Visiting Philadelphia


Written By: Robyn Roehm Cannon

A fine combination of early U.S. history, world-class architecture, culture, gourmet dining, magnificent public gardens, and city parks make it a destination that everyone should absolutely visit once. Here are just a few things – of past and present – not to miss when you go:

Old City

William Penn and his fellow Quakers settled Old City in the late 1600s. Here you’ll visit some of America’s most important buildings, all within walking distance of one another. In Independence Hall, the very chair George Washington sat upon during the signing of the Declaration is on display. Just seeing it makes all the high school lectures you sat through on the American Revolution become real.

Many patriots and heroes worshiped at Christ Church during the past three centuries. You can still sit in pew No. 58, where Washington was found on Sunday mornings, as well as the pews of Benjamin Franklin (No. 70) and Betsy Ross (No. 12) – who, by the way, was not the old Quaker seamstress we see in paintings. She was an upholsterer in her early 20s when she sewed the first U.S. flag.

Standing arm’s length from the Liberty Bell, in an open rotunda in Independence Hall National Park’s Liberty Bell Center, is an emotional experience and puts the ideals these brave men and women stood up for in bold perspective.

An authentic look at life in the early 1700s can be found on Elfreth’s Alley, America’s oldest continuously occupied residential street. It is named after Jeremiah Elfreth, who built and rented some of the homes to trades people, and sea captains. Amazingly, nearly everyone who has lived on the alley since its beginning has been carefully documented, and twice a year, many residents open their homes for tours.

Reading Terminal Market and the Italian Market

If you’ve played Monopoly, you know Reading Railroad is a prime piece of real estate. The Reading (pronounced “Redding”) Terminal Market was established in 1892, and it still houses one of the country’s best farmers’ markets. Mix with locals shopping at nearly 90 stalls for fresh fish, produce, and baked goods, and choose from a marvelous selection of lunch counters to taste Philly cheesesteak, Amish breads, Italian cannoli, or authentic soul food. The best fresh turkey sandwich you’ll ever eat can be had at the Original Turkey. Owner Roger Bassett is a fifth-generation descendant of one of the market’s first stallholders; he bakes more than 30 fresh turkeys a day and hand-carves them to order. His family also runs Bassett’s Ice Cream at the Terminal on the same marble counter where his great-great-grandfather started in 1893. Vanilla addicts will never enjoy a richer – or bigger – ice cream cone anywhere.

A short cab ride from Old City takes you to Rocky Balboa’s neighborhood – South Philly, where on Ninth Street from Catherine to Wharton Streets many Italian families still live above their shops in the historic Italian Market. Stop at Claudio’s Wholesale, Inc. for an old-world experience tasting handmade pasta, cheeses, imported seafood, unusual sausages, barrels of fresh olives, dried figs, and dozens of vinegars and olive oils. For a fabulous meal, try Sabrina’s Cafe for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This quirky bistro serves everything homemade and in giant portions. Huge whisks fitted with light bulbs make a funky chandelier, paying homage to the historic bakery that occupied the space for more than 60 years.

Neighborhood to Explore

Three delightful neigborhoods to check out are Penn’s Landing, Society Hill, and Rittenhouse Square, where you’ll find a mixture of 18th-century homes, vibrant retail, and myriad dining and nightclub options. Penn’s View Hotel is a small, romantic hotel in a restored brick warehouse overlooking the Delaware River and walking distance to the historic district. Its outstanding Ristorante Panorama serves authentic, trattoria-style cuisine, and Il Bar features the largest wine preservation system in the world, consistently awarded for excellence by Wine Spectator magazine – with 120 bottles always available by the glass.

Another lovely boutique accommodation is Rittenhouse 1715. This charming renovated carriage house just off Rittenhouse Square has only 16 rooms and the most deluxe appointments. From Frette sheets to a nightly wine reception and a delicious European breakfast, it’s a delightful way to spend a night or two.

Great antique hunts can be had on Society Hill’s Antique Row, an eight-block area on Pine Street filled with shops offering wonderful finds. For sterling silver, it doesn’t get any better than Jeffrey L. Biber Antiques. Biber is an expert historian.

