Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Kid at Tinturn Abbey

The joy in the photo of my son running free under the soaring ruins of Tinturn Abbey will hopefully go a little way toward changing your mind if you've ever thought, "I'll wait until the children are grown to travel."

I snapped this photo on our second day in  Wales. Our family was there on a work-related trip, exploring the history surrounding  key hotels in order to develop heritage-based programming for each of those hotels. Visiting castles and ruins was a big part of our days in the beautiful Wye Valley.

Running free at Tinturn Abbey

On the afternoon this photo was taken, Brandon and I had already passed a crumbling wall that dated back to the Roman era, roamed the interior of glorious Chepstow Castle, a Norman masterpiece in stone built in 1081, walked along part of the Wye River in an area of the world that has been inhabited since 5000 B.C./B.C.E., had lunch in a 300-year-old pub and would soon be resting in the shade near a stone wall, reading aloud from a book of old Welsh ghost stories we'd picked up from a roadside seller.

What a day that was - full of good fun and non-stop exploration that my son often charged ahead of with a little wooden sword from a gift shop.

There were many more beautiful moments for us on that trip - walks in landscapes that seemed like paintings come to life, sunsets with Welsh wine as cool and crisp as the surroundings - but none stand out more than this moment.

I'll always remember Wales through the wonder in my son's eyes.

Curious to see more of Wales? Three top resources:

The Official Gateway to Wales
Wonderful Wales
Visit Monmouthshire
Chepstow Castle

Sunday, October 19, 2014

'Made in the USA' in Greater Philadelphia

Anyone who has ever accepted the words, “We don’t make things anymore” as truth about the United States left this year’s 10th anniversary DesignPhiladelphia Festival with a much more inspired perspective on what actually takes place in and beyond Center City.

DesignPhiladelphia is where the city’s creative sector - a community 50,000 strong - showcased their best work for the public this year from October 9th through October 17th

The festival, the oldest and largest one of its kind in the country, provided convincing evidence, in the form of hundreds of highly-engaging events, that the Greater Philadelphia area is indeed “making things.”

Philadelphia’s large- and small -scale manufacturers were the focus of this year’s festival.  “It (was) a really diverse group coming together…showing themselves to Philadelphia for the first time,” said DesignPhiladelphia Director, Hilary Jay.“We didn’t know we were a design city 10 years ago but that has become abundantly clear,” said Jay. “We have great talent no one even knows is here.”

Each year the festival sheds light on just how much design matters, how it touches everyone personally. “Design is more than big art… it touches every area of our lives,” said Jay mentioning how each of us move from designing our appearance in the morning to traveling on designed bike lanes and interstates to working in environments that have also been carefully designed. “Design is a thread that runs through all we do.”

Kiki Bolender, Chair of Philadelphia’s Design Advocacy Group agreed. “Through design,” she said just hours before festival kickoff, “We’re rearranging the stuff of people’s lives.”

Only minutes from Center City, work takes place every day that falls in line with exactly what DesignPhiladelphia showcases each year: in a former horse stable hidden on a tree-lined street in Haddonfield, New Jersey, Beth Kreps and Sean Biello design and craft copper into masterpieces. Together with a team of coppersmiths, ironsmiths and metalsmiths they are, "Reviving a lost trade one piece at a time."

Their work graces homes, churches, beach residences and townhouses across the region and tops buildings in historic Haddonfield that range in style from new-build dream homes to treasured landmarks.

Beth Kreps, owner of Coppersense, not only loves the history and craftsmanship behind every project that leaves her workshop/studio – she gets a genuine kick from the significant appeal her team’s work lends to every structure. “We get to be the top of the wedding cake…the great flying birthday candle!” she says about the finials, copper pots and other ornamentation created at Coppersense. “And it’s going to be around forever.”

Forever isn’t far from the truth – each fully-recyclable copper piece her team makes will last at least 100 years and grow only more beautiful with each passing year. 

In conversation, Kreps emphasizes copper’s beauty and durability while pointing out how poorly aluminum compares. The lesser material, she explains, lasts only five to ten years and is often shaped artlessly into functional pieces that add little to the appearance of most homes and buildings. How much does she love copper? Even her 130-pound English Mastiff puppy has a coat that's flecked with shades of copper.

