Archives Travel

Two Days in Historic Philadelphia

Two Days in Historic Philadelphia:  Independence Hall
Two Days in Historic Philadelphia: Independence Hall

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

Archives Restaurants Travel

World Oyster at the Easton Public Market

World Oyster at the Easton Public Market
World Oyster at the Easton Public Market

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: Hot and Spicy Ramen at Mister Lee's Noodles
Hot and Spicy Ramen, Without Egg, at Mister Lee’s Noodles

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!

Macarons at Chocodiem: World Oyster at the Easton Public Market
Macarons at Chocodiem

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.

Highmark Farmstand

Full of Crepe, foreground, and Highmark Farmstand, background
Full of Crepe, foreground, and Highmark Farmstand, background

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!

The Kitchen

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.

Eight Oaks Craft Distillers sells small-batch craft spirits from Lehigh County.

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.

The Verdict

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.

Debbie Lee Wesselmann

Archives Travel

World Oyster in Minneapolis

World Oyster in Minneapolis: Downtown
World Oyster in Minneapolis: Downtown

World Oyster in Minneapolis compiles several trips I’ve taken to the upper Midwest city. Minneapolis is a mix of gritty and modern, leafy and stark, urban and suburban.

Most iconic thing to do: Visit the Mall of America

Distinctive feature: The Skyway

Best restaurants for foodies: Alma and The Bachelor Farmer

Most surprising: The thriving arts scene

Most disappointing: Constant road construction

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

The Mall of America Amusement Park
The Mall of America Amusement Park

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.

The Arts

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.

Sunset View of the Mississippi from the Guthrie Theater
Sunset View of the Mississippi from the Guthrie Theater’s Amber Box

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.

Spoonbridge and Cherry
Spoonbridge and Cherry at the Minnepolis Sculpture Garden

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.


Target Field, home to the Minnesota Twins
Target Field, home to the Minnesota Twins

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

World Oyster in Minneapolis: Ruins at the Mill City Museum
Looking down into the ruins from the 1878 Washburn A Mill explosion.

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.

The Verdict

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.

Debbie Lee Wesselmann

Archives Travel

The Best of Seattle in Just Two Days

The Best of Seattle in Just Two Days: View from the Space Needle
View of Seattle from the Space Needle

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.

A Whirwind Tour of Seattle: Gallery in the Chihuly Garden and Glass.
Gallery in the Chihuly Garden and Glass

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.

Chilhuly Garden, looking toward the Glass House
In the Chihuly Garden, looking toward the Glass House and its chandeliers

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.

View of the Chilhuly Garden through a glass floor panel in the Space Needle
View of the Chilhuly Garden through a glass floor panel in the Space Needle.

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

The Seattle Aquarium
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

The Best of Seattle in Just Two Days:  View of Mount Ranier from the Argosy
The best of Seattle in just two days: View of Mount Ranier from the Argosy

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.

The Verdict

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.

Debbie Lee Wesselmann

Archives Travel

Three Days in Auckland

Three days in Auckland, view from Sky Tower
Auckland and its harbor, taken from the Sky Tower

Earlier this year, my husband and I spent three days in Auckland, New Zealand. If you think that’s too short, you’re right. The sprawling city by itself isn’t as interesting as Wellington; however, Auckland is a good jumping-off point to explore North Island.

Most memorable: A day on the island Tiritiri Matangi

Best Restaurant for Foodies: The Grove

Most Surprising: The excellent food at the Sugar Club, atop the Sky Tower

Most disappointing: The city itself

To Glowworm or not to Glowworm

We faced one of our biggest dilemmas before we even left the United States. Should we spend an entire day and hefty fees to see the Waitomo glowworm caves nearly three hours from the city? And if we did, should we bundle that with another stop? Were 5-10 silent minutes floating under the worms worth giving up a whole day with only three days in Auckland itself? The answer is, with caveats, yes. After all, we’d probably never get the chance again to see glowworms.

Because we hadn’t rented a car, we chose to book a GreatSightsNZ tour with Viator that included the caves, the Agrodome, and the hot springs and geysers at Rotorua. Our tour left at 7:30 am and returned to Auckland at around 6 pm. We decided to skip the Hobbiton bundle since we have no special affinity for the movie. GreatSightsNZ gave the option of stopping at Rotorua instead of returning to Auckland, a ticket that a handful of people on our tour bought.

Our tour guide Rachale mingled stories about her youth with the history of the land to help pass the time on the road.

The Caves

Our first stop was at the Waitomo Caves. Because you cannot take photos inside for risk of harming the glowworms, the tour guide makes you line up in front of a blue screen before you go inside. Cheesy, yes. We gamely pointed to the imaginary worms, but had no intention of buying the faked photograph at the end.

