Monday, October 28, 2013

Thanksgiving in Phoenix 2013

Home Sweet Home

Frequently my holiday posts describe a visit to some warm or scenic destination. Again this year we are enjoying a holiday in our home the Valley of the Sun!

So here is a holiday blog for those lucky enough to be visiting Phoenix over Thanksgiving 2013!


November is arguably the loveliest month of the year to visit Phoenix. Believe it or not, there are leaves falling (from all the big deciduous trees that fill North Central Phoenix.) And our nights are getting cold"isn" (this year the evening low for Thanksgiving will likely plunge to a bone chilling 55° F.) And, it gets dark early now, car headlights start popping on around 5:30 pm.

So what is there to do?

Well here are just a few ideas from Roadboy. My focus is Phoenix. I'm not into the snooty Scottsdale scene. Roadboy prefers "real".

1. Chihuly at the Desert Botanical Garden (or as we call it the DBG)
Nothing is more refreshing than a walk in "the garden". And returning November 10 is another glass exhibit by Dale Chihuly. This is the second time Chihuly has displayed at the DBG and, yes, it is a big damned deal. Click here to visit the DBG website. 


The Desert Botanical Garden

The garden's holiday festival, Los Nochas de las Luminarias begins Nov 29. It typically sells out, so go online to reserve tickets well in advance for that.  

2. The MIM!
Arizona's new Musical Instrument Museum is a treasure. This is a high-tech and very wonderful  addition to Arizona's cultural scene. The MIM displays musical instruments from around the world and with your GPS headset you hear most instruments being played as you walk near them! The MIM recently opened its blockbuster "Women Who Rock!" Exhibition. This is a knockout of a show with great music and Lady Gaga's meat dress. Need we say more?

Also, if you plan to visit any time in November or December the amazingly intimate MIM theater with its awesome acoustics) will host to the likes of John Sebastian, Shemekia Copeland, Rita Coolidge, Joey DeFrancesco, Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, and the Manhattan Transfer is returning with their Holiday Show (saw that last year - Yeah it was awesome!) Click here to visit the MIM's website.

3. EAT!
A proliferation of spectacular new restaurants have joined my list of tried and true favorites. For scenery (and old Arizona charm) the best spot hands down is a lunch or romantic sunset dinner on the patio at Lon's at the Hermosa Inn. Adventurous? Try Restaurant Noca (who will feature a thanksgiving tasting menu.) For amazing Mexican it is the Barrio Cafe or the new upstart Cafe Otro. For down home Mexican I love El Bravo. For meet market Postino's wine bar on Central or Hanny's downtown should work. For wood fired yumminess it's Timo's in Sunnyslope. For neighborliness try Windsor. Want Chicken and waffles, its Lolo's. For N'awlin's it is Little Cleo's. How about a chicken fried turkey dinner? TexAz has got you covered. Or there's Maizies or Federal Pizza or brunch at the Lux Coffeehouse. And there is always a sandwich with house made mozzarella at Chris Bianco's Pane Bianco.

4. Culture!
The Phoenix Art Museum is a true gem. After two major expansions by the husband and wife team of Tod Williams / Billie Tsien it has wonderful space to display an extensive permanent collection as well as mount special expositions.

The Entry Courtyard of the Phoenix Art Museum

This Thanksgiving they have four special exhibitions: Latin American photography, Fashion Design: The Cape, Madelyn Albright's incredible Pin Collection goes on display Nov. 23, the Xul Solar and Jorge Luis Borges Exhibit continues, and The West Select western art exposition and sale will be on. Click here to visit the Phoenix Art Museum website.

5. Get Smart!
Antoine Predock's stark concrete Arizona Science Center is a perfect place to go with kids (of all ages). It has great interactive displays and a cool planetarium. Alas it will be closed on Thanksgiving.
Click here to visit the Arizona Science Center website.

6. For the Jocks
For the "get out and do it' set November is the perfect time to go mountain or road biking in Phoenix. Sip a Latte while getting fitted for a excellent rental bike at the Trailhead Cafe / Bike Shop at 16th Street and Glendale. From there you can pedal away on the nearby AZ canal or go single track at the North Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Visit the Trailhead's website here. For the "sit and watch" set the Suns play Portland and Utah at the US Airways Center and the Cardinals will play the Colts at Peter Eisenman's University of Phoenix Stadium on Nov. 24th.

