Friday, April 11, 2014

The National Cherry Blossom Festival: Pink Even Off-Peak.

Timing is everything when it comes to The National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., a lovely, lively, month-long springtime event that marks the official end to winter doldrums. 

But our timing was off. 

My mother and I coordinated our schedules and planned our trip to D.C. to match predictions for peak blooming. We imagined ourselves enjoying a sunny, warm weekend surrounded by color and blooms. We arrived in D.C. to cold, gray and pouring rain. Most trees were at the "peduncle elongation stage" - trying hard but not quite flowers yet. Could this trip be saved?


Hints of pink just steps from The White House.

Washington, D.C provided plenty of reasons to smile.

A Japanese Magnolia abloom in The White House Garden. 

The scent of fresh spring was in the air, the hiss of wet city streets muted D.C.'s bustle and there were no crowds.

Rose-tinted skies above The Capitol Building.

Even making restaurant reservations was a breeze. And if you looked carefully, there was a rosy glow with hints of pink everywhere.

A Treasury Department visitor brought a touch of pink to a gray day.

If you're on your way to The National Cherry Blossom Festival this weekend, you're in for something special. Over 70% of the cherry blossom trees along the Tidal Basin are now in peak bloom! Join the festivities then wander - Washington, D.C. is at its seasonal best right now, rain or shine. Happy Spring!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

New York City Sightseeing in Cold Weather: Three Ways to Stay Happy and Warm

Sightseeing in New York City is a thrill no matter what the weather is like but cold, damp days can take the spark out of exploring if you let them. Make sure you keep a sunny disposition even on the gloomiest of New York days by rewarding yourself often with warmth, rest, food and drink in settings that are as inspiring as the city itself.

If you find your energy lagging in the middle of Times Square, don’t worry. Your second wind and a re-energizing experience are only minutes away.

R Lounge at The Renaissance Times Square Hotel is your escape from crowds, cold wind and the temptation to return to your hotel room for a nap. 

In this welcoming lounge you’re surrounded by panoramic views of Times Square, neon lights and the throbbing energy of a no-sleep city but you can enjoy it all from the comfort of plush seats with cocktail in hand and appetizers on the way. The soundtrack is mellow lounge music and the vibe is relaxed sophistication that casts a soothing spell. Break away only once you feel fully restored.

Prometheus is the centerpiece of Rockefeller Center. Photo: Rev Stan

If you’ve walked from Times Square to Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral then north along Fifth Avenue toward East 59th Street and Fifth Avenue - a classic New York City walk that provides you with a chance to experience a collection of sightseeing “greatest hits” in one enjoyable pass – you’re loving the city and all it has to offer. You’re also exhausted and maybe even a bit cranky. 

Time to re-boot.

The Fifth Avenue entrance to The Plaza. Photo: Dan DeChiaro
Enter The Plaza via the main entrance at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street. Bear left and make your way toward the ruby glow of The Rose Club to your right just a few steps up from the Lobby floor.  Sink into velvet, order something that pleases and bask. This is a New York moment. It’s accompanied by alto sax, rich bass, drum brush accents and ivory notes.

When it’s time to return to the jazz of New York City’s streets you’ll do so fortified and humming.

If you’ve strolled from Central Park South and Fifth Avenue toward Poet’s Walk then stopped to take photos at Bethesda Fountain and reached The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue you’re likely overdue for a recovery session and feeling it.

If it were warm you would be heading for the Roof Garden CafĂ© and Martini Bar for sunshine, sips and views of Fifth Avenue penthouses to the east and Central Park vistas and the Upper West Side skyline toward the west. But it’s cold and the terrace is closed and you’re too tired to walk back to The Loeb Boathouse. 

Never fear – taxis are near.

New-York Historical Society as featured at

Ask the driver to cross the park and deposit you near the steps of the New-York Historical Society at West 77th Street and Central Park West. Stumble out of the cab as gracefully as possible. It’s been a long day.

Escape the chill by hurrying up the steps, two at a time if you can, to enter this, New York’s oldest museum. You’ll sweep through an elegant gallery, then past a Native American hunter cast in marble to find Caffe Storico, aglow and soaring, within.

It may be gloomy outside but inside Caffe Storico it feels like Spring. 

Stephen Starr’s Northern Italian restaurant is airy, bright and accented in cheerful yellow. Windows along the north side of the building offer tree-top peeks at Manhattan but from your perch at the white marble slab bar you see only evidence of La Dolce Vita –chilled glasses of prosecco, plentiful Italian wines, expertly-crafted cocktail infusions, and an array of cicchetti, little Venetian tapas-style plates, prepared before you and in Chef Jim Burke’s open kitchen.

All around you and above you toward the ceiling are hints of the city’s past in the form of porcelain and china from the museum’s collection.  End the day (or start your night) here by raising a glass to New York history and to the sightseeing stamina that carried you through a memorable winter day. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

See NYC Like a Local: A Genuine Slice of New York Life

You've seen Times Square, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center but you know there is still so much more to explore and experience in New York City. So, isn't it time that you enjoyed an authentic slice of city life? There is one walk I love sharing with friends and family that does just that - it brings you into the fabric of daily life in one of New York's most-beloved neighborhoods. That neighborhood, the Upper West Side, just happens to also be one of the city's most beautiful locations.

