Temporary art exhibits are exciting not just for locals but for tourists like me who happen to magically be in town at the right time. In February, I was so excited to see Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse at the Royal Academy of Arts, examining how gardens and art intertwine from the 1860’s to the 1920’s. The Agapanthus Triptych by Monet in the final room of the exhibit has not been seen together since his son sold the paintings individually after Monet’s death; it was stunning. The other featured artists were also amazing: Renoir, Cezanne, Pissarro, Manet, Sargent, Kandinsky, Van Gogh, Matisse, Klimt and Klee.


(Photo is of Christmas decorations from 2014.)

Mayfair, a posh section of the City of Westminster well-known to Regency fans, isn’t limited just to the Royal Academy of Arts or the impressive Ritz and Claridge’s hotels (both incidentally known for excellent afternoon teas and dinners). You can also find a cocktail at Mr. Fogg’s Residence, an ode to Around the World in 80 Days. A stroll along Oxford Street or through Burlington Arcade (an enclosed sidewalk) will give you a sense of how the other half lives. Mayfair ends at Green Park, which is a lovely stroll and has activities throughout the year. If you are there in the evening, be sure to look for some of the last gas lights in London in the park.

However, my favorite part of Mayfair is Berkeley (pronounce Bark-lee) Square. It’s a very small, unassuming park that became famous through Vera Lynn’s “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” that was a hit during World War II. If you find yourself in Mayfair, take a moment to see this park and listen to the song.



(c) 2015 Kathryn Pharr

There are two things most people think of when they hear “Milwaukee”: beer and cold. Yes, at the Michigan Ale House in the Historic Third Ward, you could get cheese curds and a cold beer, but there’s more to this city that is refashioning itself. In June, I attended the Water Council’s 2015 Water Summit in Milwaukee. At the edge of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee touches the 20% of the world’s freshwater that is stored in the Great Lakes. The Water Council along with its private sector and academic founders has worked hard to focus the area on one of its natural resources and working on all aspects of freshwater. The tide is turning as several companies in the last few months have announced that they will be opening up manufacturing in Milwaukee: Zurn Headquarters and Paps Blue Ribbon (PBR) brewery. The conference was fascinating, but I’ll focus on what someone else might enjoy about the city.

I had a great first experience with Air BnB in Milwaukee because Summerfest overlapped with the Water Summit, so all hotels were full. What is this Summerfest you ask? Only the world’s largest music festival. The Rolling Stones played the night after I arrived.

I enjoyed staying the Fifth Ward, which is up and coming and an easy walk into the Third Ward. My strongest recommendation of Milwaukee might have to be the restaurant Crazy Water, and not just because it was perfectly themed for my trip. The cherry, chocolate chip bread pudding was decadent but I couldn’t turn it down even after a Midwest steak dinner.  I did have to wait till the next day to have room to sample the fabulous Purple Door homemade ice cream. You have to love people who make whiskey and brandy Old Fashioned ice cream. It’s also just in front of the Global Water Center if you want to check in on a collaborative water space for local universities, innovators, and companies.


(c) 2015 Kathryn Pharr

If you’re exploring the Historic Third Ward, walk towards the Milwaukee Art Museum, which looks like a ship setting sail on the lake. Even if the museum is closed, the architecture is worth a slight detour on whatever route you’re taking downtown.

While Milwaukee is very cold in the winter, it is a welcome respite from the humid heat of the D.C. area. It is also only about an hour from Chicago if you are thinking about planning a longer vacation in the area. The people in Milwaukee will greet you with real hospitality.

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(C) 2015 Kathryn Pharr

While just last week the New York Times provided a hipster version of how to enjoy Pittsburgh about the same time the Washington Post offered a journey to arrive there, it is no surprise that our trip was superior. First off, we did not limit ourselves to eating to enjoy the trip. (I am not downplaying the great cocktail and culinary options in Pittsburgh, but it does, as you will see, have more to offer.) We were lucky to have two local guides, Sunny & Drew, who put together an amazing, if intense, agenda. Sunni’s mom fed our crew an amazing feast when we rolled into the suburb of White Oaks about midnight Friday night.