Currently Beth and her team are working on a building project in Haddonfield alongside another group of craftsmen – a team of third-generation stone masons from Sicily who use ancient, hand-built tools. The men, who can boast of having restored cathedrals, darken grout to elegant perfection using a medieval concoction of horse urine and apple cider vinegar.

For anyone who thinks “making things” is on the way out, take heart. Working within only 15 miles of each other near Philadelphia there are 50,000+ people ensuring through their work – on homes, offices, roads, city parks, copper, stone and more - that thoughtful, expert design and restoration will continue to be a part of our lives well into the future.

Photo credits:
Decades of Design - Courtesy of DesignPhiladelphia
American Street Showrooom - by Stu Goldenberg Photography
DesignPhiladelphia Kick-off - by Bryce Gibson
Copper Masterpieces, Copper Sheets, Beth Kreps & 'Baby' - Maria Gorshin
Studio Interiors, Workshop and Masons Table - Beth Kreps/Coppersense 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride: A Roar for a Cause

Most Sunday mornings in Haddonfield, New Jersey start with a hush. King's Highway wakes up slowly, peacefully and neighbors almost whisper passing good mornings. But recently the main street in town woke up with a roar.

A team of men gathered there on a costumed good-will mission.

Their mode of transportation - customized motorcycles.

Their destination - Manayunk, Pennsylvania where they would soon meet with hundreds of other dapper gentlemen for a fundraising ride to New Hope, Pennsylvania.

Globally, hundreds of thousands of riders met at the same time, for the same purpose - to raise funds for a cure for prostate cancer. There were 258 rides in 57 countries taking place that day.

Team Haddonfield rode loud and proud.

At the designated meeting location, Manayunk Triumph, they shouted their hellos.

They met indoors to agree on the rules of the road.

Outside they waited in style for the official start of the ride.

Then they were off. It was kickstands up for a day that made a difference.

Think you might enjoy taking part in the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride next year? It's almost certain you'll find one near you no matter where you plan to be. Check the DGR web site for a ride near you or join our team in South New Jersey. Meanwhile, visit us at Gorshin Trading Post and Supplies on Facebook for local updates and more event photos plus a quick video of what it looked like when Team Haddonfield officially hit the road with hundreds of other dapper dudes!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Celebrities and Sightseeing: A Two-Hour Adventure in NYC

We stepped out of a car in front of The Jane Hotel and directly into the path of a television personality.

Bumping headlong into America's Next Top Model's Nigel Barker wasn't a bad way to begin a mini-tour of New York City in the middle of a rain storm. The family that had invited me to guide them on a Manhattan walk that morning smiled through layers of much-needed rain gear - despite the weather we were off to a great start!

In a short time we covered plenty of territory - we toured The Jane's landmark interiors, walked the High Line where we paused to watch a class led by The Taoist Tai Chi Society, snacked our way through Chelsea Market and walked west toward Madison Square Garden to catch the IRT Uptown Local.

Once uptown we gazed out at a misty Columbus Circle view from The Time Warner Center's balcony - a panorama familiar to Anderson Cooper 360 fans.

We browsed The Museum of Arts and Design's treasure-filled gift shop.

We rode the museum's elevator - catching glimpses of exhibits on each floor - to Robert, the restaurant with penthouse-level views of the Upper West Side. There we caught sight of yellow taxis and red brake lights streaming north along a stretch of Broadway. Gray skies made Central Park's tree canopy appear to glow neon to the east.

Next we walked Central Park South, passing the U.N. dignitaries, secret service agents and black SUVs with diplomatic plates that paused in front of each hotel . A man in foreign military garb adorned with medals, stripes and gold braid stood momentarily carefree in the light rain. He rested his open umbrella on one sturdy shoulder, twirling it. Another man hurried across our path under a transparent 1970s-style bubble umbrella. His two French Bull Dogs lead the way. Each pet wore a polka-dot raincoat.

