I am not a cruise person. My association with cruises has always been negative. They usually make the news when a virus breaks out, causing excessive diarrhea, and then the ship inevitably fills up with too much human excrement and starts sinking.
At least, that’s been my interpretation of the news.
Ultimately, it never sounded like my kind of vacation. Nothing seemed relaxing about cramming a small city onto an obscenely large vessel to be ushered around like cattle and call it “seeing the world.” For this reason, and the previously stated excessive excrement, I signed up for an UnCruise Adventures to the Baja Peninsula’s Sea of Cortez last December. Continue Reading →
Raleigh is one of those cities you hear is cool without knowing why.
“Yeah, I heard they have… a cool craft beer scene or something…?” someone will say with a hint of uncertainty.
I wasn’t any different. I had an inclination that there was something special about Raleigh, but I didn’t know what. So, before leaving the country (again), I strung together an Amtrak route through Raleigh. My wife and I arrived on a scorching hot summer afternoon, the kind that reminds northerners just how blazing the south can be.
We had just the one night at the hotel, but I’ve always felt I could get a good grasp of a medium-sized city within a day’s walking. So to start, we had a short jaunt to the Raleigh Marriott from the Amtrak station. The station itself is deceiving with the white building resembling something of a modest country home or perhaps one of the smaller train stations in Europe. Nothing indicates that you’ve just arrived in a city of 400,000-plus. That is until you turn around and see the skyscrapers of a modern American city.
Things To Do In Raleigh in 24 Hours
Downtown Raleigh is by no means huge, but you’re in the city as soon as you march east away from the station. A number of the city’s more popular dining and drinking establishments start popping up around Cabarrus and Davie streets.
It didn’t take long after checking in before we turned tail right back to this area for a patio dinner at The Pit. There’s a neighborhood feel surrounding The Pit with a number of other businesses right off the sidewalk. I could hear live music around the corner, but my attention was firmly latched onto the shredded pork, green beans, baked beans, and Angry Angel Kölsch in front of me.
I’m by no means a southern barbecue connoisseur, but my stomach and taste buds were plenty happy.
We then made the long walk across the street for a couple of beers at Crank Arm Brewing with a busy front patio offset from the red brick building with lines of hops growing along the side.
It’s not difficult to get me to check out a brewery for the sake of going to a brewery, but the task is exponentially easier when there’s a bike theme. Bikes adorn the walls at Crank Arm and then there’s the Rickshaw Rye IPA, Peddlin’ Round The Pond American India Pale Ale, Unicycle Single Hop Pale Ale, Holy Spokes Smoke Porter, Big Wheel Brown Ale, Bike Lane Belgian-Style South–and so it continues among the brewery’s seasonal offerings.
That was our first taste of Raleigh, but we were right back a week or so later after a little family vacation on Bald Head Island. We scheduled a late flight to give us the day to explore a bit more of Raleigh, starting with a recommended visit to Big Ed’s City Market where I enjoyed a slightly burnt mammoth of an omelet—the kind you can expect to find at any Americana diner.
And Big Ed’s is most certainly an Americana diner with its red and white checkered tablecloths, simple wooden chair, and a yard sale decor theme. Almost anything you can think of being stored in an attic or shed was hanging down from the ceiling. Pots and pans were the least of it. I also doubly appreciated the sign at the entrance, warning guests that they take their time to cook their food, so folks in a hurry should come back another time.
Big Ed’s is on Wolfe Street. It felt like we were in another time period with the cobblestone streets and red brick sidewalks surrounding densely packed lines of shops, businesses and restaurants. This felt like my idea of the south, which is admittedly inspired mostly by images of Charleston.
From there, despite the merciless summer heat, we attempted to walk off breakfast with a trek up to the statehouse. I will say this: Raleigh, in our short time there, appeared to do a great job in making walking appealing and comfortable even with the temperature hovering around 90 degrees thanks to nearly constant tree cover. It seems like a no brainer, but too many cities lay waste on their natural shade for one reason or another, usually in relation to making driving easier, so Raleigh deserves credit for making walking as comfortable as possible in the worst of summer.
That said, we did enjoy the cool relief with a stop at the North Carolina Museum of History. Being a southern state, North Carolina has no shortage of particularly appalling history to work through with the sin of slavery and civil rights issues to march through.