Philadelphia has so many terrific dining options, you’d have to stay a month to even make a dent. But a sure bet is any one of the dozen magnificent establishments operated by Bon Apetit‘s 2005 Chef of the Year, Stephen Starr. Alma de Cuba transports you to old Havana in the ’50s (the chocolate cigar gives new meaning to the word “dessert”), while Tangerine, Budakan, and Striped Bass all present a contemporary take on classic cuisines of the world, in environments so beautiful they take your breath away.

Philadelphia’s motto is “the city that love you back.” For sure, you won’t find a place packed with more history and hospitality anywhere in the nation.

Portland: A Foodie’s Delight

Written By: Ashley Griffin

Often overshadowed by West Coast foodie favorites San Francisco and Seattle, Portland is the West’s newest culinary epicenter. Today, trendy Portlanders frequent James Beard award-winning restaurants, shop a variety of expansive farmers’ markets each week, benefit immensely from their proximity to sweeping farmlands and award-winning wineries, and are as food literate a population as that of France or New York. As such, it comes as no surprise that Portland tourists should lead with their noses when planning their travel itinerary.

Begin your stay at a local hotel but forgo the chains; Portland’s indie spirit means there are plenty of boutique hotels to check into. Among them: Hotel Lucia with its sleek lobby and cozy rooms; the glamorous, old Holleywoodesque Hotel deLuxe; Hotel Monaco with its playful decor and complimentary evening wine tasting; and the European-style Ace Hotel that takes up an entire downtown block with an adjacent restaurant, quaint coffee shop, and authentic New York-style deli.

Whether morning or afternoon, a perfect day exploring in Portland start with a cup of coffee and a sinful pastry from one of the many independent bakeries and coffee houses about town. The best baked treats are found at one of three spot: Ken’s Artisan Bakery makes flaky, buttery croissants and rustic breads; St. Honore Boulangeric exudes Parisian charm and makes classic pastries such as brioche chocolat; and Pearl Bakery makes a delightful fig-anise roll. You’ll also find these treats and more at the city’s highly regarded Saturday Farmers’ Market from April through December in theĀ  city’s Park Blocks.

For a rich roast to start or break up your day, visit local favorite Albina Press, whose famous baristas have won multiple coffee competitions. Stumptown Coffee Roasters are another favorite for coffee connoisseurs who enjoy small-batch roasts, French press coffee, and beautiful espresso drinks served in a laid-back setting.

For a casual mid-day activity, wander any of Portland’s four major city quadrants for shopping and more eating. The quaint streets in the Pearl District house block upon block of boutiques, eateries, and the famous Powell’s Books. One could spend an entire day browsing the shelves at Powell’s, an expansive warehouse-size store the rumors to house more books than Portland does residents.

A popular way to experience some of the Pearl’s culinary hotspots is by joining Portland Walking Tours for a three-hour Epicurean Excursion tour. You’ll taste wine, local produce, teas, mustards, beer, coffee, sorbettos, chocolate truffles, and artisan breads, among other treats. While indulging, you’ll also chat with the artisans themselves and glean a bit of history about the Pearl District from your tour guide.

Across the river, Mississippi Avenue provides another, albeit smaller, area to explore. While wandering this artsy district, be sure to stop in at The Meadow. This tiny store sells only gourmet finishing salts, flowers, chocolate, and wine, but you’ll be wowed by the selection found in each category. Then, after browsing the other neighborhood boutiques, act like a local and head to the nearby 820 Lounge, where cocktail maven Lucy Brennan invents delightful libations of all sorts.

Have only a pre-dinner drink here, as there are many restaurants you’ll want to sample during the dinner hour. Portland’s most famous restaurants serve seasonal, locally sourced fare and include the venerable Wildwood, Higgins Restaurant and Bar, and Paley’s Place. Each of these esteemed restaurants has its own style of decor and cuisine, and none should be skipped over on your tour of Portland.

For many of Portland’s new culinary talents, these establishments served as makeshift cooking schools. Chefs from each institution have recently opened their own restaurants or have decided to rule the roost as head chef at another. Chef Adam Sappington (formerly Wildwood) opened Country Cat to serve regional, American home-style cuisine such as beer-batter-fried rockfish and bacon-braised collard greens; Chef Gabriel Rucker (formerly of Paley’s Place) took over as head chef at Le Pigeon. Meals here cater to adventurous eaters with dishes such as pig’s ear pate, beef cheek bourguignon, and a dessert of apricot-bacon corn bread crowned with maple ice cream and warm bacon bits.

