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!

Monday, April 1, 2019

April 2019 Reading List

In a sincere effort to develop the habit of reading again, I am posting my April 2019 Reading List. I intend to finish reading four books this month.

Michelle's Reading List for April 2019

I am a big fan of this author and this is her latest book that was recently released. 
Decluttering and organizing interest me.

I am also a big fan of Frances Mayes, who wrote Under the Tuscan Sun
I adore devouring Italian travel narrative and this new book focuses on non-touristy, authentic places "through the back door." I picked this up to savor her poetic writing on my birthday trip.

I adore Shannon's first book, her blog, her Instagram account, and her podcast, so I look forward to finally reading her second lifestyle book.

Every few months, I read another book in this series. I have read The Secret, The Power, and The Magic. This fourth book is a guide to your calling and it follows successful people.
I am interested in the law of attraction.

I may possibly read an ebook on my Kindle and a regular book at once. One of the times of day I enjoy reading is before bed and it is important to me to shut off screens in advance of bedtime in order to get a good night's sleep. 
This is my nightstand...

What are you reading?

Monday, March 18, 2019

My Day Trip to Philadelphia in January

I took a day trip to Philadelphia, a city I love, on Monday, January 7, 2019. My previous day trip was in August, so I was excited to finally return! I had such a good time! I mainly visited my favorite establishments, but still discovered a few new things. I'm sure it comes as no surprise that many of my indulgences are Italian!
I took the train, which I favor as I dislike driving, not to mention parking in the city! January proved to be a good time to travel as I had no problem finding a seat. I finished reading my book, The Magic by Rhonda Byrne, on the way. It was good! I arrived at the beautiful train station on time at 10:32 AM and then hopped on the subway in order to get into the center of the city. 

I walked towards my favorite restaurant called Gran Caffe L'Aquila for a cappuccino. This Italian restaurant celebrates the food and wine of a particular region or place by creating a new special menu each week. It is located on Chestnut Street, one of my favorite shopping streets, so on the way, I made a couple of quick stops. The first was Nordstrom Rack. I purchased a couple pairs of cheap yet chic earrings there. One was my everyday small round cubic zirconia studs in a silver setting that I buy there annually. I am wearing them as I type this blog post. My second pair was sparkly drop cubic zirconia pear earrings in a silver setting by Nadri for evening. With my simple, delicate taste in jewelry, this is like a chandelier earring to me. I wore them Friday night when I went out to dinner. The store occupying the space just before my cafe belongs to Sephora. I restocked my signature lipstick, NARS lipstick in Dolce Vita. I wear this everyday.

Just after 11 at Gran Caffe L'Aquila, I ordered a cappuccino and sipped it while seated on a stool at the marble bar. My coffee was so well done. It was delicious. After my second dose of caffeine that day, I was certainly ready to wander the city all day.

Since it was freezing outside with strong winds, instead of walking to a museum in the next neighborhood, I hopped on over to a nearby nail salon, my favorite, Nail Spa Bar. They serve wine! OPI Red is the color I chose. Even though I had not worn this particular shade in years, a dark yet vibrant reddish pink is very me. 

I strolled down Chestnut Street a bit to the H&M. My purchase was two plain v-neck cotton trees, one in black and the other in dark grey. Staples in my wardrobe, I didn't even have to try these on as I remembered my size.

At lunchtime, I arrived at Alice (Ah-lee-chay) on 15th Street for pizza al taglio or pizza cut by the square and how much you want to eat, as the Romans do. I ordered Diavola (spicy sausage), Margherita, and Bruschetta pizza with a small fountain coke. I truly savored this delicious pizza, like that served in Italy, at a table by the window. The ingredients were so fresh and the crust was so good. It made me blissfully happy!