The Civil War seemed to take a majority of the focus with surprisingly little on civil rights, though I did appreciate an image of a march blocking traffic as protestors made their way through the streets. This was at the same time suburban commuters around the country were complaining about Black Lives Matter protestors cutting off highway traffic to bring attention to their cause. The gist being, “Protest all you want about people getting killed, just don’t let it impact me!”
This, naturally, devolved for some into proclamations that, “Dr. King would never do that!” when of course Dr. King most certainly led marches that stopped vehicular traffic. So while it was disheartening to be reminded how little we remember from recent history, it was also a little comforting to see it hasn’t been completely forgotten.
We ended our time in Raleigh on a lighter note, stopping for a beer Clouds Brewing. It’s a city I’d like to spend more time in. I felt like I’d fit in, particularly with what appeared to be a vibrant bike culture. That’s what I gathered by demands to “share the road” scrawled in colorful chalk on the city sidewalks alongside other pro-cycling messages.
At least I left with a better understanding of exactly why Raleigh is, indeed, cool.
Disclaimer: Visit Raleigh supported this trip in part. As always, all opinions are my own.
The name “Pilsen” doesn’t exactly inspire images of Latin America. That’s the place where that beer comes from, right? Some city in the Czech Republic?
Yes, immigrants from that corner of the globe were the original inhabitants of this lower west side Chicago neighborhood, but overtime it has shifted identities. This is no longer an Eastern European enclave. This is firmly a barrio of Mexican-American immigrants and their second generation kids. The art is Mexican, the food is Mexican, you place your order aquí and you pick it up over ahí. Only Miami transports you to Latin America within the United States like Pilsen does, except the layout remains distinctly Chicagoan. You’ve got your rows of densely-packed single-family homes just outside the main strip, Calle 18 where there’s everything from the lavandería to modest-looking taco joints for a quick yet filling bite.
I lived in Chicago for something like two years. In that time, I never made it to Pilsen. Never knew it existed, in fact. The idea to visit came from my wife Melanie’s cousin, who didn’t even necessarily suggest checking it out. She just mentioned it was someplace she spent an afternoon in recently. So rather than retrace familiar territory, I opted to hop on the ‘L’–that screeching, glorious piece of rail transit that screams CHICAGO–and get off where Google told me Pilsen is. To give us some direction, we first headed to the National Museum of Mexican Art.
Who doesn’t love Mexican art? Find the most xenophobic asshole in your neighborhood and I’ll bet you the entirety of their Toby Keith memorabilia that even they enjoy the vibrant colors and stylings of Mexican art. While I’m hardly an art connoisseur who can rattle of the names of personal favorites, I will go out of my way to check out some Mexican art.
The National Museum of Mexican Art, this country’s largest collection of works by Mexican-American artists, tells the story of the Mexican experience in the United States from abused migrant farmers and César Chávez to today’s bilingual second generation. The whole collection is housed in an otherwise unassuming building. From the outside, this could easily be the local intramural sports venue. But given what is inside, I’d say it’s an obligatory visit for anyone stopping through Pilsen and with an interest in hearing their story through one of this world’s most absorbing artistic stylings.
Besides enjoying some Mexican art, the visit accomplished a second task swimming in the back of my mind: working up an appetite. Mexican cuisine, too, has always held a special place in my heart, or more accurately, stomach. Screw that, it’s more than what’s going into the stomach. Mexican food hits all the senses. I can damn-near smell it now; the sizzling carnitas and pollo, the tortillas, the rice, the peppers, the fried beans–all of it.
Luckily we didn’t have to wander around long over the simmering concrete under the sweltering July sun before we came to Carnitas Uruapan on Calle 18. Melanie and I were the only Gringos inside and Spanish was the dominant language between staff taking counter orders and the waitress shuttling around food. This felt like any something-ería joint back in Central America, and so I was quite pleased.
Now I intended to take the obligatory travel writer picture of my food to better jog my memory later on when it came to providing flowery language to wholly describe my meal. Looking back through my photos, it appears I only took a photo after clearing my plate. Based on the smudges, I’d say it was a solid plate of tacos de pollo with guacamole and a healthy helping of refried beans.
