A Pennsylvania Native Spends His First Day in Pittsburgh After 36 Years

When I meet someone who’s not from my home state, I tell them “I’m from Pennsylvania.” The east coast people tend to ask how close to “Philly” I am, while everyone else asks if I live near Pittsburgh. Until recently, my answer was that I’d never been there, as it’s on the other end of the state. I’ve always been curious, so for the first weekend of the New Year, I finally explored Pittsburgh.

When I meet someone who’s not from my home state, I tell them “I’m from Pennsylvania.” The east coast people tend to ask how close to “Philly” I am, while everyone else asks if I live near Pittsburgh. Until recently, my answer was that I’d never been there, as it’s on the other end of the state. I grew up in Luzerne County (eastern Pennsylvania) and can drive from there to the George Washington Bridge and back before I can get to Pittsburgh. I’ve always been curious, so for the first weekend of the New Year, I finally explored Pittsburgh. Lonely Planet served as a guide for what I would do there and there were enough sights and activities to easily fill a day.

I started off at the Duquesne Incline with the idea that I would ride one incline in the light and the other in the dark. The Duquesne is not operated by Port Authority and rides must be paid for in cash. When you get to the top, there are some exhibits as well as an observation deck with excellent views.

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My next destination was the Heinz History Center, which is on the southwestern border of the strip district. With seven floors (five open to visitors), you can easily spend a day there. Admission for an adult is $16. AAA will get you $1 off, but student admission is only $6.50.

The Clash of Empires: The British, French & Indian War 1754-1763, From Slavery to Freedom, Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation and We Can Do It: WWII were my personal favorites. I went through the museum in two hours, but you can easily turn that into three or four, depending on how fast you read and how varied your interests are.

From the museum, I walked to Penn Ave and through the strip district. There’s plenty of shopping there and different restaurants as well. Pittsburgh Popcorn Co is located on the corner of 21st Street and Spring Way. They have new flavors every week and offer samples. I bought a bag of cinnamon toast, which nobody else that was in front of me seemed interested in. Oh well, their loss, because it was delicious!

For lunch, I went to Stone Neapolitan Pizzeria, near the Gateway subway stop and then visited Fort Pitt Museum. Although the Heinz History Center is much more extensive, the area around Fort Pitt is great for walking and photo ops. At Fort Pitt, you can learn about the natives of Pittsburgh as well as how the 2nd largest city in Pennsylvania got its name. It was not named after Brad!

Pittsburgh skyline from Fort Pitt

I don’t believe that a visit to any city is complete without using some form or public transportation. I finally used the underground in Philadelphia last summer and since Fort Pitt is near the Gateway station, I boarded the train there and took it across the Monongahela River to the Station Square stop. The stops between Gateway and First Avenue are part of a Free Zone, but I had to pay since I was crossing the river to Station Square. Like the Los Angeles Metro, you buy a card, add value and “tap” when you enter the train. Before arriving at the First Avenue station, the train ascends above ground, so you get to see the river as it crosses.

From Station Square, it’s a short walk to the Monongahela Incline. It was dark by this time and the ride ($2.50 one-way, but only $1 extra if you make the return trip within three hours) only took a minute or two, just like the Duquesne. There’s an observation deck outside the upper station, where I took some excellent photos of the city at night.

After collecting my car, I headed to I Tea Café (Taiwanese) for dinner. They have one of my recent favorites (salt and pepper chicken) with different flavor options. I chose seaweed and also got French fries (something I don’t associate with Taiwan) of the same flavor as well as bubble tea. Everything was excellent and I had room for dessert, so I ordered glass jelly and homemade coconut toast. They are separate on the menu but go very well together. Try it!

Most decent sized cities have at least a bakery or two that sells French macarons. I found Gaby et Jules on Yelp and stopped there to get a box of six. They have the standard flavors as well as ones I’d either rarely or never seen before. I got nutella and salted caramel, which most places sell, but also tried Bailey’s Irish Cream and white chocolate basil.

Heinz Field

After spending my first full day in Pennsylvania’s second city, I can understand why it’s been voted the most livable city in America multiple times. It has professional sports teams, world class museums, a great food scene, more than ten colleges and universities yet does not feel overwhelming. Furthermore, my favorite bands usually stopped in Pittsburgh when they went on tour! Like most major cities, parking is a issue in the center, but unlike other cities with subways, you can ride theirs for free in the most congested areas. Pittsburgh has some great architecture along their ample waterfront, but it’s the inclines that really allow the visitor to fully appreciate it.

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Exploring the city that gave the world Little League Baseball

It was a great day exploring the city that gave us Little League Baseball and in the last half of the 19th century claimed more millionaires per-capita than any other American city.