The Dakota is an Upper West Side architectural gem. Photo by briannac37.

Ready to take that lively walk on your own? Follow (and improvise along the way!) this self-guided walking tour and you'll be ready to craft your own day of genuine New York moments the next time you have two hours to spare in Manhattan:

Getting Started

Hop on the IRT subway line (you can pick it up in many locations including Times Square) and take the 2 or 3 Uptown Express. One stop later exit at West 72nd Street. This landmark subway station is known as the Gateway to the Upper West Side. Begin heading north from West 72nd Street toward West 74th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

A peek at the West 72nd Street subway station and Verdi Park. Photo: J. Zeldman

In only moments of strolling the area's sidewalks you may begin to realize that while Times Square may be the epicenter of New York to the world, the Upper West Side is the heart of Manhattan to everyone who discovers it or calls it home.

Listen as you stroll between 73rd Street and 74th street - that is the sound of New York quiet: a muted roar interrupted rhythmically by the sound of delivery trucks and cabs bouncing along potholes, their sound magnified into deep, echoing booms by the elegant Florentine Renaissance palazzo landmark building you see to your left, known today as the Apple Bank for Savings, and by the pre-war landmark building standing above you on your right, previously known as The Berkeley.

The Ansonia - scandal, a rooftop farm, a notorious nightclub are only half the story. Photo: J. Zeldman

Peek in each storefront you pass. Restaurants. Elegant shops. An old fashioned barber shop. When you reach the original neon sign of a Chinese laundry, recognize that this family-owned business has been a mainstay of this Upper West Side block for decades - its comforting scent of clean, starched steam has billowed onto the sidewalk for over 50 years hinting at neighborhood continuity in a city of constant change.

Make a right turn at West 74th Street to enjoy two Upper West Side delights - sweets eating and stoop sitting - before we move on toward a Central Park adventure, Columbus Avenue sightseeing, the delights of Lincoln Center and...

This is just the start of your lively walking tour - experience it, complete with images, helpful links and directions to a rewarding, scenic grand finale in my post at Ask a New Yorker. Follow me on Twitter for daily city tips, travel photos and "Best of ..."  updates. Happy Travels!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Philadelphia Flower Show and Longwood Gardens Showcase Spring

It feels like Spring in Philadelphia! Sidewalks are crowded. People are giddy. Coats are off and winter skin is exposed for the first time in five months. Sure, it’s only in the 50s and the sun is too weak to melt the few patches of dirty snow that still lurk on street corners and under cars but we’ll take it. It’s welcome relief from months of back-to-back winter storms.

The Philadelphia Flower Show, known as “The Olympics of Horticulture” and “The Fashion Week of Flowers”, brought tens of thousands of people out of hibernation this weekend to celebrate Spring indoors at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. 

That’s where 10-acres of showroom floor were transformed into woodlands, gardens and art installations. 

If you love flowers or just craved color after a long season of grey, this favorite Philadelphia event was on your radar long before show previews began on February 28th.

A riot of tropical colors and scents greeted visitors who chased down spring beyond Philadelphia to Longwood Gardens. The Orchid Extravaganza, all 4.5 acres of it, lived up to its name and flooded winter wearied senses with happy. 

The display of 5,000 orchids and rare sky-blue poppies will continue right through the official start of Spring (March 20th…only 11 days away!) to March 30th.

It was just a taste of Spring this weekend but exactly what we all needed. Welcome Daylight Savings time. Hello budding leaves. Good bye winter 2014!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Free NYC Walking Tour App

"What kind of city do we want to live in? A city of anonymous high-rises? Or one layered with symbols of the past?" asks Landmark West in a recent newsletter introduction. The Upper West Side preservation committee has fought hard to designate huge swaths of the Upper West Side as a historic district and continues to protect the area from the careless over-development we're seeing throughout much of New York. 

The re-shaping of the city that has taken place over the past 14 years has been stunning and discouraging to at least some of us who can't imagine the tide turning from massive expansion back to careful growth. That's what makes Landmark West's persistence in the face of overwhelming odds so heroic and every new designation they score such a triumph. 

Central Park West's Langham was called, "The finest apartment house in the city" when it was built 110 years ago.

If you'd like to see what Landmark West is fighting to protect you can do so right from home by downloading a FREE app. Enjoy a walking tour of one of New York's most beautiful neighborhoods. See the Upper West Side's most beautiful buildings " ravishing photographs and lively text" then visit the area, strolling in every direction to see for yourself why its an area so worthy of preserving. 

Experience NYC Like a Local - Let it Surprise You

What I love about New York is how it can take whatever you thought would be the highlight of your day and turn it into just one more event in a string of incredible moments.

The New York Travel Show was supposed to be my highlight one March weekend. Instead New York itself became my main focus.