Belly full and sufficiently zapped thanks to ninety-degree heat, we strolled back to the train station where the staircase from the ground to the elevated platform is covered in Mexican art. Bright yellows, greens, purples, reds and a dash of pink filling in countless intricate designs. A neighborhood that started out Eastern European is now a reflection of where demographics say this country is heading. If this is what the U.S. is destined to look like, then count me excited. After all, it certainly beats the Walmart parking lot and boilerplate designs that plague so much of modern America.
It was two in the morning when the Amtrak train finally pulled into the station. Truthfully, calling what we have in Cleveland a “station” is incredibly forgiving. In reality Cleveland is cursed with a glorified slab of concrete held up by a couple of pillars next to the train tracks. City Lab rightfully called it one of the saddest stations in the country. Continue Reading →
I woke up feeling stuffy with a bit of a headache. That seems to be the norm for me on the first night on any camping trip. Something about whatever allergens are in the air or the fact that I almost always forget to bring a proper pillow that would keep my head tilted just right so fluids don’t build up in my head. (Our bodies are weird.) Continue Reading →
I learned to hate Pittsburgh at a young age. Growing up in exurban Cleveland, not quite far away enough from the city limits to avoid the flaccid grip of the Browns’ television radius, I suffered irrational fandom. This fandom taught me to loathe a city 134 miles away because of an event that happens twice a year — the Cleveland Browns playing the Pittsburgh Steelers for 60 minutes of professional football.
Embarrassingly, it took me until adulthood to realize how indescribably silly it is to judge any city off of sports alone, let alone a one-sided rivalry that — fantasy land car commercials and male anatomy-hardening ads aside — happens annually for 120 minutes. Yet there I was in my youth, referring to Pittsburgh as “Pittspuke” with the same vitriolic hatred I should have reserved for Shredder like a normal kid.
Truth is, Cleveland and Pittsburgh are siblings in the Eastern Rust Belt family that stretches to Detroit, Buffalo, and Youngstown in between. There are far more similarities that bond the cities than separate them.
Case in point, both were abandoned by the American Dream that sent highways into their respective urban cores to suck select residents and jobs out and into the suburbs. Both have a history in demanding stricter environmental protections from the burning Cuyahoga River in Cleveland to the plumes of smoke covering Pittsburgh during the heyday of the steel industry.
In better news, both have their place in the trite but true narrative of revitalizing urban cores. People are moving back to cities like Pittsburgh, shunning the traditional idea of the American Dream in favor of historic, walkable neighborhoods, and culture beyond the strip mall. It’s a new American Dream and Pittsburgh has excelled arguably better than any other city in the United States considering where it once was.
So what better way to celebrate this new American Dream than by traveling to Pittsburgh for the Fourth of July?
Next Stop, Pittsburgh
My wife Melanie and I came into Pittsburgh on the Greyhound — that beacon of mid-20th Century American travel.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking.
Greyhound? Really? Was it safe? What were the people like on there?
First, how Greyhound got this reputation for being any more dangerous than driving a private vehicle is beyond me. Second, yes, I have actually been asked about the people who ride Greyhound. Guess what? They’re people. Human beings with a pulse. I’m honestly not sure what folks asking this question expect to find on board.
For us, it was a relaxing, stress-free option to arriving in Pittsburgh within walking distance of our hotel at the Renaissance Pittsburgh. Perched on the edge of downtown, this monument to early 20th Century American architecture looks over the Allegheny River, the Simpsons-colored Roberto Clemente Bridge, and PNC Park of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
While my finely tuned architectural sensibilities could spend hours appreciating the historic nature of the old Fulton Building, inside and out, we had an appointment with Venture Outdoors at Golden Triangle Bike.
Did you know Pittsburgh has trains? I didn’t until I killed a night watching Russell Crowe’s The Next Three Days where Mr. Gladiator outruns the bad guys by ducking in and out of the Pittsburgh “T.”
Fortunately, we had the opportunity to warrant a ride on the T when heading over to Golden Triangle Bike, located just around the corner from the First Avenue Station. Even better? Rides within downtown are free.
Donna Bour, Director of Development and Communications at Venture Outdoors, met Melanie and me at Golden Triangle Bike where a number of riders had already been taking advantage of the sunny summer day. We were joined by Jennifer Brown, an urban cyclist and Venture Outdoors volunteer who regularly leads bike tours around the city.