In the last half of the 19th century, Williamsport, Pennsylvania claimed more millionaires than any other American city. With a population of just under 30,000, there is no city of similar size within an hour drive. There’s one small airport, which only offers commercial flights to one city (Philadelphia). The Susquehanna River divides Williamsport and South Williamsport. Although most of the tourist attractions are located in the city of Williamsport, the most famous institution associated with the area is located in South Williamsport.

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Just south of South Williamsport on Route 15 (north)
Just south of South Williamsport on Route 15 (north)

Many people will be approaching Williamsport from Interstate 80. Since I live east of Williamsport, I take I-80 to either I-180 West or Route 15 North whenever I visit. My first stop on my most recent visit was the World of Little League Museum. This is an ideal place to start for anyone coming from the south.

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Every year, greater Williamsport gets flooded with baseball fans attending the annual Little League World Series. Williamsport claims to be the birthplace of Little League Baseball. The museum has ample parking right on Route 15 North. General admission is $5, but there is no charge to view the grounds behind the museum.

Howard J. Lamade Stadium
Howard J. Lamade Stadium

I started by driving around the grounds behind the museum, which include the 40,000-seat Howard J. Lamade Stadium as well as Little League Volunteer Stadium. Every year, Lamade Stadium hosts the Little League World Series. If you visit any other time, it’s hard to imagine the madness that surrounds the event every year as more people attend than live in the city of Williamsport.

scoreboard at Lamade Stadium
scoreboard at Lamade Stadium

After touring the grounds and taking some pictures, I visited the World of Little League Museum. Your tour will start with a brief orientation video. Once inside the actual museum, highlights include a timeline about Little League and the World Series as well as uniforms spanning the past 75 years. I spent around 30 minutes looking around before crossing the river and heading into Williamsport.

crossing the Susquehanna River
crossing the Susquehanna River

For lunch, I headed to Pine Square and ate at The Stonehouse Wood Fired Pizza & Pasteria. I had a classic margarita pizza as well as the grilled calamari. On the next block of Pine Street is Le Chocolat, which has excellent truffles. Owned by Bernie and Bonnie Katz for more than 20 years, I consider this to be a must-visit place for chocolate lovers visiting Williamsport.

margarita pizza at the Stonehouse
margarita pizza at the Stonehouse
grilled calamari at the Stonehouse
grilled calamari at the Stonehouse
inspirational banner on Pine Street
inspirational banner on Pine Street
old City Hall
old City Hall

After getting a box of chocolates to take home, I drove west on 4th Street. I first stopped to take pictures of the murals across from the historic Genetti Hotel, then drove through Millionaire’s Row (4th Street), then on to the Peter Herdic Transportation Museum. Inside, there’s a slide show on the history of transportation in Lycoming County (Pennsylvania’s largest) as well as information on the area’s role in the underground railroad. Out back there’s a Pullman Parlor rail car, which the museum claims to be one of only two remaining in the United States. Visitors can go inside.

Genetti Hotel

murals across from the historic Genetti Hotel
murals across from the historic Genetti Hotel
Millionaires Row
Millionaires Row

Just steps away is the Thomas T. Taber Museum of the Lycoming County Historical Society. This was my next destination. The Taber museum has exhibits on Lycoming County’s Native Americans, lumber industry and contribution to the armed forces. There are also period rooms which take the visitor back to the times of British colonialism and up to the present. Downstairs, there’s a toy train exhibition, which contains over 300 toy trains as well as two working layouts. The other basement room is dedicated to farming crafts and industry.

Taber Museum
outside of the Taber Museum
art at the Taber Museum
art at the Taber Museum

Many visitors to Williamsport take a Hiawatha Riverboat Cruise. They run May to October and cost $8.50. Although it’s by far the most “touristy” thing I ever did in Williamsport, I’m glad I experienced it. I found Susquehanna State Park (where the boat docks) to be more exciting as it provided for some excellent photo ops. The cruise itself is narrated and I’m pretty sure I was one of three people under 60 years old on the boat.

entrance to Susquehanna State Park
entrance to Susquehanna State Park

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bridge crossing the Susquehanna River
bridge crossing the Susquehanna River

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Hiawatha Paddlewheel Riverboat
shot from the Hiawatha Paddlewheel Riverboat
shot from the Hiawatha Paddlewheel Riverboat

After visiting three museums, I decided to visit the “birthplace of Little League Baseball,” which is located across from historic Bowman Field (now Susquehanna Bank Park). Besides looking at plaques and watching some people play baseball, there’s not much else to do at the site, besides take some pictures and say “I was there.” Bowman Field is home to the Williamsport Crosscutters, which are one of the Philadelphia Phillies’ minor league teams. It’s also the second oldest minor league ballpark in the United States.

