Will and I had seen brochures for Shenandoah Caverns in Virginia for years and had always wanted to visit. When we found ourselves in Baltimore recently, we decided to make the 2 1/2 drive to check it out.
It’s the only cave in Virginia with an elevator and it’s famous for it’s huge pieces of cave “bacon”, flowstone formed by mineral deposits that bears a strong resemblance to the breakfast staple. It’s 56 degrees year round, so you have to dress warmly, but it’s a great 1 hour tour with no stairs that’s easy for everyone.
Shenandoah Caverns is privately owned by Earl Hargrove Jr, a famous parade float designer that worked on many presidential inaugural parades. The property around the caverns holds several additional attractions: Main Street of Yesterday, a collection of antique department store window displays, The Yellow Barn, which holds a country store and antique farm equipment and American Celebration, a giant warehouse full of Hargrove’s amazing parade floats, many of which you can actually climb on.
You can also send a post card to a friend from the tiny, onsite post office!
On the way back, we took a drive through Shenandoah National Park for some spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
It’s no secret to our friends that Will and I love birds. Although we are partial to parrots, we decided to meet some birds of prey at the British School of Falconry during a stay at the Equinox Resort in Manchester, Vermont. Lessons last between 30-60 minutes and can be purchased through the hotel. Although you can fly the hawks outside, we visited during the winter and had to do an indoor session. When we first entered the housing enclosure, Rob, our instructor, introduced us to some of the birds and talked to us about how falconry works.
Finally, he brought out a huge Harris Hawk and let us take turns holding her, flying her across the room and feeding her. It was both exciting and intimidating being so close to such a magnificent, wild animal. She was heavy and there was no doubt in my mind that she was stronger and more powerful than us but, luckily, she was completely focused on eating! While I do have mixed emotions about wild animals in captivity, these birds seemed quite content relaxing on a warm perch most of the day and having their meals served to them. They are let loose and allowed to fly free during the warmer months and they always return because life is much easier and nicer for them at the school. Interacting with the birds was a really special experience and I’d love to return and do the outdoor walk one day!
On our last trip to Las Vegas, Will and I decided to check out the new Neon Museum which opened its doors in October 2012. It’s run by a not-for-profit group that collects, restores and displays old neon signs from around the city. The signs are not only a huge part of Las Vegas history, but they are also incredible pieces of art and architecture.
The visitor’s center is a restored reception desk from the La Concha hotel.
The signs are shown outdoors on a lot called “The Boneyard”.
Among the pieces displayed are signs from the Stardust, the Sahara and the Tropicana.
There are also some non-neon items like this man that used to be displayed over a pool hall.
While most of the signs are no longer in working order, the chicken and the old La Concha Hotel sign, at the front of the park, still light up!
Although it’s open to the public, because of the fragility of the collection and the danger the widespread broken glass poses, visitors must join one of the guided, hour long tours offered several times daily. The Neon Museum is a great museum and so uniquely Las Vegas! It should be on everyone’s to do list when they visit Sin City.
Last summer, Will and I visited Island Beach, a little island park in Greenwich, CT inside Long Island Sound. The beach is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day and can only be reached by private boat or ferry. If you’re a resident of Greenwich, your beach pass will get you there. Non-residents can buy a day pass and ferry ticket. The ride over to the island takes about 20 minutes and runs every half hour on the weekends from 10am-7pm. The beach has plenty of shade, picnic tables and 1,000 feet of sand with areas for swimming and boating. It will be opening for the season next week and it’s a perfect place to spend a hot summer day!
For our last anniversary, Will and I decided to visit Per Se, Thomas Keller’s highly acclaimed restaurant in New York City. Reservations have to be made a month in advance and the menu is prix fixe, 5 courses for lunch and 9 courses for dinner. The view of Central Park was beautiful and we were very impressed that they accomodated our gluten free lifestyle.
We didn’t think the food was the best we’ve had in New York, but the dishes were creative and it was a fun experience. Our favorite dishes were the pork belly with cherries and the coffee and donuts! Click in to one of my pictures to see more of our courses – all gluten free!
Over the summer, Will and I took a day trip to Philadelphia to check out two newly opened art venues, the Rodin Museum and the Barnes Foundation. Both are located in the downtown area, close to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The Rodin Museum, which just completed a $9 million renovation, is small but effective. It houses over 140 pieces by French sculptor, Auguste Rodin, the most famous being The Thinker and The Gates of Hell. The layout is compact, but the space is large enough to wander around the statues and really get a good look at them. While you can get through the exhibits fairly quickly, it may be hard to pull yourself away from the beautiful french garden and reflecting pool outside.
Directly across the street sits the brand new Barnes Foundation, featuring the art collection of the late chemist, Albert C. Barnes. Moving it to Philly was controversial as one of Barnes’ dying wishes was that his treasures always be kept in his personal gallery in Merion, PA. The intention was to keep the rooms homey and intimate, like Barnes’ original setup and, while this is achieved, the presentation is so cluttered and crowded that the paintings get lost in a sea of bobbing heads and nearly overlapping frames. This is extremely unfortunate given that the Barnes collection is perhaps the finest and most important collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art in existence. In addition to holding the largest number of Renoirs in the world, 181, it also boasts 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses and 46 Picassos. The collection is amazing and, ultimately, too overwhelming.
Nothing says summer like a big banana split! From June 8-9th, the sundae gets its own festival in the city of its birth, Wilmington, OH. There’s a 5K, a car show and a build your own banana split stand. The festivities start with the fierce Banana Split Masters Competition in which professional chefs face off to create the best banana split!
The art world is buzzing about the new installation being built at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art called “Levitated Mass”. Essentially, it’s a 340 ton chunk of granite that will be lifted above a pedestrian walkway allowing visitors to walk under the floating behemoth. While it’s not set to open until this summer, over 20,000 people turned out just to watch the massive boulder arrive at the museum on a custom made rig after an 11 day journey from Riverside County, CA. Some people are saying, “What’s so great about a rock?”, but I think there’s nothing more artistic than nature!
Like mustard? Check out the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin. You can learn about the history of mustard, see over 5,300 jars from 60 countries and taste hundreds of them at the tasting bar. You can also buy a jar of your favorite spread in the gift shop!
If you’re a New Englander like me, you’ve probably spent a lot of time driving on Interstate 95 and you know how boring it is. Will and I were in the middle of one such tedious drive a few weeks ago when we came across a new sign for the PEZ Visitors Center in Orange, CT. The candy company has been located in Orange since 1973 but the new public venue only just opened in late December 2011. Of course we had to check it out! The complex is relatively small, but it’s packed with PEZ history and memorabilia. You can see the world’s largest PEZ dispenser, many limited edition dispensers and probably the one you had as a kid….no matter how old you are. During the week, you can even watch the PEZ production and shipping process! Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for children & seniors (kids under 3 are free) and each ticket includes a $2 coupon for the PEZ store. It’s a fun little stop if you’re in the area.