Friday, April 29, 2016

Past POIs - Hershey's Chocolate World [Hershey, Pennsylvania, United States of America]

Our final stop before heading home from our Washington D.C. roadtrip was Hershey's Chocolate World located in Hershey Pennsylvania, which was on the way back to Toronto for us, so it worked out well.


Hershey's Chocolate World is the largest Hershey chocolate store in the world with 5 different attractions (in 2016) that can entire your family and friends for most of the day depending on how you would like to spend your time and money.


The attractions are a free Hershey's Chocolate Tour, this is a free ride that grows through the process of how their chocolate is made. I imagine that this ride is similar to what is in Disney theme parks, but on a much smaller scale. And then there are the paid attractions which are Create Your Own Candy Bar, 4D Chocolate Mystery movie, Chocolate Tasting Experience, and Trolley Works, all of which have a cost to them ranging from approximately $8 USD to $15 USD. You can buy the tickets online or in person, in person there are package deals whereas I could not find any online. We didn't do any of the paid attractions, but I thought that the free Chocolate Tour was neat.


If you don't want to do any of the paid attractions, there is a REALLY big store here which sells everything that Hershey sells, including and not limited to, Hershey's, Reeses, Kisses, and more. There is also a food court if you wanted something to eat as well.


Parking is free as well as admission, you only pay for the extra attractions. They appear to be open most days, but you should check out their website for details. For more information, visit the official site at http://www.hersheys.com/chocolateworld/hershey


I thought that this was a great stop especially since it was free and on the way home. If you have kids, I think that they would probably have a great time here although the cost will add up really quickly. We spent roughly 1.5 hours here and that was only us doing the chocolate tour and wandering around and seeing what was available at the store and on the grounds. So, you could easily spend more time here if you are doing the attractions.

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Past POIs - Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception [Washington, D.C., United States of America]

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is, in my opinion, a must see basilica if you are in the Washington D.C. area.


It is the largest Roman Catholic church in the United States and in North America! It is also one of the top ten largest churches in the world! How can you not go and see it?


Construction started in 1920 and it was opened in 1959, although unfinished, with completion happening in 1961. While we were there in 2016, there was still work that was being done there, but what looks like a vast majority of it was completed. The part that they were working on was the dome which they have a plan for and was being worked on.


At 152 m (500 ft) long, 73 m (240 ft) wide, and 72 m (329 ft) high, it is the tallest habitable building in all of Washington D.C. with a maximum capacity of 10,000. It has been visited by many like Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, Saint John Paul II, and Mother Teresa.


There are over 70 chapels and oratories dedicated to a variety of people, cultures, and traditions. I thought this was interesting since I normally don't see section dedicated to other cultures. Not only that, it also houses the world's largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art!


There are daily free guided tours and parking is free. If you are commuting, it is a short walk from the Brookland-CUA Metro stop.


If you want more information, visit the official website here: http://www.nationalshrine.com/

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Past POIs - Jefferson Memorial [Washington, D.C., United States]

Thomas Jefferson Memorial is part of the U.S. National Park Service and located in Washington, D.C. and is likely one of your stops while you visit Washington. The Memorial is dedicated to Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, as well as the first Secretary of State for the United States of America.


In 1934, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission was created for creating a memorial for Thomas Jefferson with the original location being at Constitution and Pennsylvania. It was never built there and was instead moved to where it is now due to the initial area being too small.


Construction started in 1938 with architect John Russell Pope who designed the memorial with influences from two of Jefferson's most famous buildings, the Monitcello and the University of Virginia Rotunda. In 1939, there was a ceremony held for placing the cornerstone lead by President Roosevelt and within the cornerstone are several historic items including copies of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, among other things.


It was completed in 1943 and it was dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Jefferson's 200th birthday. The statue was created by sculptor Rudulph Evans and was actually originally made out of plaster. It was later changed to bronze due to World War II restrictions on the use of metal. Since then, it has undergone a few structural and appearance changes but the initial idea is still intact today.


Be sure to pay a visit when you are in Washington, I think the entire National Mall area is worth a walk through and try to hit the important places even if it is for a short period of time. The memorial is free to visit and is open all year around, 24 hours a day. For more information, visit the official website at https://www.nps.gov/thje/index.htm

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Monday, April 11, 2016

2016 - Washington Summary

Duration: 4 days (left on Thursday early morning, returned on Sunday evening)
Distance Traveled: 1665km round-trip (794km each way) the difference is getting to Hershey's Chocolate World and back to Toronto
Cost: $1248 for AirBnB, $38 in tolls (you can avoid a majority of this), $162 in gas, $388 for minivan rental, making for $306 CAD per person.

