The best things to do in Barcelona range from the ancient to the modern. The Barri Gòtic and its maze of narrow streets harken back to its Roman beginnings while the dramatic glass high-rises near the water scream contemporary architecture. And Gaudì? You cannot escape the city without visiting several of his iconic modernist buildings.
Most iconic sight: the almost-finished Sagrada Familia
Best Itinerary Theme: Visiting everything Gaudì
Best tapas: Ciutat Comtal
Wildest dining experience: El Nacionaltapas
Most worthwhile day tour: Mount Serrat
Most disappointing: Not everything is within walking distance
During a recent trip to Australia, I narrowed down where to eat in Sydney. I’ve done all the research and the taste-testing for World Oyster readers so that you won’t be disappointed. (Hey, someone had to do it!) All you need to do is read, book, and go.
When trying to plan the best things to do in Sydney, I found that I had to re-vamp my expectations of visiting an international city. Yes, Sydney has culture and, yes, Sydney has history; however, unlike European cities, you won’t find yourself steeped in the past. Instead, you end up embracing the now.
Most surprising: how the climate allows for outdoor activities, year round.
When I visited the Netherlands earlier this year, I wanted to carefully plan where to eat in Amsterdam. Sometimes I chose by location. Other times, I wanted to satisfy my inner foodie. Not familiar with Dutch cuisine, I had no idea what to expect. On my visit I discovered that while Dutch cuisine, even at a Michelin-starred restaurant, embraces different ingredients and styles than I’m used to, the food can be delicious.
You can’t go wrong with any of the below. From Michelin-starred restaurant to casual bar, each offers quintessentially Dutch ingredients prepared in a style unique to the establishment.
Our three days in Amsterdam, the Netherlands became a whirlwind tour, mostly because, in truth, we had only two-and-a-half days. Plus, we cheated a bit by taking a tour outside of the city. No matter. Our jam-packed itinerary gave us plenty to do and see. I’m amazed by how much we managed to fit into a short period of time.
Best museum: the Rijksmuseum
Best restaurant for foodies: Rijks
Most surprising: the speed and danger of the cyclists whirring down the streets
Two days in historic Philadelphia works well for ambitious tourists like me. Because the historic district is compact enough to sightsee on foot, you can easily hop from one attraction to another. Of course, if you have three days, you’ll be able to see a bit more. And if you really want to see Philadelphia as a whole, including its world-class museums, then you’ll want to add at least another two days.
Most iconic sight: The Liberty Bell
Sight that requires the most planning: Independence Hall
Best Museum: The National Constitution Center
Newest Addition to the District: The Museum of the American Revolution
Best historic district restaurants for foodies: Buddakan and Amada
This week finds World Oyster at the Easton Public Market. Opened in 2015, the market is one of the newer attractions in this small eastern Pennsylvania city. It joins Lafayette College, the Crayola Experience, and the National Canal Museum as a local attraction.
Best Lunch: Mister Lee’s Noodles
Second-Best Lunch: Taylor Taco Shop
Decadent Treat to Go: Macarons from Chocodiem
Most surprising: The quality of the dining options
Most disappointing: The small size limits the number of stalls.
Parking: There’s a small parking lot at the back of the market, but it fills quickly. The best bet is to find street parking nearby.
Within easy driving distance from Bethlehem, Allentown, and New Jersey, the Easton Public Market is a fun way to spend an hour or so. Locals will grab a quick lunch or buy a few things for dinner that night. While the offerings are hardly expansive, the market does offer some gourmet options as well as more traditional fare.
Mister Lee’s Noodles
Chef Lee Chizmar is famous in the Lehigh Valley for his excellent farm-to-table French restaurant Bolete. A 2015 James Beard-nominee, Chizmar knows how to coax maximum flavor out of the simplest ingredients. The opening of Mister Lee’s Noodles in the Easton Public Market caused a lot of excitement. Despite knowing all that, I never would have guessed that ramen noodles could taste as rich and as flavorful as they do from this counter. Most hot bowls are topped with a “60-minute egg” — I assume sous-vide — but you can order your dish without one, as I did. Cold bowls tend to include hard boiled eggs.
