Monday, August 26, 2019

Birthday Trip to Philadelphia: Day 2

I took a trip to Philadelphia from April 14, 2019 to April 16, 2019. In this second installment of my three-part series recounting my trip, I share how I spent my full day in the city, which was my birthday, April 15th. I do show you how I eat my way through Philadelphia, so you may not want to read this blog post on an empty stomach...

If you have not read about my first day in Philadelphia, then definitely click here

My day started off pretty early as my phone rang out multiple tornado alerts at around 3:22 AM. Being on an upper floor of a highrise hotel, I read each one, blue light keeping me awake or not.

I left Club Quarters by 8 AM. First, I had a cappuccino at my favorite Italian restaurant in Philadelphia, Gran Caffe L'Aquila, just a block away. It was wonderful.

Next, I grabbed a pain aux raisins from Le Pain Quotidien, complete with French stripes of icing, and savored it while strolling the city streets. 

I rarely have (find!) this kind of pastry and have loved it ever since I discovered it in Italy. I even opted for this over my favorite pastry, a pain au chocolat, on my birthday!

I hit the Reading Terminal Market, an amazing indoor market, just after it opened and purchased a necessity on any trip to Philadelphia, my cranberry pistachio biscotti at Termini Bros. A small bag of milk chocolate covered raisins at another stand was an additional purchase. Not all the merchants were open and the crowds that so often mob this amazing place had not come yet.

On the west side of City Hall, there are these grids of water fountains, which I think are fantastic. So fun!

Next, I went shopping on Chestnut Street. Hopping over to nearby Walnut Street, I had a shot of espresso at La Colombe Coffee Roasters.

Check out that crema! That's the tan-colored thin layer of foam on the top of the espresso that you get when you use an espresso machine, not from my Moka pot at home, or at least from someone skilled. So well done, I was happy with my espresso. Like I mentioned, my sleep was interrupted, so the extra caffeine gave me a much-needed boost of energy.

I purchased a black sleeveless bateau pima cotton top at Talbots and the sales associate ordered one in white for me as my size was out of stock in store. I have already worn the black top with a cardigan and an old favorite skirt to a 90th surprise birthday party with family.

The next stop was Alice Pizza on 15th Street for a pizza al taglio lunch. This is pizza like that in Italy. I ordered a feast! Diavola (spicy sausage), Rossa (spicy tomato), and Margherita (tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil) with a small fountain coke.

I picked the corner table with glass windows both in front of and beside me to people watch. I was there awhile, savoring every single bite, but pretty much finished my meal. It was delicious.

While waiting for my pizza to be reheated, I definitely scoped out the dessert cases, one full of pastries and the other full of gelato.

After my delicious lunch, I browsed the amazing nearby liquor store, which I happen to lack in my suburban hometown.

Even though I made a quick purchase the previous day, I did return to West Elm and browsed this time. I ended up buying the espresso cup and saucer I spotted the day before. It was $6.48. I no longer need to stress over every single purchase! It looks lovely in my new coffee station. That store is on Chestnut Street, but just a block on the east side of Broad Street. My favorite shopping district is on the west side of Broad, where I headed next.

I bought a couple of little things at L'Occitane, which is a lovely shopping experience. Also, I purchased a regular size and a travel size of my Kenra Professional Perfect Medium hairspray at Ulta. (This brand is not sold at Sephora and I was awaiting their big spring sale in a couple of weeks.) I picked up my free birthday gift there too, a lip gloss, but unfortunately the shade was not perfect for me.

I walked through one of the lobbies of my favorite hotel in Philadelphia, The Bellevue Philadelphia, in order to snap pictures of their stunning crystal chandeliers.

So elegant! I will have a chandelier in my home one day...

I returned to the Reading Terminal Market to have dessert after lunch now and pick up a birthday cake for dessert after dinner later. It was lunchtime and the place was crowded. I love the flower stand.

I bought three chocolate chip cookies from Famous 4th Street Cookie Company and then a mini round chocolate cake with layers of chocolate mousse from Termini Bros. Returning to my hotel room whenever I needed to drop off purchases was convenient and while there, I savored one of those cookies. 

This chocolate chip cookie was delicious. I highly recommend this stand.

I browsed the stores in my favorite shopping district a little more. I took a look around the small accessories store Tselaine. Then, I hung out in the beautiful nearby park at Rittenhouse Square. 

The azaleas were just starting to bloom, so instead of colors, it was fairly green at this time. The dark pink azalea is my favorite flower.

Again, I love the fountains at Dilworth Park which is beside City Hall.

How fun is that? Especially in the summertime!

I adore visiting the nearby Love sculpture by Robert Indiana.

