Colombian Food, Italian Ice & Taiwanese Snacks Along the 7 Train

There are plenty of great Asian restaurants in Flushing, but the most impressive site I’ve seen there is the food court at the New World Mall.

Mention of the 7 train elicits mixed reactions. Only 6 of the 22 stations connect to other lines and it’s the only subway line that serves Manhattan and Queens (it does not go out to Brooklyn). On September 13, 2015 the first new station of the new millennium opened on the 7 line near the Javits Center. This is very convenient for anyone arriving by boat from New Jersey.

Queens is known as NYC’s most international borough. Over 1,000,000 of the more than 2,300.000 residents are said to be foreign born. If you like food, culture and some nature, you can spend an exciting day along the 7 train.

During my most recent trip, I started at the new 34 St-Hudson Yards station and took the 7 train to 82 St-Jackson Hts. I’ve been to and blogged about this area before. There’s such an amazing selection of Latin American food along Roosevelt Ave. For lunch, I chose La Pequeña Colombia on the corner of 83rd & Roosevelt. I asked their friendly staff what seafood dishes people eat in Colombia and they suggested Pargo Rojo Marinado, which is more prominent is the coastal areas. $27.95 may sound like a lot of money, but most people would not need an appetizer or dessert with this entrée. It’s a whole red snapper over a bed of seafood in a creamy white sauce. A side of yuca with rice is only $3.95 and makes an excellent addition to the sauce after you’ve finished the seafood.

After a meal like that, some walking is in order. I did not have room for any of their hearty desserts and you may not either. My next destination was Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It’s the fourth largest park in NYC and if you are using the 7 train, there’s a couple different ways to get there. I chose to take the train two stops from 90 St-Elmhurst Av to 103 St-Corona Plaza. Although this is a bit west of the park entrance on 111th Street, you can pass by The Lemon Ice King of Corona if you just walk east to 108th St and go 12 (short) blocks south to 52nd Ave. They are open all year round and have more than 30 flavors. Small cups cost $1.50 each. They do not mix flavors, so it’s worth buying a few different small cups to sample the flavors.

From there, you can walk east on 52nd Ave to 111th Street, which will put you near the main entrance to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It’s more exciting in the warmer months, but you can still spend hours there in the winter. If you go to the nearby museums, you can spend days.

My last stop in the park was the Unisphere. From there, the 111 St and Mets-Willets Point stops along the 7 train are just a short walk north. The one you take will depend on whether or not you are going east or west. The last stop to the east is Flushing-Main St, which will leave you in the heart of what some call the largest Chinatown in NYC. It’s certainly the largest in Queens and is different from the more famous Chinatown in Manhattan in that most of the people there are Mandarin speaking.

There are plenty of great Asian restaurants in Flushing, but the most impressive site I’ve seen there is the food court at the New World Mall. Although the Chinatown in Flushing is generally not as crowded as the one in Manhattan, the food court in the New World Mall is. There’s an amazing selection of Asian food there and it really did remind me of my numerous trips there. There’s bubble tea, Korean, Thai and everything in between, but I always liked Tea Twitter. I first discovered them at the Queens International Night Market and they have excellent Taiwanese fast food. I’ve had salt & pepper chicken at numerous places (including Taichung and Taipei) and theirs is as good as any.

Flushing gives you the advantage of two different transit options back to Manhattan. The 7 train ends in Flushing and the Long Island Railroad has a stop there as well. From Flushing-Main St. you can be at Penn Station in 20 minutes with only a couple stops between if you take the LIRR.

If you follow my itinerary, you can eat Asian, European and Latin American food and also visit an iconic park in less than one full day using one subway line. Of course you should make sure there is no construction on the 7 line, especially if you are visiting on a weekend. The subway would cost you $11 ($2.75 X 4 rides) if you start and finish in Manhattan. Taking the Long Island Railroad back from Flushing will cost more than the subway and unlike the subway, the cost varies depending on when you are riding. On weekends, the City Ticket is the best option at $4.25 one way.

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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.

Driving in D.C., walking around Georgetown

When visiting a city with a good public transportation system, I tend to leave my car at home. I’ve been traveling this way since 2008.

When visiting a city with a good public transportation system, I tend to leave my car at home. I’ve been traveling this way since 2008. Between 2008 and 2010, I learned the Subway in New York, the “T” in Boston and the Metro in DC. Since then, when I have to drive in those areas, I don’t look forward to it.

This past Friday, I did something I had not done in years: drive in the District of Columbia. In fact, the last time (that’s a Rolling Stones song) I did, it was to visit the Frederick Douglass house, which is located in Anacostia and has a parking lot.

It took a very special occasion to get me to drive there: a family reunion of sorts. I was taking my 83 year old Grandmother to visit her younger sister in neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland. Her one request was that she wanted to see the Holocaust museum. Although she was barely a teenager when the Second World War ended, she has more memory of the events around the time than I ever will.

Neither her nor her sister are capable of using the Metro. The walking is too much for them. The only option was for me to drive them. Like I told my Aunt (who I often stay with when visiting the DC area), “I’m not looking forward to it, but I’ll do it.”

The drive from Northampton County, Pennsylvania to Montgomery County, Maryland took more than three hours. It was barely 5:00 in the evening when we got settled in. I let them enjoy their reunion, while I went for a ride.

crossing the Monocacy River
crossing the Monocacy River

Since my Aunt lives in the very rural western corner of Montgomery county (near Virginia and the Potomac River), I decided to take a ride to Gaithersburg in central Montgomery County. I didn’t have a particular destination, but I ended up at SPAGnVOLA Chocolatier in the Kentlands. Any time I see an interesting looking chocolate shop, I tend to stop. As soon as I saw their selection, I knew I had to get a box.