Jennifer took the lead with Donna trailing in the back, leaving us Pittsburgh novices protected in the middle of our small pack. The Eliza Furnace Trial picks up right from the bike rental, though we quickly hopped on the Smithfield Street Bridge to pedal south over the Monongahela River to Station Square and along the edge of the river to more industrial corners of the city. This, now the South Side Riverfront Trail, runs right through South Side Riverfront Park with the occasional shade of forestry planted adjacent to the paved path. It surely makes for an interesting juxtaposition when in less than a mile you go from industrial decay to something that feels removed from the city.
After a pit stop on the Hot Metal Street Bridge for Jennifer’s favorite view of the remarkable Pittsburgh skyline — her favorite because it’s lesser known, even to locals — we returned downtown to take advantage of the recently christened Penn Ave. protected bike lane. It’s worth noting that Pittsburgh has been at the forefront among American cities of promoting and implementing cycling infrastructure. Their mayor, Bill Peduto, actually cycles himself and has said he wants to “Copenhagenize” Pittsburgh, a reference to Copenhagen, Denmark — arguably the cycling capital of the world.
Indeed, I can say without hesitation that Pittsburgh instantly became a personal favorite for cycling.
There were other things on our agenda besides cycling. To be honest, cycling was to an extent merely a means to an end. That end being getting our hands on some local booze.
As if more booze were needed, Jennifer led us to a final stop at Maggie’s Farm, an independent distillery and the first of its kind in Pennsylvania since the American dark ages — Prohibition. While I admittedly know as much about good rum as I do astrophysics, I do know that I enjoy a well-crafted glass every now and again. Maggie’s Farm did not disappoint before sending us back to Golden Triangle Bike for the end of a 17-mile jaunt around the city.
I won’t travel for football or basketball, but I will for the right baseball stadium. Pittsburgh, one can easily argue, has one of the best stadiums in major league baseball. It also just so happened that Cleveland was in town for a game, allowing us the full game day experience.
Before game time, however, we opted for a little walk north to West Park for a taste of urban greenery before turning back south to Point State Park where Independence Day and Three Rivers Regatta festivities were well underway. This meant large, happy crowds with musket weaponry demonstrations by costumed revolutionary soldiers and a little game of frisbee among a small pack of competing dogs.
So far, Pittsburgh was shaping up to be a preeminent car-free city in the United States.
Celebrations continued after the game over at Las Velas Mexican Restaurant on the pedestrianized Market Square, complete with live music and more happy faces. Suffice it to say Las Velas provided the sufficient, tasty calorie boost we needed to get back to Roberto Clemente Bridge for the night’s firework display.
Rust Belt Envy
Opting for the afternoon return to Cleveland, we decided to spend our morning with a ride up the Monongahela Incline up to Mount Washington. Besides the opportunity to walk around this historic Pittsburgh neighborhood, it’s also the place to go for those postcard shots of the Pittsburgh skyline. Though it’s never been a notably large city, Pittsburgh lucked out on geography that demands density, so you see less of the heinous sprawl here that plagues so many other corners of the country.
However, like so many other Rust Belt cities abandoned by the American Dream, Pittsburgh remains half its 1950’s peak size at 304,000. But when you actually visit Pittsburgh, you can’t help but wonder how they’re still losing people — even if, thankfully, at a much slower rate than at the zenith of suburban sprawl.
Pittsburgh is a wonderfully dynamic, cultural, and walkable city with what appears to be a progressive eye toward the future. Who wouldn’t want to live here? I certainly left envious.
Meantime, I’ll settle for visiting my Rust Belt sibling whenever I can and as much as possible. Lord knows I’ve only scratched the surface.
Disclaimer:This trip was supported in part by Visit Pittsburgh. As always, all opinions are my own.
I grabbed my GoPro yesterday morning before heading to the Cleveland Cavaliers championship parade, unsure of what I’d even do with the footage. But it was a historic moment and I knew I at least wanted it as a personal keepsake.
I’ve already written about what it’s like to live in a championship city and what that can do to a community’s mindset. Now I know what a championship parade can do for a city, and it didn’t take long for me to figure out what I’d do with the video — showing Clevelanders and viewers from any city how a championship can prove that a car-free city is a better, happier city. Continue Reading →
Thailand’s Tiger Temple tragedy shows how tourism can be horribly wrong right on the heels of the Harambe silverback gorilla incident at the Cincinnati Zoo. Joe and Laura discuss these issues among other travel news before turning to perceived danger versus realistic safety in summer travel.