Highlights

All the Memorials, Washington Monument, and The White House are well worth seeing. It is a pity that there are so many tourists, but as a tourist myself, I guess I shouldn't be complaining. Everything is very centrally located in the surrounding area of the National Mall, and that design makes Washington a seemingly great city to walk around and if you like, they do have a great bike rental program here along with dedicated bike lanes all around the city.

Washington Monument 
Lincoln Memorial 
Jefferson Memorial 
Washington Memorial at night
Cherry blossom festival, while we just happened to come at the right time, it was not part of the initial plan, but I'm glad that we did come when it happened. The tidal basin area and Washington in general had a lot of trees that were blossoming and it made the city very nice.


Jefferson Memorial 
Washington Memorial 
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Hershey's Chocolate World, surprisingly more interesting than I thought it would be. Mind you, I thought for some reason there are rollercoasters here... Anyways, if you are visiting Washington, this is not very far away and worth a visit in my opinion. It is free to visit and the tour is free, however, there are a few things that you can do that have costs to them so have a look and see how much it interests you.


Hershey's Chocolate World 
Hershey's Chocolate World 
Hershey's Chocolate World
Lowlights

Crowds, there were people as far as the eye could see during the day. This was especially clear on Saturday when we were wandering around.

Food suggestions

Hill Country, while everything wasn't amazing, the brisket, chicken, and the sides were stand outs for me.

Hill Country, $99 platter (feeds 4-6, however we didn't finish with 6 ppl) 
4 sides are included, the cornbread was extra
Fish Market, I'm not one for seafood usually, but the atmosphere is great and if you like raw oysters/clams, you should pay them a visit. It was $15 for 12 oysters and $10 for 12 clams shucked.


Fresh seafood at the Fish Market 
Dozen oysters on the left, dozen clams on the right 
Crab cakes and hushpuppies on the left, crab balls on the right
What would I change?

I would say that we needed one more full day there and I would say that I would have experienced Washington enough that I would not need to go back. The two places I would have liked to have seen were Arlington Cemetery and Museum of Natural History. There are plenty of other things worth seeing, but these were the items on my list.

Tips

Streets downtown are very easy to navigate for the most part. The north/south streets are numeric (3rd St, 10th St) and the west/east streets at letters (E St, G St). The streets vary in distance between, but in general, going from one to another is fairly quick since the distance is very small.

If you want to visit the White House, make to sure book well in advance (I believe 3 months), otherwise, you can forget about trying. Washington Monument you can actually go up, tickets are free on the day of, but you can also pre-book tickets online for a small fee. I would suggest getting tickets online if you really want to go up.

Metro is very easy to learn and convenient. $2 for a reloadable card, cost is based on time of day (rush hour vs non-rush hour) and distance. This means that you cannot share a card like in some other cities I've been to. There is no set amount to reload from what I recall, so as a tourist, don't bother putting too much money on the card, if you don't have enough when you exit, there is a machine where you can top up as you try to leave.

Don't drive downtown. My experience driving around Washington is that, if you don't need to, don't. Driving at night seems fine, but during the day it seems to be a disaster waiting to happen. Parking is not easy to find, traffic is constant, and as a foreigner, the lines on the road don't always make sense and the fact that they have round-a-bouts with stop lights really makes no sense to me.

Final thoughts

Well worth a visit even if you are not into American history at all (I knew nothing about the Memorials and it was interesting). There are lots to see and do and best of all, it is all free! Yup, all the museums and memorials are free to visit, just check their websites to see what the operating hours are.

You don't need to stay in the National Mall area at all, but it makes getting home after easier. Note that most things close at around 6pm or 7pm, so you have a lot of free time in the evening to plan out night activities (we only had one night where we got back at 8pm, ended up going back out for night photos).

Hope you enjoyed reading about our Washington, D.C. roadtrip!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Past POIs - Lincoln Memorial [Washington, D.C., United States of America]

The Lincoln Memorial, located in Washington, D.C., in USA is a must visit while there and odds are, you won't miss it. It was made for Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, who was assassinated in 1865.


Initially, Congress in 1867 created the Lincoln Memorial Association to create a memorial dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, however, things stalled since then and construction did not begin until 1914 and completion happened in 1922.


The architect behind it is Henry Bacon and the memorial is built after the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. It is mostly made of marble and granite that are all sourced from United States. The memorial is 190 ft long, 120 ft wide, and 99 ft tall with 36 columns, one for each of the 36 states that were part of the Union at the time of Lincoln's death.


You will notice that above the columns, are a list of states, these are the 36 states that were part of the Union when the memorial was initially planned. Above this, you will notice a smaller section, this section has the 48 states that were part of the Union when the memorial was completed in 1922. The last two states (Alaska and Hawaii) have a plague created for their recognition near the steps. As well, since Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' speech was here, on the 18th step from the Lincoln statue is an engraving dedicated to it where Martin Luther King Jr. was when he gave the speech.