7. Shop!
All the museums above have great gift shops. But there are also great little boutiques like Frances near Camelback and Central. For Black Friday there is The Biltmore Fashion Park - a perfectly sized outdoor mall featuring one-of-a-kind shops at its UNION "alternative" mall. It also features great restaurants plus an Apple Store, Saks, and a cute little 1960's vintage Macy's thrown in for good measure. On friday nights there are free movies on the lawn! All of the parking facing Camelback is strictly valet. The free parking is located in the big garage behind the mall. Visit the Biltmore Fashion Park website here.

8. Ogle!
Walk the Grounds of the Arizona Biltmore Resort. The only Frank Lloyd Wright inspired hotel left standing in the world. Since it opened every sitting president has checked in at the Biltmore. Marilyn Monroe opined that The Biltmore's Catalina Pool was her favorite......

9. The Heard
In the tradition of saving the best for last, I recommend the Heard Museum. In my opinion the Heard ties with the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum (near Tucson) as my favorite museums in Arizona. The Heard is the premier showcase of Native American art and culture. It has grown from "a little museum in a little western town" to what it is today - peerless.

For Thanksgiving the Heard presents its 4th Annual American Indian inspired Harvest Feast! It also features a special holiday ornament marketplace November Nov 28-Dec. 1.

Come for Thanksgiving. Enjoy our weather, our culture and everything Arizona does well!

Oh, and the Grand Canyon is "open" again!

Roadboy's Travel © 2013

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Philadelphia's City Hall

Philadelphia's Enduring Treasure

After a day enjoying the historic area around Independence Hall, I spent my next couple of days admiring Philadelphia's historic City Hall, its thriving Arts District and Rittenhouse Square.

My day began by aiming my walking shoes toward John McArthur Jr's amazing City Hall. You really can't miss this building. City Hall resides on the center square site selected by William Penn himself and, with 700 rooms, it is the largest municipal building in North America.

Philadelphia's City Hall

Penn's 1682 plan for his City of Brotherly Love set aside five city squares with "Center Square" reserved for a monumental public building. Center Square would otherwise be the intersection of Market and Broad streets, but instead creates a driving circle with all traffic diverted around the building.

A site Designed to Interrupt Two Major Boulevards

Construction on City Hall took 30 years (1871 to 1901) and delivered a second empire masterpiece. It 's north tower is crowned with the 27 ton statue of William Penn himself.

When it was completed its north tower made the building the tallest occupied building in the world. The tower rests on 14' thick bearing masonry bearing walls.

The Main North Tower

Of course such an elaborate building was expensive to build and continues to be costly to operate. High on-going costs have resulted in obvious signs of neglect. Pigeon droppings and homeless encampments are barely concealed behind every major column.

Of course any building of this magnitude was born in controversy. In fact, controversy raged to the point that 50 years after its construction the city seriously considered the option of tearing it down.

Sometimes we just don't appreciate what we have…..

In building's of this era sculpture is richly integrated into the design itself. Arguably the best place to view its sculpture is within the main (North Portal) entrance where all of the column capitals symbolize concepts like the arts, science, voting rights, architecture and engineering. In the next hall Philadelphia's founding ethnicities are portrayed, European, African, Native Americans etc.

The Native American Column Capital 

The Magnificent Mosaic Column Bases

The stonework on the exterior is particularly radiant as it emerges from a cleaning that removed over 100 years of grime from its facades.

In this building seemingly every detail right down to the otherwise mundane was considered. I found my self stopping dead in my tracks admiring those little details. Even the smallest things like door handles and fire connections were richly embellished.

Bronze Fire Connection

A Snake Door Handle

Then there is that big old moose adorning one of its archway.

Moose Capital

The quality of this building is starkly demonstrated by the truly awful "Municipal Services Building" directly across the street complete with its sculpture of former mayor Frank Rizzo waving (which is, of course, scary on so many levels).

Philadelphia has many treasures. Its magnificent city hall is one that I could explore for days.

When I have more time in Philadelphia I will make time to do just that!