historic Bowman Field (now Susquehanna Bank Park)
historic Bowman Field (now Susquehanna Bank Park)
plaque honoring Carl E Stotz
plaque honoring Carl E Stotz
Carl E Stotz Field (
Carl E Stotz Field (“birthplace of Little League Baseball”)

birthplace of Little League

After a full day of sightseeing, I was hungry for my favorite type of Asian food. From the park, I drove downtown to the only Thai restaurant in Williamsport. Joy Thai is located at 17 West 4th Street. For such a small city, parking can be a real challenge in the downtown area. There is street parking as well as municipal lots, both of which fill up fast. I know how big Pad Thai dishes can be, so I resisted the temptation to try appetizers and ordered the Seafood Pad Thai.

inspirational banner on Court Street
inspirational banner on Court Street
Seafood Pad Thai at Joy Thai
Seafood Pad Thai at Joy Thai

After dinner, I was in the mood to do some walking, so I headed to Pine Square and got some ice cream at Sprinkled Sweet. From there, as the sun set, I headed east to Market Street and walked across the Carl E. Stotz Memorial Little League Bridge (Route 15) bridge to South Williamsport and then back to my car near old City Hall. It was a great day exploring the city that gave us the organization which kept me occupied from age 9 to 12.

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walking from Williamsport to South Williamsport
walking from Williamsport to South Williamsport
sun setting over the Susquehanna River
sun setting over the Susquehanna River

My 1st full day in Easton, PA, a walk to NJ and back to PA

This past weekend, I spent my first full day in Easton, PA. Although, I’d driven through Easton hundreds of times over the past 19 years, I never spent a full day exploring on foot.

This past weekend, I spent my first full day in Easton, PA. Although, I’d driven through Easton hundreds of times over the past 19 years, I never spent a full day exploring on foot. Known to many as the birthplace of former boxing heavyweight champion, Larry Holmes and home of the Crayola Factory, Easton lies on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River. The Lehigh River meets the Delaware River just south of the Northampton Street Bridge, which connects Easton with Phillipsburg, New Jersey at no charge to motorists.

Northampton Street Bridge
Northampton Street Bridge

Since I was coming from neighboring Bethlehem, I started by visiting the National Canal Museum inside of Hugh Moore Park. A $12 ticket gets you a 45-minute mule-driven canal boat ride as well as admission to the museum. I started with the boat ride, which went at an amazingly slow speed of 2 miles per hour. During the ride, you get a history lesson and some nice photo ops.

Hugh Moore Park
Hugh Moore Park
Josiah White Canal Boat
Josiah White Canal Boat
Lehigh Canal Lock House 8
Lehigh Canal Lock House 8
Lehigh River waterfall
Lehigh River waterfall

The museum is housed inside of a 14,000 square foot, two-story brick building. I spent less than 30 minutes inside and found the boat ride to be more interesting. Inside the museum, there are exhibits on the history of the canal, which are good for children as well as adults.

Canal Museum
Canal Museum
leaving Hugh Moore Park
leaving Hugh Moore Park

From there, I drove to the Sigal Museum, near Centre Square. I parked behind the museum and stopped at Bank Street Creamery, where I had some raspberry sorbet. In the alleyway (Bank Street), I had a couple of nice photo ops before entering the museum.

bicycle parking on Bank Street
bicycle parking on Bank Street

The Sigal Museum is one of four museums operated by the Northampton County Historical & Geological Society. They were offering free admission and I spent more than 30 minutes exploring. Their exhibits on the Lenape people were the most interesting. Downstairs there was an exhibit about Just Born Quality Confections (Peeps, Mike & Ike, Hot Tamales, etc.), which is located in neighboring Bethlehem.

murals on Bank Street
murals on Bank Street

From the museum, I walked through Centre Square, then followed Northampton Street to Riverside Park. There were excellent photo ops all along the way. I walked northbound through Riverside Park to the Easton-Phillipsburg Toll Bridge. Earlier this year, I walked from New Jersey to New York and back to New Jersey (via the George Washington Bridge). This time I walked from PA to NJ and back to PA, using a different bridge each time.

Centre Square
Centre Square
Northampton Street Bridge
Northampton Street Bridge
Lehigh River
Lehigh River
Lehigh River
Lehigh River

Once I crossed the bridge into Phillipsburg, it was very unexciting and a tedious process to get to the Northampton Street Bridge, which would take me back into Easton. The 560 foot Northampton Street Bridge (known to locals as the “free bridge”) is shorter than the (1,020 foot) Easton-Phillipsburg Bridge and much more aesthetically pleasing.

Easton-Phillipsburg Toll Bridge
Easton-Phillipsburg Toll Bridge

After a long day of walking, I stopped at El Chasqui Peruvian & Colombian Restaurant. This is a nice family-owned place, which will likely be your only meal of the day. The food is excellent (Peruvian is my favorite American food) and filling. I cannot imagine eating this food every day, but the one or two times I eat Peruvian food every month, I really enjoy it. This was no exception. I ordered the Parihuela (Peruvian Seafood Soup) along with Ceviche Peruano and ended up taking some of each home.

after crossing the Northampton Street Bridge
after crossing the Northampton Street Bridge
State Center for the Arts
State Center for the Arts

When I got home, I booked my next trip to a foreign country……………………..