World Oyster at the Easton Public Market rates Mister Lee’s Noodles as the best food by a slim margin.
Recommended: Hot & Spicy Ramen, cold Korean BBQ Beef noodles, whatever the daily special is.
Taylor Taco Shop
I love spicy food, one reason why I love the Hot and Spicy Ramen at Mister Lee’s, but that’s not the only spicy option at the Easton Public Market. Taylor Taco Shop offers customized tacos, burritos, and bowls. Although it’s modeled after Chipotle, the fillings are much more distinctive and delicious. You can customize or order one of their combinations. When I last visited, the options included two vegetarian (The Taza with falafel and the Fried Sweet Potato) and one meat (Roast Duck.) You can also dictate exactly what you want. Bowls with seared mahi-mahi and pork carnitas were excellent.
For those with a sweet tooth, World Oyster at the Easton Public Market must note Chocodiem. The glass cases display a fabulous array of Belgian chocolates and macarons, and everything tastes as good as it looks. Since I’m partial to French macarons, I can’t leave the market without a box of these. Yes, they are expensive, but oh-so-worth-it!
Chocodiem has two other locations, one in Clinton, NJ, and the other in the Bourse in Philadelphia.
Olive With a Twist
Olive With a Twist offers a selection of cheeses, olives oils, vinegars, and other gourmet items. The cheese selection is more limited than I’d like and offers nothing beyond what I can get at Wegman’s. Regardless, it makes a good stop if you are already in the Public Market.
Dundore and Heister
Although I haven’t shopped at Dundore and Heister myself, people rave about the meats sold here. It offers local, pasture-raised, and organic meats.
This small grocery store brims with produce and gourmet items such as local honey. The Highmark Farmstand‘s produce is pricey, but the display of it looks inviting enough to convince you to “strive for five” — or maybe six or seven. Pick up a jar of butterscotch peanut butter for a treat!
I’ve have never seen The Kitchen’s space used. As I understand it, you can watch cooking demonstrations, take classes, or attend a food-related education workshop. All I know is that I’d love to cook behind those glass windows.
Other Shops of Note
Silvershell Counter + Kitchen is another Lee Chizmar/Erin Shea venture. On my last visit, it had just opened and looked a little . . . not quite open. They offer freshly shucked oysters, fried clams, and lobster rolls as well as foods-to-go.
Full of Crepe (my favorite Easton Public Market name!) is a popular stop. You can get made-to-order sweet or savory crepes, plus salads.
Scratch uses a brick pizza oven, and it serves its own beer. I was annoyed when I tried to get pizza there during its supposedly open hours and found a “be back soon” sign. Not good on a Saturday. It did open about 30 minutes later, a little after noon.
Although I wish the Easton Public Market were larger, I still found the stop interesting enough to repeat. The dining options offer something for everyone, from traditionalist to gourmet.
Although less obvious a Midwestern destination than Chicago, it rivals that much larger city in many ways. Whether you are a supporter of the arts, nature lover, or sports fanatic, you’ll likely find a lot to do.
Neighborhoods and Layout
Most people visiting Minneapolis will stay in the downtown area amid high rises connected by the glass-walled Skyway so that you can walk from one to the other without going outside. Its twin city, St. Paul, lies to the east (and slightly south.) The Mississippi Rivers meanders through both cities. Unfortunately, constant road construction often makes it difficult to drive or even walk in some areas.
Areas of interest include Nicollet Mall, a street where you can find restaurants and stores. The Theater District is one or two blocks over, on Hennepin Ave. The Warehouse District, a.k.a. the North Loop, has shops, theaters, and restaurants in older, converted factory buildings. Look for the famous Bob Dylan Mural painted by Eduardo Kobra. Dinkytown, on the eastern side of the Mississippi, is the home of the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.
During my most recent visit, I stayed at the Loews Minneapolis Hotel. Other downtown options include the Grand Hotel Minneapolis (Hyatt), the Radission Blu, the Hilton, and the Crowne Plaza.