At this point, I really should have visited a museum beyond this work of art. I am so used to rushing around on a 4 to 5 hour day trip, not having 48 hours. It was nice to wander the streets and go shopping unrushed, but, still, I needed at least one more afternoon activity on this day. Instead, I hopped on the subway to my old stop in South Philly to check out the cool district called East Passyunk behind where I used to live a decade ago. I even took a picture of my old stoop, but since the house number is visible, I will not be sharing it on this post for safety reasons.

There are murals all over the city.

This one is incredible. The mural program is really cool.

While waiting for my next stop, Barcelona Wine Bar to open at 4:00 PM, I explored East Passyunk Avenue.

There were more murals...

After walking in the strong wind for awhile (which was so much better than 87% humidity and a brief rain shower this morning), I sat down on a bench in front of this fountain, which was in the middle of many intersecting roads.

Sometimes, you don't know what you're going to see... This restaurant is striking in its colors.

But, what really caught my attention was the cardboard cut-out in the window.

Yes, that is Bill Murray dressed in a white suit in the window of this cantina. That is reason enough to go next time!

This was my Spanish wine bar, Barcelona. The one with the Oscar Wilde quote.

At 4 o'clock, I was the first person there, but there were five other parties there already by the time I left. I sat at the marble bar and ordered a glass of Tempranillo ...and then a second later! 

Next, I selected two tapas: meatballs (albondigas) and gold potatoes with garlic aioli and salsa on the side (patatas bravas). Both dishes were wonderful... I didn't care for the garlic aioli, but I do not like mayonnaise much. I was also served good bread (hard on the outside and chewy on the inside, a nice contrast) with olive oil.

I was so happy that I tried this place! I will definitely be back. And sit outside, surrounded by those trees you saw in the picture of the exterior. Exploring this quirky and multi-cultural neighborhood is something to keep on the list too.

After two glasses of wine, I basically floated back to my hotel area. And my favorite shopping area. Across the street from my hotel is a small mall called The Shops at Liberty Place and I browsed its Bath & Body Works.

Sometime that day, I also visited a nearby MAC Cosmetics store. This particular brand is well known for their high quality eyeshadow and would be an upgrade from what I had previously used every day. Two colors of their eyeshadow that I viewed online were on my list and at that point, I was beginning to run low on my current eye makeup, so I went in with the intention of simply seeing the two specific shades in person. The helpful sales associate showed me the two and created a custom duo palette for me. I told her that I would take them. With a new loyalty program discount, it turned out to be cheaper than my inferior eyeshadow duo. The colors are Shroom and Cork, perfect for le no makeup look. I have used it every day since.

The black palette with a clear window has magnetic closure.

Shroom on the left is a shimmery cream color that I apply under my eyebrow as well as on the inner and middle parts of my eyelid. Cork is a matte warm-toned light medium brown that I use a bit of in my crease and just a sweep onto my outer lids. They blend well for a natural look. I think I will repurchase Shroom, but may look for a matte cool-toned light medium brown shade before going with the warm, almost reddish, Cork again. And definitely at the Philadelphia location.

Anyway, after a bit of shopping and browsing in the area, I savored my birthday cake in my room.

It was delicious. I was full and not interested in the two chocolate chip cookies and soft pretzel on the desk.

In checking birthday wishes on my social media accounts, I learned that Notre Dame was burning that day when I saw an image on Instagram while sitting on a bench in Rittenhouse Square. The world stopped for a moment. I couldn't investigate it further at that time. So sad. I saw it in person five years ago that week of my trip (for my 30th birthday). In my favorite coffee shop near my hometown, they have a Where have you bean? photo wall and I am holding up their card in front of Notre Dame. Not the Eiffel Tower. When you visit this cathedral, it has an impact. After studying art history, I adored seeing its ornate architecture on either side of each door in real life. I love its rose window too. I daydreamed seeing the holiday light show on its facade in person. That evening, in my hotel room, I watched Jennifer's video on this event on her YouTube Channel, The Daily Connoisseur. And I left a comment. Since my birthday, I am happy to hear that they are rebuilding. [Hopefully, people will also take action regarding the Amazon that is currently burning on the day that I am writing this.]

I went to bed excited for my time in the city the next day. I was going to visit an attraction that I have wanted to see for ten years, so definitely stay tuned for the last post in this Birthday Trip series.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Birthday Trip to Philadelphia: Day 1

I celebrated my birthday with a trip to Philadelphia, a city where I once lived and still absolutely adore. Having 48 hours in the city, I arrived at 3:15 PM on Sunday, April 14, 2019 and departed at 3:30 PM on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. My birthday is April 15th, so I got to spend the whole day in my favorite US city. I had a fantastic time! My plan is to share about the three days of my trip over three blog posts as one overview would have simply been too long.