The tour of the cave took longer than I expected, mostly because our guide explained cave formation and facts about the worms. We saw a couple of dangling worms up close and several dotting the cave roof above us.

Finally, in complete silence and darkness, we boarded one of the boats that glided through the largest cave chamber. Overhead, thousands of blue lights glittered. The boat ride didn’t take long, and we were done. Because I knew what to expect, I wasn’t disappointed, although I understand why some are.

The Agrodome

I considered the Agrodome Rotorua the throw-away portion of the tour, but it turned out to be more interesting than I expected. By the time we arrived, a light rain had begun to fall. We filed inside to watch a sheep get her first shearing, then headed to the outside ring to watch a sheepdog-in-training herd her charges. The dog was so new and enthusiastic that the sheep just gave up in the chaos and went into the pen of their own accord. At least it was humorous!

Alpaca baby at the Agrodome
Alpaca baby at the Agrodome

We boarded a tram for a tour of the facilities. “Farming” in New Zealand means animal husbandry for the most part. We saw sheep, cattle, deer, and alpacas, including an adorable baby.

Naturally, they had a gift shop where we had a few minutes to browse.

Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve

We arrived at our last stop, the Rotorua Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve, under a steady rain. The thermal reserve is akin to a mini Yellowstone, with geysers, hot pools, and mud pots. Unfortunately, the rain marred our visit. We saw no geysers, either, during our short stay. But the hot springs and kiwi house were worth the visit. The Maori cultural show was mildly interesting.

Thermal Reserve at Rotorua
Thermal Reserve at Rotorua

With the right weather and timing, this could have been fantastic. Even so, we enjoyed seeing this part of New Zealand.

Tiritiri Matangi

Although we should have booked this tour from the States, we locked into it only the day before. We didn’t have the ability to print the Viator tickets, and the ferry staff had issues scanning what I had on my phone. Thank goodness they finally waved us on board.

View from Tiritiri Mantangi
View from Tiritiri Mantangi

Tiritiri Matangi was absolutely the best thing we did in New Zealand. Hands down. No contest. We are bird lovers, and this sanctuary island without predators harbors some amazing species. Bring your binoculars! Even the 45-minute ferry ride offers views. And bring food and water since none may be purchased here. Even if you have only three days in Auckland and want to see the city, a trip to this island is well worth it.

Choose your path carefully, and keep track of the time. Once the ferry leaves in the afternoon, you won’t have another way off the island. Each ticket to Tiritiri Matangi entitles you to a guided tour. Avail yourself of this. Without our guide, I never would have known the history of the island, nor would I have known what to look for.

The island has forests, grasslands, and shorelines that attract a wide variety of birds. Despite all the birds I saw, I encountered none that I had seen before. Even the New Zealand pigeon was different — a giant about the size of a Thanksgiving turkey.

Other Things to Do

We walked to the New Zealand Maritime Museum from our hotel, the SkyCity Grand (not to be confused with the regular Sky City hotel down the block.) The Maritime Museum was the runner-up to “most surprising” aspect of our stay. I had expected little and found tons of intriguing facts and artifacts, from Maori canoes to World Cup racing boats. Not generally a fan of maritime stuff, I surprised myself by wishing for another 30 minutes to spend there. Alas, we had a lunch reservation to get to.

Because we had already settled on Auckland as a city of tours, we opted last minute for a Greylines city tour. We rode around the city on a giant coach bus, just the two of us and the driver. Although the driver was informative and we got to see things we wouldn’t have otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend this unless you, like us, have an afternoon to kill.

Sky Tower in Auckland
Sky Tower in SkyCity complex

The Sky Tower, located in the SkyCity complex, offers fantastic views of the city, plus thrill-seeking bungee jumping. We didn’t go all the way up. Instead, we ate at the Sugar Club for lunch, a pricy but well-worth-it restaurant with the same view.

Our three days in Auckland were well-spent, even if we didn’t spend much time in Auckland itself.

Debbie Lee Wesselmann


Princeton University and Reunions

Alumni council president Jennifer Daniels
Outgoing Alumni Council President Jennifer Daniels, with University President Chris Eisgruber on the left.

We spent a weekend at Princeton University and Reunions in late spring. For Princetonians, every year is a reunion year.  This year, approximately 25,000 alumni, dressed in flamboyant orange-and-black blazers and “beer jackets”, returned to campus.  Tents cropped up with their beer spigots.  At night, bands played into the wee hours.  In order to get into the parties, though, you need a wristband that comes with paid registration.