The Mall of America
When someone says, “Minneapolis,” most people think of either Mary Tyler Moore or The Mall of America. For better or worse, the mall has become an iconic stop for all who visit the city. It’s located near the airport, making it a great first stop if you arrive too early to check into your hotel.
Unbeknownst to most outside Minnesota, the mall is located not in Minneapolis proper but rather in Bloomington. Its fame derives from its central amusement park, with its roller coasters, kiddie rides, and other attractions, in addition to its wide range of stores. Worth visiting beyond the stores and amusement park: Flyover America for its immersive, thrilling tour of the U.S. from the air and CMX Market Cinema Experience for its assigned recliner seats, gourmet popcorn lab, pizza station, and full bar. Kids will beg to visit the Lego store and the enormous Lego display outside of it.
If you’re hungry, don’t worry! FireLake Grill House, inside the Radission Blu, offers sit-down service and menu items from flatbreads to salads to Alaskan Wild Salmon to bacon-wrapped quail legs. They have their own apiary on top of the mall where they harvest their honey. Burger Burger not only offers burgers and fries but also Impossible Burgers in five different styles for vegans; the spiked shakes and full bar surprise at this “fast casual” restaurant. If you have kids in tow, try the Rainforest Café. For snacks, you can find edible cookie dough, French macarons, chocolates, and espresso/cappucino. You’ll find the likely mall suspects as well as chains such as Bubba Gump. This blog doesn’t have enough room to list all the food possibilities.
World Oyster in Minneapolis must feature the arts in the city since they are some of the best in the Midwest. The city’s active arts community thrives throughout the year.
Productions at the Guthrie Theater, one of the premier regional theaters in the United States, include everything from musicals to experimental plays. A tour of the building includes the Amber Box and the cantilevered Endless Bridge. Even if you don’t see a play, you’ll get spectacular views of the Mississippi River.
The world-class Walker Arts Center houses contemporary art with changing exhibits. The museum embraces multimedia pieces such as film of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and work by composer John Cage. You’ll find well-known contemporary artists such as Rauschenburg, Frankenthaler, Hopper, Warhol, and Calder among lesser-known but nonetheless compelling artists.
Nearby, don’t miss the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and its famous Spoonbridge and Cherry by Oldenburg and van Bruggen.
If more traditional or cultural art is your style, visit the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The collection ranges from Asian art to the decorative arts to European art to photography and more.
The live music scene is equally vibrant. Whether you like rock, jazz, or classical, you can find it in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Orchestra, located on Nicollet Mall, performs from mid-September through the first week of August, with more popular music played in the warmer months. Huge pop and rock stars appear in concert at the Target Center.
If you are a Prince fan, you shouldn’t miss a tour of Paisley Park where the Artist Formally Known As . . . lived and recorded/produced his hits.
World Oyster in Minneapolis would be remiss to discuss the city without including its sports. The Minnesota Twins (MLB) play in Target Field. The Timberwolves (NBA) and the Lynx (WNBA) play in Target Center. The Minnesota Wild (NHL) play across the river in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center. And the Vikings (NFL) kick off at the U.S. Bank Stadium. Most of these venues are located in downtown, close to a variety of hotels. With the exception of the Vikings’, most sports tickets are easier to acquire than they are in larger cities.
Mill City Museum
You’ll see the competing flour company signs on opposite sides of the Mississippi: Pillsbury on the east bank and Gold Medal on the west. Although these buildings are no longer in use for the actual milling of flour, they harken to Minneapolis’ past. The Gold Medal Building houses the Mill City Museum, a fascinating look at the city’s industrial history, including the Washburn A Mill Flour Explosion. The rooftop observation deck offers a fantastic view of the river and the falls. Works by local artists adorn the walls throughout.
Nature and the Outdoors
The residents of Minnepolis and Minnesota more generally love the outdoors. The Land of 10,000 Lakes provides numerous opportunities for cycling, boating, walking, and, in the winter, skating. Parks within the borders of the Twin Cities include Minnehaha Park, Powderhorn Park, Lake Harriet, and Loring Park.
The Majorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul’s Como Park is well worth the visit for plant and flower lovers. It houses indoor and as well as outdoor gardens. The adjacent Como Park Zoo entertains children and adults alike. The park itself is great for picnics, cycling, or just walking around. Parking can be a challenge on busy days — we had to park along the road and walk a distance to the botanical gardens.
Outside of the City: Lake Towns
Excelsior, a quaint town located on Lake Minnetonka, is only a 25 minute drive from downtown Minneapolis. The town has many cute stores and restaurants. Be forewarned, though: These businesses can be closed on holidays.
From Excelsior, you can book a steamboat cruise on Lake Minnetonka to Wayzata. If you end up in Wayzata, make sure to eat at 6Smith, a fabulous casual restaurant. In addition to their regular menus, they have menus for vegans and kids. They have a full bar and an excellent wine list.
Places to Eat in Minneapolis
Probably the best restaurant I’ve tried is Alma, located near the University of MN, but the Warehouse District’s The Bachelor Farmer runs close behind. Both feature seasonal ingredients and innovative dishes. Service is uniformly excellent, and dress is business casual. For a fun bar experience before or after dinner at The Bachelor Farmer, try the speakeasy style Marvel Bar. Walk around the back of the brick building and down the stairs. The bar has no signage, but once you step through the door, you’ll know you’re in the right place.
I also love Barrio, a Latin American tapas restaurant and bar. Due to its small size, you will want to make reservations for dinner. The Nicollet Island Inn Restaurant serves traditional food in a white tablecloth inn setting. If you like quirky cuisine, try Hell’s Kitchen. We love our breakfasts at the Henhouse Eatery, although they serve all day and have a full bar. The bakery is awesome — try their gooey cinnamon buns served with a gratuitous dollop of butter. Make reservations or else plan to wait up to an hour for a table. If you are in the Northeast neighborhood in search of breakfast/brunch, try Hazel’s Northeast.
Minneapolis offers tremendous range, especially when it comes to the arts and sports. World Oyster in Minneapolis attempts to give readers highlights of the city, but it’s by no means comprehensive. I’d be happy to hear other suggestions of what to see.
After our Alaskan cruise, we planned to stay an extra day, and so we wanted to see the best of Seattle in just two days. We like to pack as much as we can into our trips, and that requires careful planning. Because we concentrated more on Alaska than our stopover in Seattle, we needed to decide our itinerary at the last minute.
Most memorable: Stepping into the first Chihuly gallery
Most surprising: How informative the Argosy Cruise was
Best Spot for Oyster Lovers: Shuckers Oyster Bar
Most disappointing: We didn’t use our night ticket at the Space Needle.
Recommendations: If you plan to visit the three major attractions plus one more covered by the CityPass, it’s worth purchasing.
We settled on the purchase of a City Pass for $99 to get entry tickets to the top things to do in Seattle. The booklet contains redeemable vouchers for the most popular Seattle attractions, at times allowing us to skip the lines. By purchasing it, the City Pass determined what sights we would see. All we needed to do was decide the order in which we would see them. Since a City Pass is good for nine days from purchase, visitors who plan to stay in the city longer can spread out their activities. But, really, if you want to see the best of Seattle in just two days, this booklet is the way to go.
Chihuly Garden and Glass
Because we were told by our concierge at the Fairmont to buy our City Pass anywhere but the Space Needle, where lines could be long, we decided to start our tour at the Chihuly Garden and Glass. The garden is conveniently located next to the Space Needle and the Museum of Pop Culture, two attractions included in the pass.
Neither my husband nor I expected much out of this stop; however, we were blown away the minute we stepped into the first gallery. The museum features whole rooms of glass sculptures by Dave Chihuly and his atelier.
Outside, glass sculptures decorate the garden. The colored glass highlights the surrounding plants by matching their colors or contrasting with them. Sometimes the shape of the glass mimicked that of the flora.
Surprisingly, this stop ended up being one of the highlights of whirlwind tour of Seattle.
The CityPass requires you to choose between Chihuly Gardens and Glass OR the Pacific Science Center.