Fortunately, for those of us who enjoy caloric indulgences such as these, Portland is also a pedestrian- and bike-friendly city. Here, you can eschew the use of your car for the weekend and use either the well-planned public transportation system or your own two feet to get around. Walking or biking the river-front esplanade in warmer weather (Portland sees its share of rain) is a pleasant activity; for a more strenuous climb, head to Forest Park, where thousands of acres of trails mean you’ll never walk the same path twice.

The Charms of Quebec

Written By: Ruth Carlson

Quebec has adopted the best of France – the cuisine, architecture, and laid-back attitude – and avoided the snooty waiters, rude salespeople, and high prices.

Begin your stay in Quebec City’s old quarter with cobblestone streets and storybook buildings right out of an Ivory Merchants movie. The chic Le Port-Royal Hotel is located next to the most picturesque street in Quebec, Rue Sainte Anne, lined with antique shops filled with treasures you didn’t know you were missing until you spotted them. Nearby is North America’s oldest shopping street, Rue Petit Champlain. Towering above it all sits the stately Chateau Frontenac, the most-photographed hotel in the world and worth hopping a cable car to see the view.

The birthplace of Cirque du Soleil, Quebec is known for its over-the-top festivals featuring street performers. Every August, Les Fetes de la Nouvelle France, or New France Festival, transforms the city into the 18th century and guests are invited to travel back in time. Rent a costume or make your own and walk among the other peasants, bourgeois, and noblemen in the parade follwing the 16-foot-tall papier-mache giants.

The annual international fireworks festival in July and August takes place against a waterfall taller then Niagara Falls. Countries mount elaborate expensive pyrotechnical show choreographed to music ranging from Placido Domingo to Dean Martin.

The largest city in the French province of Canada is Montreal, and the most relaxing way to get there is by train. Your journey begins at Montreal Palais Depot in Quebec, a train station resembling a fairy-tale castle. Splurge for a first-class train ticket to enjoy gourmet food and access to the club car, where you can sip a martini on a red velvet loveseat and pretend you’re in a 1940s movie.

For old-world charm, stay in the chic and minimalist St. Paul Hotel, located in the most historic quartier down by the Old Port. Spend the day wandering through Marche Bonsecourse, a showplace for Quebec fashion and jewelry designers; to find it just look for the silver dome. This shiny beacon was installed in 1847 to guide sailors into the harbor. Pop into the tiny church next door to see ship models dangling from the rafters, donated by sailors grateful for a safe return. If you run out of cash don’t just visit any old ATM. The Royal Bank and other historic money houses are working museums with gold teller cages and marble counters guaranteed to make you feel wealthier.

The most-visited attraction in Montreal is the Basilique Notre Dame, modeled after the Parisian original. The Limoge stained glass windows depict the history of Montreal while the romantic Sacred Heart wedding chapel is the most popular spot for small weddings.

If you get more excited about living landmarks than historic sites, star-spotting is popular. Canada is still a cheaper place to film than Hollywood – the paparazzi haunt the Glove restaurant.

Move stars must look the part, and thankfully the city’s 14 fashion schools supply new talent. For original styles, walk up Boulevard St. Lawrence from the water, go right then stroll down St. Denis, stopping for lunch at the French bistro L’Express. Local designers are showcased in 3 Monkeys, Emily and Lola, and U & I.

The department stores are located on St. Catherine Street, the longest shopping street in North America – don’t you just love the sound of that? The Holt Renfrew flagship store has a quality in-house label, the only clothing most mortals (i.e. non-movie stars) can afford in this exclusive Canadian landmark.

Like the French, the Quebecois take their food seriously. The good news is you’ll save on the meal and the wince since it’s a BYOB, or Bring Your Own Bottle, town.

To stretch your dollars even further, pick up picnic supplies at the Marche Jean-Talon. This year-round farmer’s market, ranked one of the best in the world, is located in the Little Italy section of town. A store on the perimeter of its central square sells local specialties such as maple crystals and ice wine.

You’ll need bread for your sandwiches, and local claim their bagels are the best in the world, thanks to egg-sweetened batter and old wooden ovens. St. Viateur Bagel and Fairmont Bagel, on streets by the same names, are open 24 hours a day, perfect for those hungry movie crews.