Fun & Games, Getaways, The Features

Getaways: Boston

Christopher Columbus Park, Photo by Rachel Levitin

According to a piece featured on CNN.com yesterday, the typical American worker gets two or three weeks off out of a whole year to take a vacation. Only 57% of U.S. workers use up all of the vacation days they’re entitled to.

It’s unfortunate but that’s how it goes. We’re bad at turning off our brains for a vacation due to fear of future layoffs and the fast-paced work environment. What we need to get better at is letting ourselves take just a couple of days to recharge our mental, physical and emotional batteries.

I, too, had to make the choice to take a vacation. Instead of a week or a few days, though, I took one day and made a weekend out of it.

Thanks to my gracious tax return, I took the hour flight from Reagan National to Boston Logan and found myself in Beantown for a quick 48-hour tour of what I quickly found to be one of America’s most walk-able cities. In just two days time, my tour guide of a friend took me on a whirlwind adventure of Boston by foot. Here are a few of my favorite stops from that trip: Continue reading

Getaways, The Features

Getaways: Philadelphia

City Hall
City Hall
by Corinne Whiting

The mention of Philly conjures different associations for different people. Some instantly envision mounds of steaming cheesesteak (“Get the whiz or they’ll mock you!” Philadelphians warn). Others think of the Founding Fathers, the Eagles and their die-hard fans, that famously cracked bell, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or of a fist-pumping Rocky racing up the art museum steps. (Some others I know love to bring up this ridiculous survey. I’m reluctant to make any cracks here when DC doesn’t always fare so well itself…)

For me Philly now means frequent visits with a dear friend whom I met in Scotland (go figure) and hours of aimless wandering around this fascinating city. Each time I marvel at how a place so physically close can sometimes feel so very far away. As a child I traveled once or twice to this historically-rich town (the nation’s temporary capital from 1790 to 1800) to stand on the very spots where the country’s Founding Fathers drafted the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. As school kids here we learned about Renaissance man Benjamin Franklin, famed not only for his revolutionary electricity experiment, but also for creating the country’s first insurance company and the city’s first public library and fire department. We ogled at the Liberty Bell, rung to announce the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1828 in Great Britain, hopped back on our bus, and trekked home to the nation’s newer capital.

These days I make the two-and-a-half to four-hour “dragon bus” journey (I’d recommend the speedier/pricier Amtrak option if unpredictable budget shuttles aren’t your thing) when craving an urban change of scene. When DC is feeling just a little too rigid or pristine or orderly, and New York feels too far away, I head north to the “City of Brotherly Love.” Franklin deemed Philadelphia the “new Athens,” but to me, it feels suspiciously reminiscent of Glasgow, Scotland, perhaps for its mix of historic charm—cobblestone streets and narrow row houses in European-esque Old City—splashed with modern blocks of gray concrete and urban grit. In any case, the place is full of character and refreshingly down to earth.

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Getaways, The Features

Getaways: Shepherdstown, WV

Photo courtesy of
‘Shepherdstown2′
courtesy of ‘macfanmd’

Grab your friends, pack the car and put on a big smile – it’s Getaways time everybody! This week we are taking an exciting and fascinating trip to a few small towns in wild and wonderful West Virginia. WV is super far, it’s nowhere near here. It must be hundreds of miles away and you have to drive on dirt roads for hours upon hours through overgrown brush just to get there. Oh, and of course there’s the dodging of shotgun toting rednecks as you drive through the endless hills. Right? Right? Wait…WRONG! If you think like this, like thousands of other DC area residents do, take a minute and slap yourself. Then repeat (except this time on the other side of your face, to prevent facial bruising of course).

Now that your face has healed, it’s reality check time. Harpers Ferry is 67.1 miles from the center of DC and accessible entirely by highways. Shepherdstown – just a few more miles and only one two lane, paved road needed. What’s that? You’ve heard of them-there towns? Tubing, white water rafting, a national park, hiking/camping, civil war battlefields and a town that looks the same as it did in 1861? Yep, that’d be Harpers Ferry. A quaint little artisan town, on the Potomac river, filled with unique little shops, art galleries and eateries, home of the very first steamboat, an accepting and socially progressive culture and host to a historic, growing, top rated small public university? Shepherdstown it is. Nestled amongst natural beauty that beats anything you could have expected from a quick drive outside I-495, this little duo of WV small towns cannot be beat. Throw in the county seat, the historic town of Charles Town, and you get a trifecta of small town life with endless possibilities for an incredible getaway.