After lunch, I walked past the LOVE sculpture by Robert Indiana to The Franklin Institute for the Vikings: Beyond the Legend exhibit. Whatever temporary exhibition this science museum runs is truly fantastic. And this one was no exception. Plus, it surprised me. Although there was some information on dramatic raids, it focused on the normal daily life of the Vikings. How people live fascinates me and is something I always wonder of former inhabitants whenever I visit a historic residence. There were many artifacts, weapons and jewelry, often intricately decorated, on display. On my way out of the museum, the groups of schoolchildren were gone and I took in the monumental statue of Ben Franklin. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

Then, I strolled down the scenic Ben Franklin Parkway and around impressive City Hall towards the Reading Terminal Market. I adore this place. This large indoor market is definitely a favorite place of mine in the city. My first stop is always Termini Bros., an Italian pastry stand well known for their cannoli. I purchased their incredible cranberry pistachio biscotti as well as a little bit of the chocolate almond biscotti to try. After the taste test, I prefer the cranberry pistachio. I enjoyed them for many breakfasts. Their display case full of delicious desserts is beautiful. 

Around the corner, I also always stop at the Famous 4th Street Cookie Co. Their chocolate chip cookies are amazing! 

I also adore the flower stand in the middle of the market. So beautiful! 

I returned to my favorite shopping district, basically Chestnut and Walnut Streets. On Walnut Street, I stopped by L'Occitane. Even though I use the elegant Roses et Reines Hand & Nail Cream (that seems to be discontinued, replaced by Rose Hand Cream), I order that online, so I am not used to going into the stores. Walking in, I only planned to browse this luxurious store. The sales associate was lovely and I was charmed by her accent. One of the popular items she pointed out was the Almond Shower Oil. I remembered that a chic francophile I follow on social media called it a favorite. After washing my hands with it in store, I purchased the smaller bottle. I used this gel every day for the month of February. It truly moisturized my dry skin in the middle of winter. Plus, it smells nice. I look forward to using this product again when I show a bit more skin during the spring, summer, and fall. I am now a loyal customer! Signed up for promotional emails and all. For my next trip, I plan to test the new version of that rose hand lotion. Instead of roses on the tube, the packaging seems to have a faint architectural print in pink, which is sophisticated. 

At Ulta, a new bottle of Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat was picked up. I love this for at home manicures.

There is a new small bookshop, Shakespeare & Co., on Walnut Street. So charming! I browsed the books and then spontaneously bought a pain aux raisins on the way out. This location gets their pastries from Metropolitan Bakery. I discovered this delicious pastry while traveling in Italy and got my travel partner hooked on them in Paris. The last one I enjoyed was in Philadelphia for my April birthday. I savored this occasional treat for breakfast at home the next morning.

Moving in the direction of the subway in order to go back to the train station, I stopped by another favorite, Di Bruno Bros. This Chestnut Street location is an Italian market, restaurant, and cafe. It is known for their cheese. I picked up a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano in addition to Classico Prosciutto di Parma, a demi baguette (labeled as a ficelle on the receipt), and a bag of Mulino Bianco by Barilla Abbracci cookies (circles of half vanilla and half chocolate that take me back to my study abroad experience in Italy. Abbracci means "hugs" in Italian). At home, I eat the cheese on wheat crackers as part of my aperitivo or happy hour ritual after work and before dinner. I also grate this hard cheese for recipes. My aperitivo may also include a slice of prosciutto and the kinds from this shop are so flavorful that the taste stops you and you take notice. I love these particular cookies with coffee, either espresso or cappuccino. I just ran out of them. In addition to these favorites, I would love to pick up a couple of their spreads to enhance my antipasti boards next time.

This is my Philadelphia haul, minus the chocolate chip cookie I had just eaten for dessert.

Waiting in the train station, I posted a few pictures on Instagram, gushing about my day trip, recounting a few highlights of the previous 6 1/2 hours spent in my happy place. I fit a lot in! My train departed at 5:05 PM. Again, the train wasn't crowded at all. Both ways, I scored a window seat and the seat next to me wasn't taken, which is so nice! 

Last weekend, I booked a 48-hour trip to Philadelphia to celebrate my 35th birthday next month and I am looking forward to it! Please stay tuned for my travel diary. Also, definitely follow me on Instagram @theitaliagal where I share highlights first.