The Space Needle
Every visit to Seattle should include a visit to the Space Needle, if only to say that you’ve been there. The City Pass entitles you two admissions in a 24-hour period. Most people with this ticket visit once during the day and then again at night. Because our hotel was so far away, we went only once, during the day.
If you’ve ever been in an observation tower in a major city, you’ll know what to expect atop the Space Needle. It has two observation floors, one stationary and one slowly revolving with glass viewing panels in the floor. On a sunny day, the views of Elliot Bay, Mount Ranier, Puget Sound, and the city itself are spectacular.
The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP)
The Museum of Pop Culture ended up as the second surprise attraction. Located in the same area as the Chihuly Garden and the Space Needle, the dramatic building, designed by Frank Gehry, houses an astonishing collection.
The museum is divided by genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror, and pop music with some special exhibits. We saw artifacts from Star Trek, Men in Black, The Wizard of Oz, Lord of the Rings, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among too many to mention. The Guitar Gallery will appeal to music lovers, as will the exhibits on Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Jimi Hendrix, and Prince. I did not expect this museum to qualify as the best of Seattle in just two days, but it ended up being one of our more memorable stops.
The City Pass requires you to choose between MoPOP and the Woodland Park Zoo.
The Seattle Aquarium
Families with children flock to the Seattle Aquarium, but even as adults, we enjoyed seeing sea creatures and marine animals. The jellyfish and octopus underwater displays are popular, as are the above/under water exhibits featuring river and sea otters, seals, and tufted puffins. The emphasis is on conservation and education. Although this stop isn’t necessary to see the best of Seattle in just two days, we found that it added depth to the kinds of things we did.
Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour
We almost blew off the included Argosy Harbor Tour. After all, we had just gotten off a ship with far more interesting scenery. I envisioned a bland putt-putting around Elliot Bay. But we had our CityPass vouchers and time to do it. What a surprise! Thanks to our commentator, we learned a tremendous amount about Seattle’s waterways, its shipping history, the specific ships we passed, and the city itself. We even got a spectular view of Mount Ranier. Even with your CityPass voucher, you do need to make a reservation, so check the timetable.
Pike Place Public Market
Just as visitors to Seattle should see the Space Needle, they should explore the famous Pike Place Market. The fish, produce, flower, specialty food, and crafts stalls offer something for everyone. Even if you don’t want to buy, you’ll find a feast for your eyes. You can eat at one of the restaurants or purchase items to-go. It fits nicely into a whirlwind tour of Seattle because you can breeze through or stay longer, depending on your time constraints.
Famously, the original Starbucks is located outside the Public Market, but the lines are long. The company has even named a coffee roast after this location. Originally, we had hoped to eat breakfast there and were willing to wait until we saw that they did not sell food. We quickly noticed that people bought their coffee, then waited in line at the restaurant next door. Because we did not want to wait in two long lines for what we had hoped would be a quick breakfast, we passed. After all, we’ve had Starbucks coffee all over the world.
Ye Olde Curiosity Shop
For those who like the macabre, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop calls your name. It’s a combination souvenir shop and gruesome Hall of Fame. It boasts of the largest collection of shrunken heads in the world. As if that’s a good thing. You’ll also find the type of oddities under glass that you’d see in the carnival sideshow of yore. Shiver. The shop is located at the end of a pier near the Argosy dock.
Strolling the Waterfront
The Seattle waterfront, located on Alaskan Way, hums with activity. Especially if you visit the aquarium and/or take an Argosy cruise, you’ll find yourself along this busy stretch. No matter your interests, you’ll find something to do. You can buy a T-shirt or grab an ice cream or take out a loaf from the Alaskan Sourdough Bakery or ride the Seattle Great Wheel.
Even in two days, we were able to find some great dining options. We had a delicious lunch at Shuckers Oyster Bar, brunch at The Capital Grille, an upscale Italian dinner at the Vintage Kimpton’s Tulio, and a satisfying Happy Hour at Loulay, the last of which also served as our dinner.
Thanks to the CityPass, our whirlwind tour of Seattle in just two days took us to many of the city’s major attractions. Although the pass helped us plan by narrowing our options, we were also able to visit a few other areas.