I left for my trip after lunch on Sunday. The Amtrak train was packed, but I was grateful that I finally found a seat. I arrived at 30th Street Station, where I noticed a change, the departures board was a gigantic screen, not the old-school yet charming black and white board with the spinning numbers and words. I suppose the TV is more efficient though.

Coming out of the station, it was sprinkling. I hopped on the subway to ride until the next stop, 15th Street, to arrive downtown, or "Center City." First, I checked into my hotel, Club Quarters Hotel Philadelphia. This is the first time I have stayed in this hotel. I picked it for its amazing location on Chestnut Street, just steps away from a few of my favorite places to dine and shop, plus its great rates. 

I took an elevator to the lobby and later, another elevator to my floor, where you needed your key card. My room resembled a long hall that opens up around the bed. It was definitely good and clean for a couple of nights in an exciting destination. 

There was a wall-mounted flat screen TV at the foot of the bed and a Keurig coffee station next to a table with chairs.

The work of art above the bed was cool. It was made of vertical strips of photographs of old and modern Philadelphia juxtaposed.

The tall window in a recessed area near the bed had this city view along Chestnut Street.

The utilitarian bathroom was on the left when you first entered the hotel room, opposite a little closet. This was the left side...

The shower was on the right.

Second, I got a manicure at my favorite salon in Philadelphia, Nail Spa Bar, nearby. I brought my own color, my current favorite, OPI Dutch Tulips. I confided in my manicurist that I had to have my favorite color for my birthday manicure. Then, all of a sudden, the lights were turned off and I was presented with a lit birthday candle on a heart-shaped ashtray on top of a saucer while the birthday song was playing on the salon's music player. I blew out the candle, making a wish. They gave me a birthday gift of this body olive oil too. It was sweet.

After my professional manicure and relaxing experience, I walked down Chestnut Street, ready for some shopping. I stopped into Nordstrom Rack for a look at their earrings as usual, but actually walked out empty-handed. Next, across Broad Street, I stopped into West Elm and asked a sales associate for a specific item and then checked out immediately. I purchased this Square Lacquer Tray in Metallic Silver for my coffee station (a new project I recently completed). I did spot a white espresso cup and saucer that looked like a miniature cappuccino cup and saucer in the store from afar. Cute. As a minimalist, I don't need any more of those, but it did catch my eye...

On my way to Marshalls, I walked down Market Street and there was a new TJMaxx! I had no idea... I checked out its home department. After that, I perused the home department at Marshalls as well. I love home decor. I strolled a little more down Market Street, and then turned left to explore Chinatown. This is the magnificent gate...

While wandering the streets, I browsed a small souvenir shop and then chose a place for dinner. I opted to carry out my beef and broccoli with sticky rice. It was fantastic to explore a neighborhood that I do not tend to cram into my usual day trip, a cultural one at that. 

Walking back towards my hotel, I stopped at Walgreens for a caffeine-free soda. As I am sensitive to caffeine, it would not have been a good idea to have after 2 PM. Unfortunately, they did not have a cold bottle of Caffeine-Free Coca-Cola, so instead, I got a root beer, most of which do not contain caffeine. I also grabbed a cold bottle of water. Another stop was Insomnia Cookies, a place that I had heard about awhile ago and decided to try on this trip when I discovered that it was located just around the corner from my hotel. It was a tiny store and the line was out the door. I ordered two chocolate chunk cookies.

In my hotel room, I ate my beef and broccoli dinner. It was okay. I finished the main dish, but, honestly, it was a bit underwhelming. Kind of plain, there was not enough sauce, flavor, or something to marry the two main ingredients.

The cookies were absolutely delicious though. I will definitely return.

I spontaneously decided to go back out for some better food. My favorite Italian restaurant in the city, Gran Caffe L'Aquila, was just a block away from my hotel. I took a seat at the upstairs bar and ordered a glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (the wine of the region where I studied abroad in 2005. Also, L'Aquila is the capital of this Abruzzo region and also where the owners had a cafe prior to a major earthquake). The striking thing about this wine was its velvety feel.

From the menu, I also selected tomato and basil bruschetta. Besides having little to no basil, this was well done in every other way. So delicious!

After paying the bill, I went downstairs and ordered fondente (dark chocolate) gelato to go.

This was amazing too! I savored this decadent treat while strolling up and down just a couple blocks of Chestnut Street. At night. Even on a Sunday night around 8, long after the stores closed at like 6, there were still so many people out and about, walking. I would never consider walking alone in my hometown or so many places in this country after sunset. I am happy that I went back out, even with blisters on my feet. I swear that I walk in these exact shoes, a pair of black ballet flats, all the time at home. I did walk a lot though.

I went to bed happy as well as excited for the next day, my full day in the city on this particular trip and my birthday. Definitely stay tuned for that upcoming blog post!