Most cities, like people, have a distinct, characterizing personality that can be summed up in short, among from their several other outlying characteristics. Florence is an ancient, romantic city flooding with culture, the arts, history and luxury. New Orleans is a carefree, jolly city of free-flowing drinks, food and hospitality. San Juan is a colorful, sunny city made for those both looking for a big meal and big spending.
When my boyfriend Mike and I booked a 11-day trip to Thailand via Affordable Asia that included trips to Bangkok, Ayutthaya and Pattaya, I immediately got to work doing research on our various destinations, pouring over blogs, guidebooks and the few firsthand accounts I could find. However, I very quickly found myself running in circles. Information was few and far between and through all of the pieces that I read, I couldn’t define a clear picture of what it would look like in my head.
Before New Jerseyans are forced to deal with our never-ending winter, we are blessed with fall, a season so packed with colors and activities that I refuse to go on any long-distance trips during September or October – to me, fall weekends are precious, and needed for pumpkin picking, apple picking, haunted hay rides and cider donuts.
However, for the last two years, my family and I have been taking a trip designed for fall – a long weekend getaway to Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes. For a few days, we check out fall foliage, visit wineries throughout the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, stay in a rustic cabin and sail down the lake.
This year, however, Seneca Secrets, our usual hangout, was all booked up and we figured we would mix it up and head to Lake George, which has always seemed to be a favorite destination of New Jerseyans.
Even though Monday was a pretty rainy and dismal day, with a busy week ahead, I was determined to visit Clinton, a small, picturesque town in Hunterdon County, to at least get a taste of it to prepare for my upcoming column about it.
With fall (supposedly) on the horizon, I figured it would be a great destination feature, and I could get some nice photos, of the town nestled in the deep Hunterdon woods with a 1950s-feel and the signature Red Mill Museum Village overlooking the river.
Having grown up in Long Valley, N.J., which is possible the most boring place in the entire world, I usually can’t appreciate towns that run a little bit slower and take a journey just to make it to the nearest supermarket. Instead, my Long Valley upbringing has simply made me into a bona fide city dweller who needs to constantly be within 15 minutes to the nearest mall, plethora of restaurants, gas stations, airport, bars and other attractions.
However, when my boyfriend, Mike, invited me to visit his parents with him in Lake Ariel, Penn., a small village in Wayne County about an hour and 45 minutes away from my home in Morristown (which is about my cap for time I can spend in the car) I was pretty psyched. It had been a stressful couple weeks and I figured it would be nice to spend a relaxing few weeks in the countryside.
Although I can’t recall much about staying in my grandmother’s outdated bungalow in an area of Carolina Beach full of stumbling drunks and cigarette butts about six years ago, I do recall, quite vividly, our one day trip to Wilmington, about a half an hour drive north.
I remember strolling through the residential historic district, and, even though I couldn’t have cared less about what the tour guide had to say about iron gate styles or wraparound porches, I do recall feeling pretty mesmerized by these stately, colorful homes full of personality and bursting with history, intricate details, elaborate flowers and a deep, cool shade.
I also remember making our way to the commercial historic district, where we flitted in and out of niche boutiques and wandered throughout the cobblestone streets. For someone well acquainted with busy, modern cities like New York, I was pretty enamored with true-Southern Wilmington and its ancient charm at a time when I had yet to visit any other Southern destination.
Now that I’m 25-years-old, most of my friends (and I) are starting to find their way. Finally, those closest to me are escaping from the one-traffic-light town that we grew up in and are heading to New York City, across state lines, to small cities throughout New Jersey, and, of course, to Philadelphia.
Whenever another one of my friends packed up for Philadelphia, I cringed a little inside. It’s an uncomfortable hour-and-45-minute drive from my house and, possibly since I’ve mostly only been there under the cover of night, I’m used to odd happenings on shady streets and staying in dirty apartments. It’s a big, hipster change from my existence in ritzy, clean Morristown.
However, with not much else going on during a boring Sunday and having spent way too much time without seeing my best friend, Aaron, I buckled down in the car for the long journey to visit him for the day.
Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida has never been on my must-see list. In general, I try to avoid places that are filled with children.
However, when my best friend, Dona, invited me there for her birthday to stay in a timeshare that her family owned, I couldn’t really think of a reason to say no. I wanted to celebrate Dona’s 25th birthday with her, I wouldn’t have to book a hotel room and I could go for just a portion of the week that Dona was staying for with her college friends, so I could only take two days off of work. Plus, things have been stressful lately, and I figured I could use a few days away to decompress.