In the past, famous alumni such as Brooke Shields, George Will, and Ralph Nader mingled with their classmates.  (I’m still waiting for Michelle Obama and David Duchovny. I missed Jeff Bezos in 2017). The P-rade, a raucous 3.5 hour parade through campus, starts in the afternoon.  Local people come just to watch the spectacle.  While you’re waiting for the P-rade to begin, you can explore the campus and town.

Best experience: Seeing old friends

Favorite non-reunion experience: Visiting the art museum.

Most innovative class costume: 2009, Super Mario Bros.

The University

Although I did not go to Princeton (other than taking a few classes), I’m a part of it. My husband and I lived in graduate student housing while he worked on his dissertation.  Since then, we return every year to Princeton University and Reunions.  The open campus in central New Jersey is not just for alumni, though.  Its art museum houses a world-class collection. The world-class Firestone Library puts on exhibits that are open to the public. Sporting events bring in a lot of spectators.  And Richardson Auditorium hosts classical music concerts.  Off-campus, McCarter Theater, a well-known regional theater not officially part of the university, puts on fabulous shows.  If you’re an architecture junkie, you might visit to see the collegiate Gothic or the new, more innovative buildings.


Back of Nassau Hall, prior to the P-rade.
The back of Nassau Hall, prior to the P-rade.

The old parts of the university look exactly as you’d expect at an Ivy-league school, constructed in the collegiate Gothic style.  And, yes, many buildings are covered in ivy.  Nassau Hall, the iconic building at the entrance to the campus, was once occupied by the British during the American Revolutionary War. Like many well-endowed universities, Princeton is constantly expanding and renovating.  History is everywhere, but so are modern buildings. Lewis Science Library, designed by Frank Gehry, sits on Washington Avenue. The all-glass Sherred Hall, home of the chemistry department, was designed by Frederick Fisher and Partners.  

Lewis Science Library
Lewis Science Library, designed by Gehry

The Art Museum

Princeton University Art Museum
Princeton University Art Museum

For a small, free museum, the art collection found inside is remarkable.  The European galleries contain works by Fra Angelico,Goya, Monet, Van Gogh and Cézanne. Currently, the museum has a fascinating exhibit titled “Gainsborough’s Family Album” featuring Gainborough’s portraits of himself and his family.  Another room contains Retablos of Mexican Migrants to the United States.  The modern and contemporary galleries contain art by Georgia O’Keefe, Warhol, de Kooning, and yes, Tom Wesselmann.  You’ll find galleries devoted to photography, Asian art, African art, Ancient, Byzantine, and Islamic art — and more.  

(Any) Body Oddly Propped by Doug and Mike Starn
(Any) Body Oddly Propped by Doug and Mike Starn,
outside the art museum
Oval with Points by Henry Moore
Oval with Points by Henry Moore

The One-and-Only P-Rade

The 25,000 attendees include Princetonians and their families all dressed in class costumes.  They gather for the P-rade on Saturday afternoon, a 3.5 hour extravaganza that starts at 2 pm. The oldest alumni lead the way, followed by the 25th reunion class.  After those two groups, the classes count down from oldest to youngest.  The P-rade has marching bands, bagpipe players, Mummers, orange cars, and a few floats.  Everyone has a blast, from toddlers to nonegenarians — and beyond.  Joe Schein, from the class of 1937, was the oldest attendee.  As always, he walked the route despite being over 100 years old.  To get a true glimpse of Princeton University and Reunions, you need to either be there or, if you can’t, view a photo gallery.

Archives Travel

Inaugural Alaskan Cruise for the Norwegian Joy

Alaska Cruise on the Norwegian Joy, the ship
The Norwegian Joy, the night before her maiden Alaska cruise.

In early May, I took an Alaska cruise on the Norwegian Joy. My husband and I weren’t always cruise people. But when we decided several years ago to give it a try, we chose Norwegian Cruise Lines most because of its “freestyle dining.” We’ve been hooked ever since.

Most Memorable: whale watching; cruising Glacier Bay

Best Food: Le Bistro on the Joy

Most Surprising: We expected Juneau to be more of a city than it was.

Most Disappointing: The foggy/rainy weather often obscured the views.

We decided on an Alaska cruise on the Norwegian Joy because the price seemed reasonable and the incentives were right. Unbeknowst to us, we had booked not only the first week of the season, but also the inaugural sailing of the Joy after a massive renovation. Many passengers chose the cruise specifically to experience the ship as a (sort of) brand new addition to NCL’s fleet.

We tend to cruise for the excursions. Other people cruise to cruise. Norwegian makes it easy for both types of travelers.