Saturday morning the fun began. We started the day with a grand view of the city of Pittsburgh by going up the Duquesne Incline, which sets you out at the Point of View Park with a statue of George Washington and Seneca leader Guyasuta. The view of the Golden Triangle, where the Allegheny River and Monongahela River join to form the Ohio River.

(c) 2015 Kathryn Pharr

(c) 2015 Kathryn Pharr

A quick visit to the Strip District was a nice way to get breakfast on a Saturday morning with options that included fresh doughnuts and many amazing baked goods. We also stepped into an Irish/Polish church, St. Patrick-St. Stanislaus, to get a bit of Pittsburgh’s heritage.

Drew insisted on driving through the many different neighborhoods including Polish Hill with the lovely Immaculate Heart of Mary church.

(c) 2015 Kathryn Pharr

(c) 2015 Kathryn Pharr

One of our favorite stops was the National Aviary. The African penguins were delightful. I loved how for most of the birds (not the condors or the eagle) you walked into rooms that had birds roaming freely.

We enjoyed afternoon tea at the Frick cafe and truly enjoyed the docent-led tour of Clayton, the Fricks’ home in Pittsburgh. While the home was an excellent example of the style of mansions that used to litter Millionaire’s Row, we particularly enjoyed the orchestrion, an upgrade from a player piano because it makes nine instrumental sounds like an orchestra.

Believe it or not, we continued onto Kennywood, where I rode my first wooden roller coaster, the Jack Rabbit from 1920. In 1899, Kennywood opened as a “trolley park” and has been a place for fun ever since.


(c) 2015 Kathryn Pharr

The next day after a lovely service at St. Andrew’s in Highland Park and a visit with friends and their newborn, we took JJ to what we promised would be a fabulous experience: University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning. I think the Welsh room was his favorite. If you go, check in with the information desk where for $4 you can borrow a key that will get you into the Nationality Rooms on Floors 1 and 3. As you leave, don’t forget to stop into Heinz Chapel next door, which looks like a mini-Notre Dame with such American “saints” as Emily Dickinson and Clara Barton. It was truly a magical weekend in Pittsburgh.

For those who either miss the mountains or who actually want to own a home before 40, the Atlantic ponders if you should consider moving to Pittsburgh, which offers upwards mobility and affordable housing.


(c) 2015 Kathryn Pharr

Landing in Stockholm was a bit like landing in any other European city (there is something about European airports that separates them from others, I just can’t name it). It was early May, and the weather was what I’d been told to anticipate: cool enough for a trench-coat and grey enough to wish you had an umbrella in hand. I’d tried to obtain Swedish krona at the Dulles airport, but it was easy to purchase my Arlanda train ticket to the City Centre with my credit card (with pin number-required for most travel outside the US now).


(c) 2015 Kathryn Pharr

Whether experienced in typical spring rain or a pocket of sunshine, Stockholm is breathtaking and begs to be explored. It is built across fourteen islands on Lake Malaren, which connects to the Baltic Sea. The result is a delightful number of bridges to cross and infinite photographing possibilities. The Old Town section of the city, also known as Gamla Stan, dates from the mid-1200s. I walked past the Royal Palace, one of the largest in Europe containing over 600 rooms. I particularly enjoyed exploring the cobblestone streets and ducking into tourist shops with trinkets of Pippi Longstockings, trolls, nisse or tomtes (a house nome), Dalecarlian horses, and St. Lucia. As evening fell, I wandered around the neighboring island of Skeppsholmen, which is particularly peaceful after dark and the museums are closed.

I stayed at the Art Nouveau styled  Diplomat Hotel, in Norrmalm (City Centre)  next to the Nybroviken harbor and a short walk to Old Town. The breakfast buffet was particularly impressive. I enjoyed several wonderful meals nearby, including dinner at Broms. I loved Eriks Bakficka in Östermalm near the Djurgården bridge to the “museum island,” which served a fabulous version of a local dish Kalpudding, a cabbage and meat casserole with lingonberry jam. It was amazing. I also enjoyed the traditional cod and potatoes with butter and fresh dill dishes.