It was a typical midweek Manhattan morning - eye candy in every color and flavor everywhere you looked. My friends have spent many days in New York. I've spent many years. It didn't matter - we were both loving the flow and buzz of the city in the same way. The thrill of New York never fades.

By the time we'd reached our destination - a relative's beautiful office at the General Motors building - we'd enjoyed two hours of non-stop activity and were ready to rest and enjoy a good visit. What we found was yet another thrilling moment. There's nothing better than a New York-style surprise!

It was this - a birds-eye view of some of the most iconic hotels in Manhattan - The PlazaThe Pierre and The Sherry Netherland.

I'd always imagined that the top floor of the Sherry Netherland housed a grand apartment, maybe one with a ballroom and an enormous fireplace. Instead I discovered that below the building's looming spire stands a more humble New York classic - a wooden water tower.

Only a few stories below the Sherry Netherland's water tower and line of gargoyles we noticed a wrap-around balcony. It surrounds a seven-bedroom apartment that can be yours for $95 million! You can browse all of the apartments that are currently available for sale in the building here.

We started the day with a surprise - a television star - and a stop inside a beautiful boutique hotel. We ended the day surrounded by architectural celebrities - gorgeous hunks of New York masonry - and an epic view of the city's hotel super stars. It was the highlight of the day - one we'll never forget.

For more NYC posts and images plus links to some of the brightest travel spots around the world, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @citygirlwrites. Looking for a guide who can help you explore NYC and Philadelphia? Reach out to me at

Monday, September 1, 2014

Five Ways to Keep Summer Long After Labor Day

You feel great all summer long, so why not make it linger? Here are five easy ways to stretch summer into fall:

·        Rise and Shine: September on the calendar signals “back to business” but serious doesn't have to be grim. Start each day with at least one of the things that made your summer mornings a pleasure. If all summer long you rose early for outdoor workouts, coffee with friends, long walks with your dog or just to be able to enjoy a few extra minutes with your family don’t stop now. Give yourself time to start each day as if it were a Saturday in June.

·       Eyes Up: Summer days spent in open spaces and fresh air can make a return to strict schedules and aggressive commutes feel especially discouraging. A gentle remedy is time with nature. Find a park, green space, rooftop access or even just one shady tree you can visit in the middle of the day near where you work or go to school. Or just walk outside to see the landscape above you in the sky.

·       Mix it Up: Introduce variety to your mid-week schedule not as a “maybe” but as a priority. It could be as simple as dedicating 10 minutes per hour to moving a personal project forward, turning a hurried dinner between your children’s after-school activities into a quick picnic or biking to work instead of taking the bus or doing exactly what you always do but set to new music or in a new setting. Staying engaged with all aspects of your life all week instead of only on weekends makes you happier, more creative and productive.

·      Tastes of Summer: Make yourself believe it’s summer even when you’re wearing a sweater by preparing warm weather dishes. A big pitcher of summer drinks topped with citrus, cucumber wheels or chopped strawberries works too!

·      Change of Scenery: The beach is just as beautiful in autumn as it is during the summer. The same goes for any setting you enjoyed May through August. Make time to enjoy summer places and activities out of season even if it’s only for a few hours or with an overnight. It’s amazing how just a few hours in a place you love can get you back to feeling like the summer version of you fast!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Philadelphia: Out of Snow, Into Samba

Wishing summer would never end? Philadelphia's Brazilian music scene holds the cure for post-Labor Day, cold-weather blues.

It's Always Samba in Philadelphia 

If you endured winter in the Northeast last year - the worst on record - you may be feeling a little anxious about saying goodbye to the long days of summer. 

How will you get through this next round of cold weather? I survived last winter's storms by setting each day to music: the more snow fell, the more samba and bossa nova I listened to -  at home, in my car and in my iPhone earbuds everywhere I went. 

Outside it looked like Siberia but inside I had Bahia, Ipanema, Rio and it was beautiful. 

Rumor has it that our upcoming winter will be just as long and harsh as the last. That’s why I’m already gearing up for the cooler months ahead with more than just playlists of sunny music. I’m adding every samba-related event in Philadelphia to my calendar. 

Afterall, the only thing more fun than listening to Brazilian music is moving to it surrounded by people who love it too.