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Roadboy Takes a Walk in Philadelphia

An American Treasure

Roadboy just returned from Philadelphia for the 120th National Convention of the International Association of Chief's of Police.

The city played a perfect host filling the attendees up with ideas, culture, history and cheesesteaks.

The first morning, before going to the convention, I took a walk. I started out with a few major destinations in mind. At the very least I knew I wanted to see Independence Hall and get a glimpse of the Liberty Bell.

On the way I stopped for breakfast at America's oldest Farmer's Market The Reading Terminal Market. Inside, even on a Sunday I found the place awash in Eastern shore seafood, pumpkins sandwiched in with baker's and candy makers. I had a 3 egg breakfast cheesesteak and a steaming Latte from the Old Mill Coffee. I bought a big sour cherry, chocolate chip and sea salt cookie for later. Although my life was almost certainly shortened from my mornings gluttony, I will die happier. 

A Sign of Fall 
at the 
Reading Terminal Market 

My Breakfast Cheesesteak Was From Spataro's

From there my walk ventured through Philadelphia's colorful Chinatown with its little stores, dozens of acupuncturists and tattoo parlors.

Gateway to Chinatown

A Chinatown Tattoo Parlor Window Display 

Cast Aluminum(?) Dragons
Walking further I came to the Pennsylvania Constitution Center and the Independence Mall. A multi-block greenbelt that affords views of The Pennsylvania State House (the building we now refer to as Independence Hall). Across the street is the present day home of the cracked bell that once tolled from the statehouse prophetically inscribed "Proclaim Liberty throughout All the land unto All the Inhabitants Thereof".

The Pennsylvania State House
Independence Hall
The Epicenter of American Democracy

Entering Independence Hall just days after it's reopening from our recent governmental upchuck was especially telling.

"Proclaim Liberty"

This is the building where our Declaration of Independence created 13 sovereign states and formalized our state of war with England. From here Benjamin Franklin was dispatched to France as one of America's first ambassadors (to create an essential alliance with France against Britain). 

Arguably The Most Significant Single Room in American History 

By 1778 Britain and France were indeed waging war and a weakened Britain simply could not wage war with both France and its colonists in the new world. I now understand that France gave us more than the State of Liberty. In very real terms France gave us liberty itself.

Stairs Used by Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Adams....

By 1783 the "United" States signed a peace treaty with Britain resulting in a confederation of 13 sovereign states. Our first experience in pure states rights rapidly proved to be a failure with Shay's rebellion in Massachusetts. The states quickly realized a truly "United States" required a real federal government.

In 1787 a Constitutional Convention is convened. Convention delegates ratify a constitution, sending it to the state's for ratification. 

By 1788 all of the 13 states have signed.

In 1789 the first Federal Congress convenes in New York. 

By 1791 10 amendments - the Bill of Rights are ratified. 

In 1800 our new federal government moved from its temporary home in Philadelphia to Washington DC.

Hence, the common perception that our nation emerged quickly (and painlessly?) after the declaration of independence is pure myth. In reality a quarter century of war, chaos and economic hardship passed between the Declaration of Independence and the time when the United States finally had a constitutionally framed, fully functioning federal government in Washington DC. 

As I made my way back to the convention I passed countless architectural gems. Some were well utilized, many await new uses. I immediately realized that I will need many visits to fully appreciate Philadelphia.

One of the gems I passed was the depression era Federal Courts / Post Office Building. Built from 1937-1942, this pink granite and limestone moderne edifice (now officially the Robert N.C. Nix Sr. Federal Building) offers the street a gift of four Edmond R. Amateis murals celebrating heroic postal workers getting the job done in the extreme North, South East and West.

Mail Delivered In the West....

And In The Far North

I had been given the a gift of a sunny fall day to walk and appreciate the crucible of American democracy.

My take away.

Philadelphia's Independence Mall landmarks illustrate vividly the aspirations of a democracy that rewards hard work, empowers the powerless and promotes the equitable distribution of national wealth.

We need to remember that.

The events that took place in these landmarks demonstrate our founders fully understood what happens when corrupt leaders seek to divert power and wealth into the hands of few.

Like today?

Roadboy's Travels © 2013