I hope to return to Stockholm and see more of the city during Stockholm World Water Week. I would love to explore the Vasa museum and go on a boat ride although I’m likely to skip the ABBA museum.

One extra delight for me on this work trip was to have dinner with my dear friends who live in the suburb, Hasselby, which is easily accessible on the city’s metro (tunnelbana), which is clean and easy to use. It was wonderful to see their lively daughter and meet their new son.

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(c) 2015 Kathryn Pharr

As always, when my trips involve seeing old friends in new locations, nothing about the new place beats catching up. Not that good weather isn’t a big plus. I’ve never really thought of LA beyond the glamour of Hollywood & Beverly Hills and the 1992 riots. What better way to explore than with college roommates who’ve lived there for years now?


(c) 2015 Kathryn Pharr

One of the most unique sites to see is next to Hollywood but far from it: La Brea Tar Pits. Pre-historic tar pits have preserved the Ice Age skeletons of saber-tooth cats, birds (a rare find), dire wolves, and mammoths. It was pretty amazing! Right next to the tar pits and Page Museum, is the Los Angeles County Museum of the Arts (LACMA). I wish I had found the exhibit on the 1920s German cinema earlier than just before I had to leave; it was amazing. I was surprised to find part of the Berlin Wall across from LACMA (but not surprised about the great food trucks).


(c) 2015 Kathryn Pharr

 However, the food trucks had nothing on Pie Hole, located in the arts district. We did a pie tasting of the Earl Grey, the Mexican chocolate, the lonely pie, and a chocolate crostata. All of it was amazing!

One thing I really enjoyed about LA was how distinct each neighborhood is. My friends leave on the east edge of town in Boyle Heights, which is 22 miles from the west edge that touches the coast. The view of the Santa Monica mountains and palm trees from the freeway made the small bits of traffic seem worthwhile. I had no idea I could see the famous Hollywood sign from Franklin Hills. We attended an arts auction in West Hollywood as a fundraiser for Em’s roller derby: too cool!

The view from Griffith Park of Los Angeles was amazing. I only wish the observatory had been open when we went through the park. Even though it was too cold to get in the water, Malibou beach was great. I was in awe of the Getty Villa: a recreation of the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy. Its classical art collection is truly stunning. The conversation institute for the museum and the restorative work they have accomplished is equally impressive. Next time I’m going to go to the Getty Center to see the rest of the art collection.

Sunday brunch in the charming neighborhood of Atwater Village began with a tour of the Farmer’s Market (complete with bluegrass music for Kate and me) and ended with Canele. Everything we shared from the shrimp ‘n grits to the French toast with poached prunes and mascarpone was beyond incredible. Don’t believe me? See our smiles!



(c) 2014 Kathryn Pharr

After years of traveling to Muslim majority countries for the past couple years and previously living in Israel, it was really quite a surprise to be in a Catholic country for work a week before December 25. Besides Christmas celebrations and decorations, there were other clues that this was an atypical work trip for me: alcohol everywhere, tank tops, and short shorts.

Colombians celebrate Novena de Aguinaldos, the nine days leading up to Christmas Day. Unique traditions like gifts being brought by Baby Jesus through the window and evening family Novena celebrations are explained in excellent detail here.  We learned from a local friend that the Novena (roughly a half hour of prayers and songs) are even performed in malls, so Sara and I headed to the Santafe mall on the second night of Novena. Performers in Christmas plaid were singing to a very enthusiastic audience, many of whom were adorable small children shaking small tambourines and maracas to keep time with the music.  It was interesting to see something so religious in such a secular space.
Medellin (pronounced Mah-dah-jeen) is the second largest city in Colombia and is nestled i


(c) 2014 Kathryn Pharr

n the Aburra Valley. The views are simply stunning of the Andes Mountains. Even working out in the gym was exciting because of the incredible view. Medellin has won an award as the Innovation City but not the type of innovation you think of when you think of my job. Their award comes from the amazing work they have done for urban planning in the last twenty years. The city had grown so large that even four years ago people referred to different neighborhoods within Medellin as “X City” instead of “X neighborhood.” It took over two hours to get from the north part of town to the south, physically segregating the poorer sections of town that were in the hills.  The city created a cable car system as part of the public transportation. Now instead of walking up steep hills or navigating narrow streets in a car, a quick ride in the air gets you from the north end to the south in half an hour thanks to the cable car and the metro system. This change has really brought the city together and added job opportunities to many who live in poorer neighborhoods.