The Ports-of-Call

The Joy’s itinerary doesn’t always include Glacier Bay, and that was a must for me. The ship cruised round-trip from Seattle, stopping in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and an evening in Victoria, BC to satisfy foreign port regulations.

Although technically not a port-of-call, the day spent cruising through Glacier Bay is an all-day affair, with national park rangers providing lectures and commentary in public areas and on the TV.

The Ship: Joy, Indeed

We absolutely loved the Joy. The Observation Lounge, two-stories of glass viewing at the bow with small seating niches extending to the forward stairs, surprised us since we had not experienced anything similar on other ships.

Forward Observation Lounge
Forward Observation Lounge

You have to fight to get seats in this area, particular when the ship enters Glacier Bay. Most of the best seats were taken by 5 am that day, although I found a window seat in one of the niches by arriving a few minutes before 6 am. Good thing I was still on East Coast time!

The Observation Lounge has its own bar, plus three continental breakfast/snack areas. One of the ship’s Starbucks is located adjacent to the bar, although you can get regular coffee at one of the two longer food areas. On Glacier Bay and at-sea days, the crew sets up Irish coffee carts.

But the Observation Lounge isn’t the only attractive area in the ship. Our mini-suite with balcony was comfortable and even roomy, although storage was reduced from some of the other Norwegian ships we had experienced.

We loved the District Brew House, with its draft and bottled beer as well as cocktails, not so much for the drinks but for the bright and modern atmosphere. With its rugged, wood-and-glass décor, we felt as though we had left the ship for another space.


Having cruised before only in the Caribbean, the arrival and departure schedules of this cruise took getting used to. We docked in Juneau at about 2:00 pm. Our first excursion departed at 3 pm and was expected to last until 8:30 pm. Like everything else on this cruise, we arrived back at the ship late, after the all-aboard time. Fortunately, if you book excursions through the cruise line, they guarantee that they won’t leave port without you.

We chose the Mendenhall Glacier and whale-watching combination excursion, hoping to get as much out of the port as we could. On the coach ride to the glacier, we saw a few bald eagles and a black bear, just out of hibernation.

The tour allowed an hour at the Mendenhall Glacier site, although we could have used more time, especially since the line in the women’s restroom was 15 minutes long. We were able to walk down to the edge of the lake, photograph the glacier, walk up to another viewing point — but couldn’t explore the visitor’s center in addition to that.

Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier

Also in the Juneau area . . . .

From the glacier, our coach bus took us to our whale watching tour on a relatively large, heated boat with an open top deck for viewing. As with many of our stops in Alaska, it was in the 40s and drizzling, but that didn’t stop us from climbing upstairs to witness from above the pod of orcas right next to the boat. We also saw several humpbacks, including a mother and her male calf.


Skagway looks like a typical gold rush town with its boxy wooden buildings, albeit it now occupied with jewelry stores and souvenir shops.

Skagway, Alaska: Alaska cruise on the Norwegian Joy
Skagway, Alaska

We chose to ride the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway one way to the top and then to take a coach to a suspension bridge, then through the Yukon Territory back to the ship.

Thanks to the entertaining commentary, the train ride helped us understand the history and the geography of the area. While the weather obscured more than we would have liked, the ride offered some memorable views, including the sight of the train’s engine passing through tunnel ahead. If you do this and plan to go only one way, choose the left side for better views.

And into Canada . . . .

Crossing into Canada at the top end of the ride, the skies turned miraculously blue, with white-capped mountains in the distance.

I expected more of the suspension bridge — I had thought we would take a short hike to it when it was more or less a roadside attraction — but the stop was worthwhile regardless, with gorgeous views of the river below and the white-capped mountains beyond. The ride through the Yukon Territory was socked in by fog, thus obscuring what we had expected to see. We did see another black bear walking alongside the road.

Glacier Bay

We secured seats by 6 am on the port side of the Observation Lounge. Starboard would have been better; however, we had our window seats. With Irish coffee in hand, we delighted in sailing past frolicking sea lions and mountain goats on the way to the glaciers at the head of the bay.

Yes, the day was cold, foggy, and drizzling. Everyone feared that we wouldn’t be able to see the glaciers. True to the park ranger’s word, we shouldn’t have worried. Still, we missed a lot of the supposedly spectacular scenery, making me want to return in future later in the season.

Lamplugh Glacier
The blue of the Lamplugh Glacier

I consider cruising Glacier Bay one of the highlights of our trip, equaled only by seeing the pod of orca whales. Even if it’s raining, you have to go outside to get a feel for the bay and to hear the thunder of calving glaciers.