Although I can’t remember how the conversation started, I ended up talking to their brand ambassador, who was sitting at a table, working on her Apple laptop computer. I mentioned that I had a blog and I knew the term “brand ambassador” from Lisa Ray, who is Insight Vacations “brand ambassador.”

I mentioned that I’m a travel blogger and suggested she follow my blog. That conversation lasted a few minutes, then she asked about the (dragonfruit) necklace around my neck. I didn’t buy it to get attention, but dozens of people have asked me where I got it from. I don’t like wearing gold or silver, but I like having something around my neck. My cousin pointed out Glitterlimes to me last year and I ended up buying a couple necklaces around the holidays. I kept the dragonfruit necklace for myself and giving the lime one as a gift.

There was only one other non-employee in the place at the time. She overheard our conversation and bought three necklaces while we were talking. She turned out to be a publicist and looked at my Instagram and Twitter accounts as well as my blog. Since I’m not yet a full-time blogger, there was plenty to learn from her. She ended up taking my picture and showing me how to get the maximum amount of exposure on Instagram and Twitter.

at SPAGnVOLA Chocolatier in Gaithersburg MD
at SPAGnVOLA Chocolatier in Gaithersburg MD

I ended up not buying any chocolates until they were ready to close. By the time I returned to my Aunt’s house, I’d been gone for around five hours and everyone was sleeping.

The next morning, I was up, finished with my p90x3 workout and showered before anyone else. After my breakfast (shakeology), I did some paperwork I had brought with me until we got on the road.

The drive (that’s an REM song) took a little less than an hour. As soon as we got into the city limits, I got that feeling I get when I’m arriving in a place I love. There’s the excitement of seeing a city you’ve never seen and then that love of the familiar. DC is my 3rd favorite city (tied with even more historic Boston), but I would not be exploring it the way I like to.

I dropped them off at the Holocaust Museum and went to find parking. It took around five minutes but I found free 3 hour street parking on Jefferson Drive across from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service building and made the (fast) five minute walk to the museum.

Since I had been to the Holocaust Museum in 2008 (the last time I drove in the heart of DC), I was the one who went through the fastest. I was done in less than two hours. Normally I’m the one who takes the most time to the point where I annoy anyone who is with me. This time was the opposite.

Washington Monument
Washington Monument

On my way back to the car, I took a picture of the Washington Monument. After I picked my Grandmother and her sister up at the museum, we went to 2 Amys Pizzeria which was my (sort of) choice for lunch. The publicist that I had met the previous night, told me that we had to try 2 Amys. I ordered the Margherita like I typically do and shared rice balls with the table.

Margherita Pizza at 2 Amys
Margherita Pizza at 2 Amys

On the way to the museum, my Grandmother had mentioned that she had never been to Georgetown and my Aunt reminded her that it’s the most desirable neighborhood in the District of Columbia. Although my Grandmother was acting as if she didn’t really care if she saw it, she seemed pleased when I told her I would stop there.

C & O Canal in Georgetown
C & O Canal in Georgetown

We found a (not free) parking lot across from a Morton’s Steakhouse. They went for a drink, while I went for a walk on M Street. I got nostalgic almost immediately, like I tend to do in places where I have good memories. I’d visited there a few times last year, while staying at my Aunt’s house. The main stop I wanted to make was Olivia Macaron. When I arrived there, I was pleased to see that they had “fruity pebbles” flavored macarons. I bought a box of 7 and went to meet back up with my family.

Fruity Pebbles at Olivia Macaron
Fruity Pebbles at Olivia Macaron

The next morning, we drove back to Pennsylvania. I had been looking for Taiwanese “salt & pepper” or “popcorn” chicken in Georgetown the previous night, but could not find any. Thanks to Yelp, I found a place (Jumbo Jumbo Cafe) in Germantown that was not out of our way. After a stop at Lotte (which my Aunt took me to last summer), we went for bubble tea and chicken. We each ordered the same thing, but I ended up eating half of her chicken. Since I rarely eat fried foods, my stomach was a bit upset and that ended up being my only meal of the day. I certainly wanted some, but maybe not that much! I was raised to never throw food away.

Taiwanese Chicken & Coconut Milk Tea with bubble tapioca
Taiwanese Chicken & Coconut Milk Tea with bubble tapioca at Jumbo Jumbo Cafe in Germantown, MD

After crossing into Pennsylvania, we stopped in Gettysburg, which my Grandmother had never really seen. I had not been to since the last time I drove in the center of DC in 2008. She was acting the same way she was about Georgetown. Like it would be nice, but it was not important that we stopped. Like the Elf song, I chose to “do the same thing” as I did in Georgetown. Since it was the middle of the afternoon already, we drove through town and I got out to take some pictures. I never drove through downtown Gettysburg like we did. The last time I was there I took a bus tour from the visitor center with a friend.

Gettysburg Address 11-7-2015

Driving through Gettysburg reminded me of Carlisle a bit. We only spent about an hour. Even a casual civil war buff can spend a few days in Gettysburg without getting bored, but that was not an option on this trip. However, I picked up a lot of brochures for things I had not done when I spent an afternoon in Gettysburg in 2008. Gettysburg blog post coming soon!