works. 

Walk down the sidewalks of brick and appreciate the period streets lights. In many ways, as you look away from the street, you can feel the history all around you. It unbelievable that this was almost lost to redevelopment in the 1950's. Thank goodness there was not enough money to see the plans carried out. 

If you are walking from the west side of the city, down Washington Street and up the hill, you will find yourself taking a stroll back in time. The first building that you see in the area isn't located on Benefit Street, it is one block off but it is so historically significant that it has to be mentioned.

The First Baptist Church

The stunning white steeple is impossible to miss as you walk or drive into the area. This church is beautiful and very historic. It is a tribute to Roger Williams and his belief in freedom of religion. A congregation was founded here in 1638 by Roger himself. The current meeting house dates from the Colonial period, having been constructed right before the American Revolution. As a matter of fact, many Boston carpenters had migrated to Providence in search of work since the harbor at Boston was closed down by the British and they greatly helped expedite its construction.

The style is a combination of English Georgian and good old New England Meeting House. The steeple is a Georgian addition. If you have the chance, this is a wonderful building to tour. It has very limited opening times however and it may good old fashioned luck to find it open.


As you turn right onto Benefit Street from North Main, the buildings on your right belong to RISD, the Rhode Island School of Design. The buildings that comprise the museum have been added to over the years beginning in the late 19th century and part of the building was designed to replicate the home of Charles Pendleton. It is built in the Federal Style which is very sympathetic with other building along the right side of Benefit Street.

Providence Athenaeum

This subscription lending library is right across the street from RISD and the first thing you notice is the wonderful water fountain in front. The Athenaeum itself is built in the Greek Revival Style which was the fashion when it was constructed in the 1840's. You can visit the Athenaeum and tour through its wonderful stacks. The staff is more than happy to give you any information about that building that you might desire.

Benefit Street itself has brick sidewalks and beautiful reproduction lampposts that contribute to the feeling that you are a time traveler. Many of the colonial era homes are sitting almost on top of the sidewalk so you get a very good look at them. They are all painted bright colors in keeping with their historic past, it does indeed contribute to the atmosphere on the street.

John Brown House

The John Brown House is one of the "Mansions on Benefit Street" and is one of the most magnificent anywhere. Done in the late Georgian Colonial style, it was built slightly after the American Revolution and was been a family home for several generations. It is now the home of the Rhode Island Historical Society and you may take a guided tour of the house. This is not the John Brown of Harper's Ferry fame, this is the John Brown of the China trader who Brown University is named after.

Governor Stephen Hopkins House

This historic colonial home was built in 1708 and purchased by the governor in 1742 and is a personal favorite. The tour of the home and small garden is self-guided but a docent is available to answer questions. The style is very typical of that period and you need to be able to climb some steep stone steps to visit here. The house is only open during the warm weather.

The "Mile of History" has other historic mansions, churches, and houses that may be seen on a historic walking tour either guided or on your own. This is the perfect place to spend an hour or two when you are visiting Providence and there is even a bed and breakfast if you find you want to stay in the neighborhood.