New York always has a surprise waiting for you on the way to your plans.

A sight that can make you stop in your tracks...

A carriage waits  near the W. 37th St. stables to be readied  for the day.

or a scent that can lift your eyes from crowds and concrete to a piece of old city history.

Tavola is a Hell's Kitchen favorite that stands where landmark grocer Manganaro's opened in 1893.

New York rewards intuitively.

After a day at the travel show walking exhibits from around the world, what luck to find rest and lunch in a quiet little Turkish restaurant.

Deciding between hundreds of 9th Avenue restaurants in NYC is delicious fun.

New York asserts its number one-ness especially when your attention is drifting elsewhere.

After a day of being tempted at the Travel Expo by what the rest of the world has to offer, New York’s mightiest monument to culture drew my thoughts closer to home with an unexpected pleasure - an evening visit to uncrowded galleries and dinner accompanied by live music.

The Met is open until 8:45 PM each Fri. & Sat. eve - ideal for uncrowded galleries, dining and live music.

New York also makes inconvenience irrelevant.

Take a taxi to a train when it’s time to leave town? Not in New York. This city makes it seem reasonable to roll your suitcase blocks out of your way toward transportation  - even in winter cold - just for the pleasure of seeing,

Central Park West is home to architectural gems like The Dakota.


Imagine, catching a wedding in progress. Lovely!

Columbus Circle - a smartphone camera does it no justice.

What do you love most about New York? What makes it the city you just can’t leave or the one you keep returning to over and over again? I’d love to know. Please share your comment below or connect with me @CityGirlWrites on Twitter. Also, treat yourself to Pauline Frommer’s Easy Guide to New York City 2014 – whether you’re a native New Yorker or have never been to NYC, you’ll find it’s packed with useful information and insider-y insights – it's a valuable companion.

Monday, March 3, 2014

When It's Cold in Philadelphia, Visit Haddonfield

Tired of winter, Philadelphia?  Exhausted by the snow, South Jersey? Hurry to historic Haddonfield. It’s a town with just enough magic to make you happy in the cold while you wait for warmer weather.

After a snowstorm, or even during one, Haddonfield is an especially beautiful place to explore…and you don’t even need to tackle slippery roads to get there.

A quick hop across the Ben Franklin Bridge by PATCO Speedline (11 minutes) and a short ride from all points served by PATCO in New Jersey, Haddonfield welcomes winter-worn visitors with picturesque scenes. Covered in snow, the town looks like a storybook illustration.

If you arrive in town layered for warmth, comfort and walking you'll soon be having fun and feeling far away from droning weather reports about traffic delays, downed power lines and canceled flights. Haddonfield turns down the volume on all of that. 

It whispers to you instead - about snow angels, sledding and how much fun it might be to build a snow man.

Only a few minutes into a snow walk in Haddonfield you might just find yourself smiling – breathing frosty, clean air as you make your way along streets that reveal picture-perfect Americana in every direction will have that effect on you.  If not, look up. It’s hard not to brighten at the sight and tickle of snowflakes.

Walk along King’s Highway, Tanner Street and Lantern Lane, where more than 200 storefronts in Colonial buildings invite you to peek and linger. Along the way you’ll find a bronze sculpture of a historically-significant dinosaur.

Haddonfield is an ideal shopping destination. It turns shopping and “just looking” into genuinely interesting pastimes.

Store windows are lined with treasure – from glassware, antiques and fine jewelry, to crafts, books and fashion that ranges from bridal to casual-chic. By the way, Haddonfield has fabulous consignment – you’ll find seven consignment shops within just a few blocks of each other.

Haddonfield is also a great place to replace winter “hat head” with a fresh style for spring – the little town boasts a surprising number of hair salons – over 30 at last count!

After you’ve explored the center of Haddonfield, meander along the town’s residential side streets. Washington Street in particular is one you’ll want to visit – it’s an easy three-minute walk from Kings Highway and lined with some of the town’s most beautifully-restored Colonial and Victorian houses. 

Haddonfield's Historic District includes 488 houses, buildings, and sites and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Back on King’s Highway, come in out of the cold and reward your invigorated self with expertly curated teas and coffees at The Coffee BouTEAque then lunch delectably at Little Tuna, The British Chip Shop or Ludovico’s. Two award-winning favorites in Haddonfield are Fuji  Restaurant and Da Soli - you won't want to miss them. 

Too happy to leave this winter wonderland? Stay overnight in cozy elegance at Haddonfield Inn.

Minutes on a train, an hour or two of walking in postcard-perfect scenery then back home in no time – that’s how easy it is to skip being “snowed in” during a storm in favor of exploring Haddonfield.

Just imagine the PATCO line as an escape route from cabin fever during the next round of “inclement weather” in Philadelphia and South Jersey then make your way to Haddonfield to beat the winter blues.

‘Like’ Haddonfield on Facebook for updates about year-round events and dining experiences you won’t want to miss then visit Downtown Haddonfield online to discover more reasons to visit a town that is one of the best day-trip and weekend getaway destinations in New Jersey.