All the literature and cruise excursion materials warned us that we would experience rain in Ketchikan no matter when we visited, since the town measures its annual rain in feet, not inches. Remarkably, the day dawned with brilliantly sunny skies and temperatures that climbed to the low 60s.

Marina at Ketchikan
Marina at Ketchikan

We chose the “Rainforest Adventure” excursion that took us by Kodiak boat to an uninhabited island with towering trees and a moss-covered forest floor. Our guide gave us a knowledgeable 1-mile tour of the flora around us. We saw starfish on the island’s rocky shore and a few bald eagles perched on other islands.

Ketchikan was the only town we wished we had had time to explore beyond our excursion. When we had booked, we were supposed to return to town at 12:30 pm. Knowing that we weren’t scheduled to sail until 2:30 pm and that all-aboard times are generally 1 hour before sailing, we figured we’d have an hour. Nope. We were told upon arrival that all-aboard time was 12:45 pm, exactly when we arrived back (late) at the dock. The crew was so disorganized at this port that we had to stand in line for at least 30 minutes to board.

And, Last, the Food Aboard the Joy

Service was shaky throughout the cruise, even in some of the specialty dining restaurants, which we had always loved. In Cagney’s, when we asked for a wines by the glass list, our server said that she didn’t have one. Say what? Other servers, especially in the complimentary dining rooms, seemed perpetually in the weeds. Either that, or the kitchen wasn’t yet up to the task of serving 3000+ people.

Complimentary Dining

We visit the Garden Buffet only if we have to due to time constraints because, well, we aren’t buffet people. Others eat there exclusively because of the variety of selections. If nothing else, the buffet is worth visiting for the macarons, cookies, and ice cream.

Short ribs and pappardelle
Short ribs and pappardelle, at Savor.

We ate most of our breakfasts and lunches at the complimentary Savor or Taste. Although I prefer the chairs in Savor, the two dining rooms are virtually indistinguishable since they serve the same menus. The two dinners that we ate there were good, even if the service was spotty.

Premium Dining Options

Dover sole
Dover sole in Le Bistro

Le Bisto, NCL’s French restaurant, was the best dining experience we had, with excellent service, appetizers, entrées, and desserts. The Dover sole was deliciously delicate and pan-fried to a perfect brown without being overcooked. My husband’s filet of beef was better than what he got in Cagney’s. Profiteroles for dessert were out of this world.

Profiteroles at Le Bistro
Profiteroles, in Le Bistro

Ocean Blue, one of the à la carte restaurant that carries an upcharge even for dining packages, likewise had excellent service, although our surf-and-turf entrées weren’t as good as we had hoped. Our other courses were outstanding. The hamachi ceviche perfectly balanced the bite of lime with the heat of jalapeño. The appetizer may have been the culinary highlight of my trip, even if the meal as a whole didn’t measure up to that at Le Bistro.

Hamachi ceviche at Ocean Blue
Hamachi ceviche, at Ocean Blue

My major disappointment was Cagney’s, the cruise line’s signature steak house. We ate there twice. The first time, my rib-eye steak was decent, not great. The second time I ordered a New York strip for a better experience. My husband had no issues with his filets. Really, though, the best part of the meal was the tuna tartare appetizer. Maybe it’s just that we’ve experienced much better steakhouses.

Tuna Tartare at Cagney's
Tuna tartare, at Cagney’s

The Verdict is In

I would return for an Alaskan cruise on the Norwegian Joy in a heartbeat. The NCL Bliss is supposedly almost identical, so I’d book that in place of the Joy. The ship is amazing, and the food is good. Excursions tend to be more expensive than in the Caribbean. Based on how late we arrived back at the ship every day, I wouldn’t book a private tour company for less. Norwegian holds the sailing for its own excursions, not for others.

— Debbie Lee Wesselmann

Archives Travel

Wellington New Zealand

Te Papa Tongarewa museum, Wellington New Zealand
On the pier near Te Papa Tongarewa, the premier Maori museum of New Zealand.

My husband and I traveled to Wellington New Zealand for spring break, which was, of course, the country’s early fall. We arrived exhausted but ready to explore.

Most Memorable: Eating oysters and drinking champagne on the waterfront

Best Food: Logan Brown

Most Surprising: The intimate feel of the capitol city

Most Disappointing: I wanted to stay one more day.

Although the seat of the government was originally located in Auckland, South Islanders complained about the distance. In 1865 it was moved to Wellington, located at the tip of North Island and the geographic center of the country. The Wellington Harbour, as seen above, is a bustling shipping and boating hub with restaurants and “sheds” lining the waterfront.

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