The Abraham Lincoln statue itself was carved by the Piccirilli brothers under the supervision of the sculptor Daniel Chester French. It is made out of 28 pieces of marble and it is 19 ft tall from head to foot and if standing, he would be 28 ft tall. It weighs 175 tons!


I wish I knew about the 'I Have a Dream' engraving, so make sure to have a look for it when you go!


If you want more information, visit the National Park Services site at https://www.nps.gov/linc/index.htm

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

2016 - Washington Day 4 (Washington / Hershey)

Last night, after some debating about what we should do, whether to go home early or make something of our last day here, today's plan is to visit Hershey's Chocolate World and then head home.

Hershey's Chocolate World
Hershey's Chocolate World
Hershey's Chocolate World
We arrived at Hershey's Chocolate World at around 10:30am and ended up here for an hour. This was with us just taking pictures, doing the tour (which is free) and shopping. The tour was neat, it was a tram ride where you sit in a ride that goes through the process of chocolate making. While on the ride, you will experience things like the smell of chocolate or the warmth of roasting chocolate. I thought that it was an interesting experience even if it is more geared towards kids. Overall, I feel that I probably could have spent maybe another 30 minutes there looking at all the goods that they have for sale and just wander around but an hour is a good amount of time. I was surprised by the amount of different chocolates that they have there, the types of Reese's, Kisses, and Hershey along with other brands is pretty large. Also available here are 4 other attractions, the trolley ride, 4D movie, create your own candy bar, and chocolate tasting experience, all of which have a cost to and it adds up really quickly. So, if you like, you probably could spend a morning or afternoon there.

Hershey's Chocolate World
Hershey's Chocolate World
Hershey's Chocolate World
Hershey's Chocolate World
A short drive from Hershey's Chocolate World is The Soda Jerk Diner & Dairy Bar, a local diner which we went to for lunch. It has a very old diner vibe to it and the food was good. The menu is extensive and they were surprisingly open on Easter Sunday. I don't think I would return, but at the same time, if I didn't see anything else, I would go back. I got the prime rib which was only $16 (if I remember correctly) and it includes a soup or salad starter, the prime rib with choice of side (which I got mini potato pancakes) and a dessert. Allison got ultimate meatloaf, which also includes a starter and dessert for roughly $15. The portions are large as expected. With lunch complete, our ETA to the Peace Bridge is 5 hours and 20 minutes from the diner.

Soup on the left, salad on the right
Prime rib on the left, meatloaf on the right
Ice cream!
We made one more stop and made it to an Apple Bee's for dinner. They still have the 2 for $20 and 2 for $25 dinner special. This time, we got the chicken wonton tacos, cedar grilled lemon chicken, and the quesadilla burger. All of which we thought were good. While Apple Bee's is also another place we don't necessarily need to return to, we would if we were short on options. Bonus is that now they have free WiFi!

Wonton tacos
Chicken on the left, quesadilla burger on the right
Made it to the Peace Bridge and did some duty free shopping and got to the border at around 9:00pm. 9:00pm on Easter Sunday and there was NO line at all. Yup, we were the only car in the line that we ended up choosing. This trip had the shortest border crossings possible! I was asked where we went, how long, what we bought, and liquor and we were good to go. We made it back home at around 11:00pm and returned the rental roughly 30 minutes late which we had to pay an extra hour for at Enterprise. Now we know for next time!

Chilling with Mr. Daniels
That completes the Washington DC trip. I feel that it was a good trip, like Chicago and Montreal, we had some good food, saw some neat things, and it was a good time. The ride back this time did not seem as long for me, but it might be because I was sleeping more in the van this time compared to last time.

Until our next trip!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

2016 - Washington Day 3 (Washington)

Last full day here today. We will visit the Basilica in the morning and see the memorials and the tidal basin area in the afternoon and visit the Fish Market for dinner.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was our first stop and we got there at around 10:00am, a short drive from our BnB, and we were there for about an hour. You can easily spend more time here and it depends on what you are looking at. The place is really large, apparently the largest Catholic church in North America and one of the top ten largest churches in the world. Worth a stop in my opinion, it is free to visit and it is the first church that I have seen which had sections that are dedicated to other cultures like Vietnamese and Chinese. Because we came during cherry blossom time, it made the place look really nice. Parking is also free as well.

Crypt Church
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
We dropped off the van at the BnB and took the Metro to Hill Country for lunch. The place was somewhat annoying to get into since there is only one line and it is for both take out as well as sit down, so even though we were waiting for a table, people in front of us were placing orders. I'm not sure why they didn't have two lines, one for take out, one for dine in. We didn't have reservations, but the restaurant is fairly large and while there, I don't recall seeing a line to get a table.