Joy in Movement

Think frequent doses of Brazil might help you get through the upcoming winter in a happier mood? Then save the links and details I’ve shared below. 

Each one is a prescription for bad weather blahs – good medicine in the form of music, drumming and dancing that you can get your fill of all across Philadelphia now through next summer. I created the list after spending too many weekends traveling to New York City to catch Brazilian nights at SOB’s and samba parties at DROM.  It took me a little while but I finally realized there must be some samba in Philadelphia.

It turns out the sounds of Brazil are everywhere in this city.

Finding the Best of Brazil in Philadelphia

A great resource to turn to when you are looking for Brazilian and all genres of Afro-Latin music and dance in Philadelphia is Philly Loves Drums. The site makes finding great music simple plus it’s the ideal place to find the classes, seminars, festivals and special events that take place frequently across the city – each of them hosted by top musicians.

Your search for samba in Philadelphia will likely take you right to Philadelphia’s Performance Garage, a self-described “incubator of dance” that was crafted out of an old auto body shop. That’s where professional performer, instructor and choreographer, AngelicaCassimiro, leads high-energy samba dance classes that generate sweat and smiles on select weekends throughout the year. 

Each class welcomes men and women of all ages and skill levels.

Follow the Beat

For some of the best dance parties in the City of Brotherly love, add PhillyBloco events to your must-experience list. 

In their own words, “PhillyBloco is a 23-piece ensemble of Brazilian, Samba, Funk, Reggae & other up-tempo music influences from around the world – it’s Philadelphia’s only Brazilian funk orchestra!” Even if you are someone who says, “I don’t like to dance, I just enjoy the music,” get ready – this group will get your seat out of a chair and your back off any wall even as it lifts your spirits.

Alô Brasil events are where you will find yourself caught up in a “tornado of rhythm and sound” in the presence of dedicated artists and stunningly costumed dancers. The artists behind the sound not only generate joy and energy with each performance but leave audiences with a genuine appreciation for the historical and cultural significance of the music they’ve just experienced.

Get Hands-on, Philadelphia

If listening and dancing to Brazilian music isn’t enough you’ll be happy to discover that PhillyBloco and Alô Brasil offer hands-on workshops for all skill levels. 

If you decide to explore your interest in samba even further, consider taking percussion classes on a regular basis at Philadelphia’s samba school - Unidos da Filadelfia

New students of all ages, backgrounds and skill levels are always welcome.

One of the greatest things about Brazilian music is its inclusive nature – while commercial music keeps fans at a distance as passive spectators and consumers, the music of Brazil welcomes music lovers - inviting everyone to add to the joy by participating.

Two All-in-One Experiences

You can immerse yourself in a broad spectrum of Brazil’s culture at Philadelphia Capoeira Dance Center. That’s where you’ll find a full schedule of not only samba classes but of shows, workshops and classes that focus on the Brazilian martial art of capoeira

Capoeira combines music, dance, playing instruments, acrobatics, games and spiritual practice. Exploring capoeira you discover that every aspect of Brazilian culture is as much about feeling (sentimento) as it is about movement.

There’s yet another way to experience Brazil in Philadelphia while kicking off what will hopefully be for you an entire year of warmth and fun regardless of seasons - at the city’s BrazilianDay Philadelphia festival celebrated each year soon after Labor Day. The event marks Brazil’s independence from Portugal with a display of everything that is best and beautiful about that nation’s culture.

I hope this post will help you keep moving and smiling through every sort of weather in the year ahead! 

Do you know of additional ways to enjoy the music and moves of Brazil in this city? If so, please share them with me in the comments below or via Twitter @CityGirlWrites

Sunday, August 17, 2014

NYC: One City Under Samba:

Looking for samba in NYC? It’s everywhere, especially after this summer of Brazil World Cup action and during the current lead up to the Rio Olympics 2016. Here are the festivals, events and classes that will not only help you find your samba smile now through August but will help you keep your bossa nova spirit year round.

What is it about samba that makes it so irresistible? If you love the sheer joy of the music you know the reason – it’s good for the soul. In a world that seems divided and cynical at times, samba thunder rolls in, leading with the shrill call of a whistle, to lift people up and bring everyone together. Under the spell of samba you recognize once again everything that’s beautiful and worth celebrating about life.