For only $250, I snagged a round-rip flight to Orlando. I can’t remember the last time that I felt so relaxed.
As a classic clutcher of a glass-half-empty, I’m always aware when visiting a new city that I’m probably not going to eat quite as well as I do at home in New Jersey, where I know my fair share of hidden gem restaurants as well as what spots are grossly overrated.
Unfortunately, when traveling, I don’t have this kind of advantage. Instead, I’m at the whim of what restaurants are within walking distance of my lodging, passing recommendations from Uber drivers and how many stars a particular eatery as garnered via a quick Google search.
However, during my recent stay in Durham, North Carolina, for a wedding, I have to say that for one of the only times in my life, every restaurant that we sampled was simply fantastic. Here’s my recap.
Although I’m a seasoned backpacker, I’m definitely not a camper. After a long day of traveling, getting caught in the rain, being stuffed into crowded bars and wandering dirty streets, I appreciate a hot shower, a warm bed and indoor plumbing.
The only time other time I went camping before last weekend, I went with three other people and we all stuffed ourselves into a two-person tent and ate hot dogs for every meal. It wasn’t exactly ideal. So, I was a little hesitant to go camping with my boyfriend, Mike, and his friend Adam to see Phish for three days in Saratoga Springs while camping at Lee’s Campground, about seven miles away from the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC).
Operating as the minority in my Courier News, Home News Tribune and Daily Record newsroom, I am not a sports fan. I probably couldn’t name 10 professional athletes, I have never had a proclivity toward a certain team and I’ve been hopelessly bored at every game I have ever been to.
For this reason, my co-workers were confused when I told them that I was taking a weekend trip to Baltimore, which is widely known for its long and storied sporting history.
Was I heading to Camden Yards, they wanted to know? Were the Ravens going to be home? Would I be checking out any sports museums?
All of this talk made me nervous. Would there be enough for a nonsports fan to do in a city where one co-worker drove over four hours there and back in a single day to see an Orioles game?
Luckily for a nonsports fan like me, Baltimore has a lot more to it than a few games.
Baltimore is a hub of American history, and it is also the site of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, which was the home and business place of Mary Pickersgill, who sewed the garrison flag Francis Scott Key witnessed flying over Fort McHenry that inspired him to write our national anthem.
Check out the house, which was built in 1793, from Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and hop on a self-guided tour for $8.
According to the belief of some, Carminantonio Iannaccone, owner of Baltimore’s Piedigrotta Bakery, is the inventor of tiramisu, making it a must visit for those with a sweet tooth. Iannacone said that while he was living in Treviso, Italy, in 1969, he opened a restaurant, also called Piedigrotta, and created a dessert based on the “everyday flavors of the region” — coffee, mascarpone, eggs, Marsala and ladyfinger cookies.
Piedigrotta, which is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays until 6 p.m., started business in 2002 in Baltimore’s Little Italy and remains a popular stopping point for dessert lovers visiting the city.
If you’re looking to get a taste of the wilderness while still staying in the city, then head to the National Aquarium, which features a living collection of more than 20,000 fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and marine mammals living in award-winning habitats, along with periodic talks and shows held throughout the day.
Through October, the Aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends, but hours change seasonally. Adult tickets cost about $40 a person and reservations are recommended.
The largest city in Maryland is crazy about Edgar Allan Poe, who called Baltimore home at both the beginning and end of his life. Besides countless restaurants, bars and trinkets adorning the city featuring Poe’s likeness, including Annabel Lee Tavern, which celebrates the author with a kitschy flair, fans can visit his home and museum in the city.
The National Historic Landmark, which is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the weekends from May 23 through Dec. 27, costs $5 and features a self-guided tour that takes visitors through the celebrated writer’s home. They can also head to his grave site at the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in the city.
The city districts that cater to tourists, such as the Inner Harbor, Fell’s Point and Little Italy, are very walkable areas, but there is also a much more interesting way to get around — the Baltimore Water Taxi. Even if you’re more than happy to wander, grab an $8 single ride ticket or a $14 all-day pass to travel to 13 stops on the Water Taxi’s trail to get a different view of the surrounding area.
Plus, just as they have been doing for the past 35 years, the Water Taxi employs locals who can give you the insight that you need on what to do, where to stay and where to eat during your visit.
Baltimore may be known for its sports, but it’s got a lot more under its baseball cap — including American history, a famous horror author, lots of sea animals, a trip around the Harbor and the world’s first tiramisu.