Top left chicken, bottom left brisket, middle hot links, right ribs
Once seated, they give everyone a paper card at the beginning which works like your bill, you give them your card to order and they will mark it and if you don't buy anything, just give it back to them at the end of the meal. It reminds me of Marche, but with paper instead of a card.

Left cornbread, middle top collared greens, middle bottom mac and cheese, right top sweet potato mash, right bottom coleslaw
We ordered the $99 meal along with two orders of corn bread and it was more than enough to feed the 6 of us there. In fact, it could probably feed another person as well. It worked out to roughly $22 USD per person. It included a whole chicken, beef brisket, hot links, and ribs along with four sides of your choice. The brisket was really tender and moist, the same applies to the chicken. The links were a bit spicy, nothing to mention about them, they tasted fine, the ribs were a bit dry in my opinion. We got four sides which were mac and cheese, collared greens, coleslaw, and sweet potato mash. In my opinion, the mac and cheese and sweet potato mash were the stars, the others were okay. Overall, I rather enjoyed the place, I'd suggest stopping by if you have a chance, it helps that it is fairly centrally located.

Washington Monument
Lincoln Memorial (yup, those are tourists!)
After lunch, we walked down to see the memorials and the tidal basin area which is where most of the cherry blossom trees are. All the memorials and the basin area were FULL of tourists. It was actually quite ridiculous. Overall, I enjoyed the area, but it was too busy for my liking. I'm not sure if it is super busy normally (outside of cherry blossom season), but this was a bit insane.

Washington Monument
World War II Memorial
Washington Monument
The memorials and monuments were nice to see and we saw quite a few of them (Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, World War II Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial). While I know very little behind the history of the memorials, they were interesting to see and we didn't even see all of them!

Lincoln Memorial
Tidal Basin
We ended up losing Harold and Sue as we were trying to make it back to the Washington Monument. So, make sure to have a plan for where to meet up. Note that for the people that collect stamps, almost everything here has a stamp for it, so bring some paper and hunt away! Or if you like, it is all in one place if you know where to look. For those that don't know what stamps I'm referring to, here's a wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Park_Passport_Stamps

Jefferson Memorial
Washington Monument
Finished with all the tourist attractions for the day and hungry for dinner, we walked to the Fish Market. All the places sell either cooked seafood or raw seafood and some places allow you to buy raw seafood and will cook them for you on the spot which seems neat, but Mike wondered how often they change the boiling water. There is no seating available, so people just go back to the field across the street to eat or there is an area specific to one shop, however, there are only tables and no chairs.

We ended up getting 12 clams for $10 and 12 oysters for $15, all shucked. This was split between Allison and the guys. And I got the fishcake platter which was $12, includes two good sized crab cakes, two sides (which I picked mac and cheese and hush puppies) and two rolls and I also got crab balls for $6 which were basically smaller crab cakes, you get 4 of them, but it looks like it is roughly the size of one regular one. The food was really good, surprisingly the crab cakes did not have a lot of filler. Basically everything that you order will come back boiled or deep fried.

Fish Market
Left 12 oysters, right 12 clams
Crab cakes and hush puppies on the left, crab calls on the right, mac and cheese in the middle
By now, we were fairly tired again, we walked to the nearest Metro station and went back to the BnB. We made it back at around 8:30pm. Afterwards, I decided that I would go out and take some night pictures of Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the Washington Monument. I left with Allison at around 9:30pm and the rest stayed at the BnB. We made it out to the Jefferson Memorial area by around 10:00pm and parked on Ohio Drive which is the street that connects Jefferson Memorial to Lincoln Memorial. There was plenty of free parking at the time.

Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial
Jefferson Memorial
After taking some pictures at the Jefferson Memorial, as we were leaving, we ran into Tracey who was also here for the long weekend and we gave them a lift to the Lincoln Memorial which is near their hotel and where we were going to after anyways.

Lincoln Memorial
Washington Monument
Lincoln Memorial
We took some pictures of the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and called it a night. We got back to the BnB at around 12:00am and had issues parking our minivan since our street was actually out of parking spots, luckily, we ran into someone who said we could park on their street (we didn't quite understand the road signs) and called it a night.

Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial
Washington Monument
As our last day here, I think that Washington D.C. is a nice place to visit as a tourist. It is very well planned out so that once you are in the National Mall area, you don't really need to leave which is nice. Metro system works well, however I wished that they had expected arrivals at all stations (or I just missed some) because when we were returning from the Fish Market, it seemed to take a long time once we missed the train. It is a nice city to visit at least once, I think 3 full days would have been a better amount of time to see everything on the list, but 2 will need to do for now.

Tomorrow, we will visit Hershey's Chocolate World and head back to Toronto.