(c) 2014 Kathryn Pharr

Another famous act of Medellin is their annual display of Christmas lights along La Playa Avenue on the Medellin River. National Geographic named these lights as one of the ten most beautiful Christmas light displays in the world. Of course we couldn’t leave town without experiencing them for ourselves. This display is put on by EPM, the local utility company, which really gives back to the city. Every year a new theme for the lights is determined in January, and the display is created by locals throughout the year. Creations are covered in metallic paper and LED lights to reduce electricity. The result is lovely in daylight and breathtaking at night. Walking along the river at night has the same ambiance as being at the county fair: lots of vendors selling everything you can think of from arapes stuffed with meat and cheese to strings of mangos in a small paper bag ready to eat. The narrow walkway is crowded with teenagers enjoying an evening of freedom and with families of strollers and grandparents in tow sharing the experience. Our local friend explained that many of the vendors live the rest of the year off what they make during the six weeks the lights are on display.

Of course, the river isn’t the only place to see lights. There were amazing lighted tulips and snowflakes hanging from trees near our hotel. It may have felt like spring weather, but we were truly in a winter wonderland.

(c) 2014 Kathryn Pharr

London is apparently a place that I see slowly (and infrequently-it’s been almost ten years since I’ve stepped into even Heathrow). When I was at Oxford for a summer, each trip to London involved doing only one thing a day: a West End show, Sherlock Holmes house, the V&A (to be fair that would take all day), a show at the Globe, Hampton Court. So it was unsurprising to me that when I had a day to layover in London after Morocco, I focused on one thing: the Tower of London. To be more accurate, I was determined to see the amazing “Tower of London Remembers” Poppy display.


(c) 2014 Kathryn Pharr

To recognize the 888,246 who died during World War I, which began 100 years ago, one ceramic, handmade poppy was planted in the moat or around the Tower to commemorate each death. The result was stunning. After November 11, they began taking the poppies down, and when I arrived on November 23, there were only a few left. Still, it was amazing to watch the volunteers disassemble the poppies and prepare them for shipping to those who had bought them. In the United States, World War I is overlooked, with most people fluent only on the details of World War II. There is only one museum for World War I in the U.S. In Britain, however, the first World War is very much in everyone’s memory. It changed the social landscape of Britain and continental Europe as well as beginning “modern warfare.”

Thinking about WWI while touring the Tower of London gave an interesting perspective. My dad and I have had a lot of discussions about mustard gas and other chemical warfare that occurred during WWI, but stepping into the torture chamber at the Tower underscored that war has never been genteel.


(c) 2014 Kathryn Pharr

The most recognizable photo of the Tower is the White Tower, which holds the famous Line of Kings (previous Kings’ armor and that of their horses), so I was pleasantly surprised to realize how many different architectural styles there were throughout the fortress.

It is said that the Tower will be safe unless the ravens ever leave it, which made me realize this was the first time I had ever heard of ravens being a good omen. Maybe I watched Sleeping Beauty too many times.


(c) 2014 Kathryn Pharr

I strongly recommend taking one of the Yeoman Wanders tours; this is not just because I am a big fan of Yeoman of the Guard. It was interesting to learn that the Tower minted money at one point. Seeing the “Royal Beasts” saddened me as I thought about what harsh conditions those animals endured to get to England and how unlikely it was they were to have been properly cared for. I did tour the crown jewels, but I preferred the detailed embroidery of the Supertunica (a robe of gold cloth), which contained symbols of Scotland, England, and Wales.

If you are spending an afternoon at the Tower, make time for the All Hallows Church next door. It’s the oldest church in London and has an active congregation. Another recommendation is where I stayed near Bayswater: the Grand Royale, a beautiful Edwardian building with reasonable hotel rates (especially at Bookings.com).