Capoeira at Sunrise by Silvia Nikolova

New York’s Biggest Samba Celebration of the Year

Big love for samba and Brazilian culture spills out onto the streets of New York City each year on Brazil Day. That’s when the city celebrates Brazil’s independence from Portugal with a music festival that began in 1984 as a small gathering in “Little Brazil” on Manhattan’s West 46th Street. 

Today it’s a massive event that stretches the length of Sixth Avenue from West 46th Street all the way to the Central Park entrance at West 59th Street. Join the 1.5 million people that are expected to come out for Brazil Day this year on Sunday, August 31st - the festival’s 30thanniversary

Where’s the Party?

Love Brazilian music but not New York City’s August heat and haze?  Then head downtown and indoors during Brazil Day weekend for a pre-festival celebration and three festival day after-parties you won’t want to miss. 

Some of the best samba parties take place in NYC throughout the summer at DROM. Each one is hosted by Samba New York! – the samba school that is central to the city’s samba culture. But on Saturday, August 30th, beginning at 6:30 PM, Samba New York! will bring the energy at DROM to new heights. 

The pre-Brazil Day party will be a not-to-be-missed celebration of dance, music and Brazilian culture. Make sure to be there when Samba New York! kicks off the action with its ‘bateria’ – drum section - walking through the crowd under the direction of percussionist and ethnomusicologist, Philip Galinsky, Ph.D. Expect to spend the evening celebrating within a lively, fun crowd, 8 to 80+, dancing, singing, clapping together and 100% caught up in the moment.

On August 31st, as the festival on Sixth Avenue winds down, the fun will begin at the Novotel Rooftop Lounge in Times Square with the Brazilicia party and at B. B. King’s with the Pagode do Massa party - both events, open to the public, begin at 6 PM. The evenings festivities culminate with the biggest Brazil Day after-party in New York City – “Depois: The ConcertAfter featuring Brasil Live, Grooversity Bloco and top artists from across the U.S. and Brazil performing samba, axe, pagoda, arrocha, funk and more at S.O.B.'s - Soundsof Brazil.

Samba for Every Season

Before, during and after New York City’s Brazilian celebrations in August, there are plentiful ways for you to keep your samba buzz going strong even through the coldest months of winter.

Take samba/Afro-Brazilan classes at Alvin Ailey – a pair of classes for beginners cost only $28. Classes take place at the Ailey Extension building at West 55th Street in beautiful, sunny studios. You’re invited to participate whether you’ve danced for decades or have never set foot in a studio. It’s all part of the Alvin Ailey philosophy – “Dance is of the people and should be given back to the people."

Learn to dance samba from New York's premier samba dance performer, Danielle Lima, at Djoniba Dance Center, where there are, "No tutus, no attitudes" and where the philosophy is, "If you can walk, you can dance." Your first class is free or you can sign up to take a class accompanied by live drumming for only $3. 

Immerse yourself in the full spectrum of Brazilian culture through capoeira – a Brazilian martial art that combines music, dance, playing instruments, acrobatics, games and (depending on where or with whom you study) spiritual practice. New York's Arte Capoeira Center offers a full schedule of classes and performances year-round. Exploring capoeira you discover that Brazilian culture is as much about feeling (sentimento) as it is about movement.

Learn to drum! Samba New York! offers courses that can take you from spectator to performer quickly through fun, low-stress weekly rehearsals. After completing a series of classes you can participate in some of the groups biggest performances of the year including the New York City Dance Parade in May and the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade on October 31st.

And finally, year-round it’s Samba Souls Saturdays at Sounds of Brazil where you can enjoy live performances and dance the night away each weekend beginning at 6:30 PM.

Still not enough samba? Take a Samba StudyTrip! Join fellow New York City enthusiasts of Brazilian music and dance in a hands-on exploration of Rio’s rich culture. 

If you know of additional samba-related events in NYC please share them here or @CityGirlWrites on Twitter and Instagram - the more chances to get your smiles, sweat and samba on the better!