The 16th best small town in the United States

I enjoyed my dining experience much more than during any trip to Harrisburg. Carlisle has things that people travel to the big city for, but is laid back and manageable like a small town.

With a population of under 20,000 the borough of Carlisle was ranked the 16th best small town in the United States by livability.com in 2015. It’s located in south-central Pennsylvania bordered to the north the PA Turnpike (I-76) and to the south and by Interstate 81. Known to many outsiders as the home to the United States Army War College and Dickinson College, Carlisle also has a variety of restaurants that rival nearby Harrisburg.

A good place to start your day in Carlisle is the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center. If you are driving south on Interstate 81, you will see the Army Heritage Trail’s cabins and tanks off to your right. The visitor center has ample parking and is located right off exit 49. They open at 10 and close at 4:30 except for Sundays, when they open at noon. You will likely spend most of your time in the visitor center since they have exhibits which date back from the Civil War to the present. The Army Heritage Trail (bordered to the west by Interstate 81) is open from dawn to dusk and covers the same period as the museum itself.

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U.S. Army Heritage Trail

From there you can head west to downtown Carlisle. The most interesting cafes and restaurants are west of the junction of Hanover and High Streets. Although you cannot get French macarons in nearby Harrisburg, you can get macarons, hand-made chocolates, gelato, crepes and other desserts at Helena’s Chocolate Café & Creperie (located next to the Carlisle Theater). They are open 7 days and they can have anywhere between 5 and 12 different macaron flavors depending on when you visit. The combination of all the foot traffic and no other places that sell French macarons nearby means the flavors can sell out fast. In fact, they have flavors that I rarely see in Manhattan such as cinnamon and oreo. They have various to-go boxes, which can hold anywhere from 2 to 10 macarons and their crepes, desserts and gelato are worth sitting down for.

If you make a left out of Helena’s and cross High Street at Pitt Street, you’ll arrive at the Cumberland County Historical Society (closed Sundays). Upstairs, they have exhibits which explain how Cumberland County got to where it is today. Of particular interest are the exhibits on the building of the Pennsylvania Turnpike as well as the Native Americans that occupied the area before European settlers arrived.

From the visitor center, you could walk to History on High (across from Helena’s), which houses the Cumberland Valley Visitors Center (closed Sundays & Mondays). Once inside, you can get info on other local attractions as well as purchase books and other souvenirs. It’s possible to arrange walking tours from the visitor center, but with a map, you can locate 13 of the 18 historical markers in Carlisle without going more than a couple blocks from the junction of Hanover and High Streets. At the corner of High and West Street you can see where George Washington stood in October of 1794. You can also explore the grounds of Dickinson College, which is the Alma mater of the only United States President from Pennsylvania (James Buchanan, who graduated in 1809).

There are several options for dinner. Café Bruges (Belgian), Andalusia (Spanish & Moroccan tapas) and Trattoria Piatto (Italian) are affiliates of Helena’s. There’s also Issei Noodle, which is an interesting combination of Japanese ramen and Vietnamese Pho and also the only place in Carlisle which serves bubble tea.

I chose White Elephant Thai Cuisine for dinner and I’m glad I did! In addition to a standard Thai menu of nearly 70 items, they have specials every weekend. It’s BYOB, but they have some very interesting non-alcoholic drinks. Like some of the other restaurants on High Street, there is parking in the back. I ordered the coconut soup for an appetizer and the garlic scallops (weekend only) for my entrée. For dessert, I had my eyes on the tapioca coco, but at the last minute, I decided on the sea salt caramel gelato. The owner is always experimenting with new options, so it’s a good idea to stop back frequently. When I do, I’ll save room for the tapioca coco.

Although I consider myself a city person, I enjoyed my day in Carlisle just as much as I enjoyed my last trip to Harrisburg, which is more than double the size and the state capitol. Although the Susquehanna River does not run through Carlisle and they don’t offer as many options for museums, I enjoyed my dining experience much more than during any trip to Harrisburg. In summary, Carlisle has things that people travel to the big city for, but is laid back and manageable like a small town.

My favorite American food!

Thai is my favorite Asian food, Italian is my favorite European food and Peruvian is my favorite American food.

Ceviche Mixto
Thai is my favorite Asian food, Italian is my favorite European food and Peruvian is my favorite American food. When I visited Santiago de Chile in November 2008, there were a lot of new Peruvian restaurants opening up. If I go to South America again, it will likely be to visit Peru. Fortunately, there are now 4 Peruvian restaurants in eastern PA. Here is the Facebook page for the one I visit most frequently.