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Getaways

Getaways: Richmond

Richmond The National
The National by Corinne Whiting

When you’re a traveler who’s inclined to ration funds and vacation leave for passport-dependent voyages, it’s easy to forget there are adventures to be found closer to home. So a couple Fridays back, a few friends and I bid farewell to our D.C. offices a wee bit early and joined the masses traveling south down I-95. (Fortunately we’d come prepared for gridlock, chock full of patience and playlists.) Our mini-vacation destination? Richmond, incidentally the state capital located at the fall line of the James River in Virginia’s Piedmont region. But of interest to us that evening? A show by those lovable North Carolinian folk rockers, The Avett Brothers.

We whizzed into town excited to begin our less than-24-hour southern tour. Best not to dwell on details of actual travel times (roughly double our estimate) and revamped dinner plans (we’d dreamed of buttery Southern goodness at Comfort, yet made do with hurried turkey clubs in an ambiance-less Marriott dining room). But no matter, the slow-as-molasses waiter was friendly, and the Turning Leaf he poured sufficiently chilled. We instantly settled into the refreshing change of scene–so few suits, so many beards!–and headed two blocks down Broad Street to The National.

The historic National theater, reminiscent of Falls Church’s State Theatre, opened with much fanfare in 1923 as the newest addition to the then-thriving Richmond theater scene. Inside this Italian Renaissance Revival space, described by one reviewer as “handsome, stately, adorned but not ornate…,” acts ranged from vaudeville performers and artists like Orson Welles to silent movies, which were accompanied by musicians in the orchestra pit below (the state’s largest). The theater sat up to 1,114 spectators, including those in four second-level boxes that remain intact today. The adored venue was saved from a wrecking ball in 1989 by the Historic Richmond Foundation. These days the ground floor, which gradually slopes for easy stage viewing over neighbors’ heads, is reserved for standing space, and concert goers with balcony tickets sit above. Seven full bars serve thirsty patrons, while tattooed bouncers stand guard around the perimeter.

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Getaways, The Features, The Great Outdoors

Getaways: Chincoteague & Assateague

Wild Ponies at Sunset, Assateague

"Wild Ponies at Sunset, Assateague" by Jenn Larsen, on Flickr

Relinquish control to nature. That’s extremely difficult for an urbanite like myself. But, I was on the fast track to total anxietyville and desperately needed an escape. What better way to unwind than leaving yourself behind on a five mile bike trek through a barrier island refuge? Sighing upon spotting wild ponies? Napping on a deserted beach? Being bitten by insanely voracious mosquitoes?

Ok, this last is not quite as relaxing as the rest! Definitely watch out for those bloodsuckers while you enjoy some sea-drenched nature just three hours away from DC, on the Chincoteague Island National Wildlife Refuge and Assateague National Seashore. With some 14,000 acres of barrier island habitat including marshes and long stretches of beach, this is a naturalist’s dream.

The town of Chincoteague itself is rather like a rusty old tugboat that does its duty with a trusty nonchalance. It’s not a glamorous destination, but there are plenty of decent seafood places, surf shops, cute boutiques, and decadent ice cream parlours. It’s still milking the “Misty” books, Marguerite Henry’s tales of the penning of the famous wild horses. Yours truly learned to ride on a Chincoteague pony back in the mists of her teenage years and still has a soft spot for these extremely tough and beautiful animals. There are pony rides to be had here, of course, but I suggest you rather seek out viewing them in their natural habitat on Assateague (unless you are or have kids, in which case, they will love a ride). Continue reading

Entertainment, Food and Drink, Fun & Games, Getaways, The District

Getaways: Rehoboth Beach

Photo courtesy of
‘Sandy Palimpsest’
courtesy of ‘M.V. Jantzen’

From boardwalks, to seafood, to sandy stretches to outlet shopping, Rehoboth Beach in Delaware has everything you could ask for in a beach. Three of my friends and I recently struck out for a relaxing escape-our-stressful-jobs girls weekend.

We’re twentysomethings on budgets, so we stayed at the Atlantis Inn. Clean, no frills, on the main strip, only a block and a half from the beach, the Atlantis is equipped with comfy rooftop poolside chairs, but take warning: double beds. So if you’re just a group of friends, you’ll be forced to do some mandatory cuddling. Whatever, at least we like each other.

The main drag of Rehoboth is adorable, lined with all kinds of great shops, good food and plenty of ice cream options. We were totally entertained. Continue reading